Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Obama In Jerusalem: The Contradiction

This from Aluf Benn, one of Israel's most respected columnists:

To the Israeli establishment, McCain seems like the natural choice. With his white hair, expression lines and combat experience, he embodies the Israeli concept of leadership - a kind of American version of Yitzhak Rabin or Ariel Sharon. If McCain continues Bush's policies, Israel will benefit from the term of another U.S. president who understands its needs.

Obama represents an exciting option, albeit a more dangerous one: If he manages to rehabilitate America's international stature, reduce its dependence on oil and push through peace between Israel and the Arabs, Israel's strategic situation will improve dramatically. But on the way, he might have to pressure Israel. If he fails, Israel will have to pay the price without reaping any returns.

The contradiction in Benn's little piece is almost universally shared, and it explains why reading the newspaper with breakfast will give you reflux until about noon. Obama's approach will, according to Benn, dramatically improve Israel's strategic situation. But to get there, he will have to "pressure Israel"--that is, force Israel to do what is in its interest. McCain, on the other hand, looks like Rabin, will continue Bush's "beneficial" policies, and understands Israel's "needs."

And what's the "price" Israel will have to pay if a peace initiative fails? That it will have no peace, you mean like the price it is paying now?

None of this makes sense unless you understand the psychological code. What Israelis feel above all, alas, is the fear of rejection and abandonment. A friend is someone who lets you do what you want; someone who will overlook your "faults"--you know, the occupation, the settlements--and will not embarrass you in the world-at-large by calling attention to things you might do differently; someone who defines the world-at-large in a way that makes you seem necessary.

Less friendly is someone who believes, as Obama does, in the process of building cooperative agreements, collective security, etc., and who will therefore actually look at what the parties to a conflict are doing to exacerbate their problem
, that is, ask "what if everybody did that?"; someone who supposes all sides should be mutually respectful, and will offer criticism as diagnosis, not as condemnation.

Anyway, Benn's main point is that Obama is trying to influence American Jews, not Israelis. He might be interested in a new about-to-be-published J-Street poll, which asked American Jews:

Would you support or oppose the United States playing an active role in helping the parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict if it meant the United States publicly stating its disagreements with both the Israelis and the Arabs?

Over 85% said, "yes," 41% "strongly.


Y. Ben-David said...

"Progressives" shouldn't get too excited about this J-Street poll which claims that American Jews would "welcome pressure" on Israel from the US for "peace". Shmuel Rosner in Ha'aretz analyzed the J-Street poll and found it is a poll with "made to order" results in order to further J-Street's political agenda. The questions are long a confusing with contradictory clauses, Rosner provides an example which I bring below. For example, Dr Avishai wants to divide Jerusalem. When the J-Street polls says a majority "wants" American pressure on Israel, do they mean they want Jerusalem divided, with barbed wire, minefields and anti-sniper walls? Do they want other concessions from Israel that damage Israel's security? It seems clear to me that this poll is deliberately misleading. Don't draw any conclusions from it.

Here is the piece from Rosner's column: (note how it both begins and ends with platitudes about the reader being "pro-Israel" with controversial clauses in the middle which it is hoped the person being polled won't pay much attention to).
The way this poll was conducted is quite bizarre. I called poll-masters that I trust and read for them some of the questions. It made them laugh. Take this one for example, and imagine the email signaling that someone wants to ask you a question: Do you agree to this very, very, very long statement?

"I am 'pro-Israel,' and believe that America must consistently support our trusted ally Israel. Part of that support should be helping to promote serious efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace because ending the conflict is vital to Israel's future and security. I disagree with American politicians who make statements, such as demanding we move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, that sound supportive of Israel and make vocal activists happy, yet really undermine both peace efforts and America's role as a mediator. I will always work to maintain the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and I support policies that help Israel achieve an enduring peace."

Chances are that you:

A. Stopped reading somewhere in the middle and just wrote yes.
B. Stopped reading somewhere in the middle, regained consciousness at the end, read the final sentence ("I support policies that help Israel achieve an enduring peace"), then wrote yes. Of course you support Israel, duh!

In short, this seems like a good way to ask a question if you want 71 percent to respond yes. Look at all the very long statements in this poll and see for yourself. With barely one exception, the longer the statement, the better the chances that people say yes.

Y. Ben-David said...

I am sorry, I made an error. I meant to say that the QUESTION from the J-Street poll Rosner quotes begins and ends with platitutes. I didn't mean this about his column.

ARTH said...

If the US would publically and explicitly state its policy differences with the Arabs in general, the Palestian leadership in particular, and of course, Israel, this would be the first step in putting everything "on the table" and deflect accusations thrown at it from all sides that it is "bias." It would also be useful if the US stopped coordinating its positions with Israel and consulting with Israeli officials about what it should do. Even if the United States guarantees Israel's ability to exist as a state and guarantees its military security, it should offer its own perspective as Israeli views, on all parts of the political spectrum, lack any sort of depth or real knowledge about the US or the Arab world.

Israelis have an Obama problem because they imagine the US to be a white country in which Blacks are some sort of threat to it. They imagine that Blacks undermine the American culture when all they have done is contribute to it. They have trouble with the notion of a Black president because it undermines their false ideas about the United States, how it works, and what it is.... It is indeed a great irony that the acceptance of a Black president of the United States is far lower in Israel than it is in the United States.

Anonymous said...

you are a visceral hater of Israel.

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