Obama in Israel: Political Implications

Gershom Gorenberg

Obama stopped through for two nights and a day, as if he were writing one of the New York Times travel pieces about how to spend 36 hours in some locale. At first glance, the trip was purely about photo-ops, gathering footage for later campaign ads that will air in south Florida. But there were some hints of real political content, as I explain in my new article at The American Prospect. Here’s one piece:

Hamas Walks It Back: On Wednesday morning, Israel Radio reported responses to Obama’s arrival, including this one: “A Hamas spokesman said, ‘The American senator is trying to reach the White House via Tel Aviv, at the expense of the Palestinians.'”

The immediate meaning of that comment is that John McCain best stop arguing that Hamas has endorsed Obama. In April, McCain leapt on a report that Hamas political adviser Ahmed Yousef had said “actually we like Mr. Obama, and we hope that he will win.” McCain’s campaign also used the quote in a fundraising appeal. Even if the initial report was accurate, Obama has since succeeded in changing Hamas’s mind.

The slightly deeper significance of the spokesman’s criticism is that Hamas, typically for a hardline group, thinks in zero-sum terms. Perhaps believing Obama’s domestic critics, Hamas originally thought he had a low commitment to Israel, and was therefore pro-Palestinian. McCain was happy to use Hamas as character witness. Now the movement has see-sawed the opposite way: Obama is pro-Israel, and thus bad for Palestinians.

But in promising a new diplomatic direction, Obama is arguing that Israeli-Palestinian peace is win-win. Even the more pragmatic elements in Hamas don’t yet speak this language. So Hamas is no character witness, for or against Obama. McCain’s real error was treating the organization’s judgment as relevant.

Read the full article, with more political subtexts of Obamania in Israel, here.

7 thoughts on “Obama in Israel: Political Implications

  1. I think it is important to keep the following fact in mind: All Presidents of the United States follow the same policy regarding the Arab/Israeli conflict….they want a withdrawal more or less to the pre-67 lines, a “Palestinian state that will live in peace with Israel”, they also want an end to Jewish settlement activity in Judea/Samaria, they want an end to Palestinian terrorism. The problem is that none of these things are attainable. The differences between the different Presidents are basically one of nuance. Most, but not all Presidents end up being defined as “the best friend Israel ever had in the White House” (even Jimmy Carter had the title for a short time after the Camp David accords).
    I as an Orthodox/religious pro-YESHA-settlement, anti-Oslo Right-winger do not view W Bush as any big friend of Israel. The terrible suicide bomber campaign was going full speed and yet he and his acolytes were pressing for “restraint” and “proportional responses” while Jews were being butchered. Israel’s deterrance has been seriously eroded during Bush’s term, Iran is marching forward with its nefarious plans, Bush went into Iraq which didn’t seem to do Israel any favors (although getting rid of Saddam who gave $25,000 prizes to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers was a good thing). Thus, I don’t fear an Obama presidency, unless he weaken’s America’s military standing by adopting a policy of appeasement to rogue states like Syria (in spite of the recent games it is playing, partly with Israeli acquiescence, to curry favor with the West) and Iran. Those “progressives” who think Obama is going to drop everything and concentrate all his time on forcing a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians are fooling themselves, simply because such an agreement is not achievable.

    I read the Jerusalem Post’s David Horowitz’s interview with Obama. He repeated all the usual platitudes….e.g the future of Jerusalem and the YESHA settlements are subject to negotiations between the sides. I get the feeling that Obama realizes that peace is not in the offing, in spite of what his “progressive” Jewish fans seem to think.

    However, I don’t believe he will be elected. I also don’t see McCain as “the best friend Israel ever had”…he is close to James Baker and Henry Kissinger and these people are no friends of Israel.

    The real “best friend” Israel ever had was Lyndon Johnson who refused to push Israel out of the territories captured in the Six-Day War, who had UN Ambassador Arthur Goldberg draw up the language of UN Security Council Resolution 242 which is very favorable to Israel and who was the first President to sell large amounts of military equipment to Israe.

  2. “I as an Orthodox/religious pro-YESHA-settlement”

    Im curious – how can you consider yourself Orthodox or religious when, to quote Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandl:

    The Zionist “statesmen” ridicule the sacred oath which the Creator placed upon the Jews in the Diaspora. Our Torah, in Tractate Ksubos, folio 111, specifies that the Creator, blessed be He, swore the Jews not to occupy the Holy Land by force, even if it appears that they have the force to do so; and not rebel against the Nations…These are words of our Torah; and these concepts have been cited in Maimonides’ “Igeres Teimon”, “Be’er HaGola”, “Ahavas Yehonosson”, and in “Toras Moshe” of the Chasam Sofer.

    A one-state solution with the return of the Nakba refugees appears, in my humble opinion, the only religious or orthodox position to hold.

  3. My problem with some of the comments made is most of them are self-centered on who does what for Israel and who in the US really has Israel’s interest at heart. In all do-respect I don’t think the majority of Americans give a crap, their interest is their jobs and their healthcare and the economic future.It’s about time Israel started to develop a world view instead of this coloquial, narrow fixation, paranoidal view compounded by the pro-settlement xenophobs who will surely doom this idealized state they seek.

    It is my fervent wish that President Obama lets the Israelis’ and Palestinians take up as little of his personal time as should be warranted and that he puts strings on the 3 billion dollars of my tax dollars that goes to Israel yearly.

  4. Mr Hilborn,

    No one would be happier if the US would stop the aid to Israel. Israel doesn’t need it-it is given for political purposes, i.e. to show support for Israel and at the same time it gives the US a lever for controlling Israeli policy. One of the reasons it is not stopped is a fear that such a cut would be interpreted as the US cutting Israel loose which could be misinterpreted by extremist Arab elements. Thus, the initiative for ending should come from the Israeli gov’t, but the politicians also don’t want to be it gives them a cushion of money that really isn’t needed.

  5. Y: I agree that it gives the US too much power to meddle in the internal and external affairs of an independent state. But we like to meddle just like the British before us and strain our economic condition to the limits like they did only to end up the”poor boy” in the EU. Charity begins at home and we are in the biggest mess since the big depression.We can’t afford two wars and police the world too, including the Near East. I agree Israel can make it on their own along with help from AIPAC or even without AIPAC’S help If Israel wants to resolve it’s problems with the Palestinians ,let them do it without our interference,if they don’t so be it. We really have “no dog in this fight”. The support for Israel will not erode just because we no longer try to influence the outcome politically.

  6. Y. Ben David – I see that you responded to George A. Hilborn’s comment, but you haven’t responded to ‘Bolzman Brain’s’ comment regarding the words of the Torah in Tractate Ksubos, folio 111… that the Creator, blessed be He, swore the Jews not to occupy the Holy Land by force, etc…
    I feel this person has brought up a valid, concrete point regarding what they feel would be a religious/orthodox position to hold with regard to the Holy Land… and since you refer to yourself as an orthodox/religious jew ( and hold a point of view and position that is in direct opposition to these words in The Torah) I am curious what your response to this person would be. Do you not have a rebuttal?

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