Saturday, April 28, 2012

What Do Israelis Know About Obama that American Jews Are Missing?

by Jonathan S. Tobin

The Obama administration has been conducting an all-out charm offensive in recent months aimed at convincing American Jews that the president is Israel’s best friend. Polls have shown that the effort has not been enough to prevent a precipitous drop in his share of the prospective Jewish vote from the 78 percent he garnered in 2008. However, it will probably help him maintain a comfortable majority of Jewish votes in November as most of this predominantly liberal demographic is prepared to either ignore his past history of conflict with Israel or actually believes in the sincerity of his election-year conversion. But even as American Jews argue about Obama’s attitude toward Israel, the intended objects of the supposed solicitude continue to hold starkly different views about him.

A new Smith Research poll sponsored by the Jerusalem Post shows that although perceptions of Obama in Israel have improved in the last year, most Israelis don’t consider him much of a friend. The survey showed that 36 percent of Israelis believe Obama is neutral in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians with 24 percent seeing him as pro-Palestinian and an equal number perceiving him as pro-Israel while 16 percent expressed no opinion. These numbers make one wonder what it is that the three quarters of Israelis who don’t see him as being in favor of their country know that the majority of American Jews who think he is pro-Israel haven’t figured out.

The contrast between Israeli public opinion of the president and the views of American Jews is all the more startling when one realizes that these dismal numbers are actually a vast improvement for Obama over past polls conducted by the same firm. In the summer of 2009 after the first fight picked by the president with Israel and his Cairo speech to the Arab world in which he equated the plight of the Palestinians with the Holocaust, only 6 percent of Israelis saw him as their ally while 50 percent saw him as pro-Palestinian. Last year after his ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in which he expressed support for the 1967 borders being the starting point for future Middle East negotiations, only 12 percent of Israelis saw him as pro-Israel.

While few American Jews are single issue voters and most consider liberal positions on domestic issues a higher priority than support for the Jewish state when choosing a president, Israelis are only focused on whether the resident of the White House is seeking to undermine their security or force them into unwanted and dangerous concessions. That’s why, although it is fair for Democrats to argue that Obama has not sought to unravel the U.S.-Israel security alliance, most Israelis still see the president as either neutral or hostile to their fate.

The opinions of Israelis ought not be dispositive to American voters on any issue. But those Democrats who will spend the year loudly proclaiming Obama to be Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House might want to take a moment and consider the fact that most of the people who they claim to support have a very different view of the question.

Jonathan S. Tobin


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