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How Israeli Officials View Obama And McCain

[Note: This post is part of an ongoing dialogue between Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic and Shmuel Rosner of Slate on the need for U.S. national candidates to stop invoking the Jewish state every chance they get. Rosner’s first letter … Read More

By / October 21, 2008

[Note: This post is part of an ongoing dialogue between Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic and Shmuel Rosner of Slate on the need for U.S. national candidates to stop invoking the Jewish state every chance they get. Rosner's first letter can be read here; Goldberg's reply to it, here.]

Dear Jeffrey, Since I’m on my way back to the east coast, where I’ll spend the next two and a half weeks — watching election returns somewhere in Ohio or Florida — I’ll soon also have an opportunity to de-sharpen those re-sharpened edges. Or maybe the sharper the better? I guess our discussion can only move forward if we somewhat abandon our initial topic (why Israel should not be mentioned as mach) and try different angles with which to entertain our Jewcy readers. You asked about Israeli government officials, so I’ll start with them, and generally speaking, I think these can be divided into three main groups. A. Those supporting Obama for a while now. They include Democratic-leaning Israeli officials — most supporting the candidacy of Hillary Clinton’s and switching to Obama, few supporting Obama from the start. These officials generally believe that a Democrat will make America stronger – hence, will benefit Israel. Some also believe that Obama will get involved in the Israel-Arab peace process and help advance it in ways that Bush could or would not. The more realistic among them think this is mostly true for the Syria-track. There’s a fair number of Israelis unhappy with Bush’s tendency to oppose — or not to encourage — an Israeli Syrian dialogue. Anyway – these pro-Obama supporters consist the smallest of the three groups I was mentioning. B. The second group will be the one of late-comers to the Obama cause. These people, I suspect, will grow in number as long as the polls show an apparent Obama victory (if they do). It is the international manifestation of the band-wagon effect: essentially, Israelis understand that Obama is going to win, so they might as well try to see the benefits and advantages of such candidate. Talking to the members of this group is pretty funny because one can easily detect the ways with which they try to rationalize an argument they aren’t comfortable with. If polls, or atmosphere somehow changes — these people will rush back to the group where they originally belong: McCain supporters. C. This is basically the B group without the pretense, and its rapidly shrinking (Israelis, to they credit, were always very practical in nature). It consists of people who rather have McCain as the American president and are still willing to say it. Their arguments — and the argument of most knowledgeable Israelis supporting the experienced battle-tested McCain over Obama — are quite clear: they want a president who understands the need to use power, and does not entertain the illusion that with charismatic personality one can change the Middle East (related to this topic, I really recommend that people will read your Atlantic piece on McCain and the use of power). In some ways, what they fear in Obama is the repetition of Bush the democracy-promoter. It’s true that most Israelis think Bush was a friendly president, but readers should realise that very few of them really bought into the lets-democratize-the-region notion. Too realistic to believe, or too racist (Ariel Sharon famously said "after all, it is Arabs we are talking about here"), or too experienced — Israelis liked the part of Bush that was supportive of security concerns, and vehement in fighting terror, but didn’t as much appreciate his desire to transform the Mideast. Not that they don’t want it — they just don’t think it’s possible. Not now, not this way. Surprisingly, what some of them see in Obama is a different kind of the same naivete. How’s that for a surprisingly refreshing point of view? Now back to the original topic of this exchange: does mentioning Israel helps Obama with Israelis? it really does. If one tries to find the positive aspects to this constant attention the country is getting, it is the fact that Israelis do feel now much more comfortable with Obama than they did a year or half a year ago. I’ll leave you the benefit of starting the discussion of McCain and Israel. Best, Rosner

To read Shmuel Rosner’s first letter, click here; Goldberg’s reply to it, here.

RELATED: Rosner’s original piece, "Enough About Israel, Already," for Slate, and Goldberg’s post at the Atlantic.

Shmuel Rosner’s blog is here.

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