Israel: Stories and Personal Opinions on Obama's Visit

Obama's recent visit to Israel was certainly a hot topic across Israeli media, which acknowledges the Democratic candidate for taking all necessary steps to mark his stance – clearly showing that he will continue to be a close friend and ally to Israel. In his meeting with Olmert Obama promised that if he is elected, he will coordinate his policy on the topic of Iran with Israel, and will not act “behind Israel's back”.

Obama visited Yad Vashem, gave a speech in Sderot and stopped to place a personal note in the Wailing Wall. Yair Raveh elaborates on the latter event, and describes the blunt violation of privacy by journalists who published Obama's personal wish:

Yesterday before he took off to Germany he visited The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the only remaining relic of the ancient Temple of David, and the most sacred spot for Jews. As customary, he placed a note in the cracks of the stones. It is believed that a wish or a prayer stuffed in the cracks gets fulfilled by God. Obama, in what seems like a last minute improvisation, wrote a small prayer on his hotel stationary (nice product placement). Journalists then promptly stormed the wall and ransacked his note and had it reprinted in “Maariv” (it’s a big faux-pas from a Jewish traditional point of view and I’m quite certain that if Obama were Jewish no mainstream reporter would’ve dared violate his privacy so bluntly).

But, although this whole thing – the note, the reprint – might’ve been staged it made me like Obama all the more. Not only for his respect for tradition but also for his great handwriting and his touching prayer: “Lord – Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.”

Several threads continue to discuss this topic. A good one can be foundhere: The Kotel's Rabbi sends his apologies to the Democratic candidate.

In his visit to Sderot Obama expressed deep empathy towards Sderot's residents whose lives are overshadowed by the constant threat of qassam missiles. “The first job of any nation state is to protect its citizens. And so I can assure you that if — I don't even care if I was a politician. If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that.”, claimed Obama. “And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing”.

Below, a picture from Obama's speech in Sderot. Notice behind him, the mound of Qassam missiles.

The Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs emphasizes the importance of highlighting the central reason behind the continuing turmoil in the Middle East when meeting Obama:

The biggest challenge facing Israel is to persuade American factors, including Obama, that the Israeli-Palestinian problem is an outcome of an Iranian threat and its extensions – Hamas and Hezbollah – but not the central cause behind the turmoil in the Middle East.

The question if and how Obama will be affected in his visit is connected to the problem that the Israeli cabinet has many opinions: Olmert claims that Israel has never been this close to reaching an agreement with the Palestinians – an agreement that includes a promise to give back at least 90% of the West Bank… In his meeting with the opposition leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, Obama will hear the necessity of having defensible borders and a united Jerusalem.

One thing is clear – Israel must not isolate the Iranian threat as solely a nuclear-ballistic threat. It is necessary for the State of Israel to illustrate the threats on its borders from Hezbollah in the north to Hamas in the south, and the central threat of the short range missiles. These make it necessary for Israel to maintain an area in the West Bank in order to keep the threat away from the big cities, and in order to hinder the activities of Iranian agents like the Islamic Jihad and the El-Aqsa Brigades, who are present in the West Bank and are prevented from carrying out attacks because of Israel Defence Forces presence.

It is clear to everyone that Obama is after votes from the American Jew population. Assaf Carmel mentions a clip that has recently been shot for the Internet in which a number of prominent Israelis express their faith in the commitment to Israel of presumptive U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Among the public figures to appear on the clip, which is to air in three weeks, are former Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, former MKs Roman Bronfman and Naomi Hazan, Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken and the actor Moshe Ivgi. The clip, a creation of Alma Harel – an Israeli living in Los Angeles – is yet to be released.

In his post, Omer Carmon contemplates reasons for Obama's lack of support by the American Jews:

Amos Shoken turns to American Jews: “I believe in Obama's commitment towards the security of Israel. We do not need another George Bush in the White House”. In addition, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Roman Bronfman, Naomi Haza and the actor Moshe Ivgy have all endorsed the Democratic nominee.

But American Jews are worried.

Barack Obama's situation within the American Jew community is far from simple. The majority of Jews in the US who previously voted for the Democratic party, are still worried from the fact that his father's Muslim connections affecting his stance towards the Palestinians and dialogue with Iran.

What must Obama do in order to gain these votes? Danny Blushtein describes his notion of how the candidates must “win over” the Jewish American votes by aligning their viewpoints to that of the Israeli Right-wing Likud party:

I read today that “a series of charicatures in the Arab media is presenting the two American candidates as puppets controlled by Israel and the American Jews”. These Charicatures were described by the league against slander as “antisematic”.

To the best of my knowledge, saying the truth is not “slander”, and a truthful statement cannot be claimed as “antisematic”. I do not know if Barack Obama or John McCain are in the Israeli or the American Jew's pocket, however I do know clearly that they are both doing everything they can to make this impression.

Obama with his “Jerusalem united” statement, and McCain with similar statements, do not sound like balanced global leaders, but as candidates to lead the Likud party. My impression is that in order to win the elections in the US it is necessary to be backed by the Jewish community, and in order to win those votes, it is necessary to align with Likud's dogma.

And on a final and more personal note, Itay Engel describes his optimistic prospects for better global relationships if Obama is chosen:

I often visit countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon for my work using my American passport, so that my Israeli identity is not exposed. In the past seven years I have learned that as an “American”, more and more doors are closing for me. In Africa as well as Latin America, people don't hide their “anti” when I present this passport, and this reaches its peak in Europe. The European disgust with US foreign policy and the fear from the American perception of the world has affected the way US citizens are looked upon.

And here comes Obama, a man whose views and interpretations of world issues are similar to theirs (EU). How is it possible that such a man, who is also black, with roots in Africa and links to Muslim heritage, carries away this same nation that has been categorized as racist, dark and lacking any future hope?

If this is true, all the definitions and categorizations on the Americans as they were frustratingly set by my friend Ihsan from Najaf (Iraq) along with other friends from Afghanistan, Congo, Argentina and the UK, will have to be reworded. If Obama is elected, people around the world will give the United States and its citizens a new opportunity. This means a real change in the relationship between the US and the rest of the world.

* This post also appears in Global Voices Online.

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