The Time is Right for Obama to Visit Israel

Reading the Akron Beacon Journal today, I came across this headline: “Obama tries to win over skeptical Russians.”

After reaching out to the Islamic world in speeches in Turkey and Egypt, President Barack Obama sought once more to speak directly to the hearts and minds of another audience that has been hostile to the United States: the Russian public. …

Just as the president sprinkled his speeches in the Middle East with references to the Quran and partnership with the Muslim world, Obama spoke knowledgeably to Russians about issues close to their hearts.

It was vintage Obama, reaching out directly to the people, speaking honestly — “he quietly criticized Russia’s increasingly authoritarian politics and aggressive foreign policy — without lecturing or accusing the Kremlin” — and earning their trust.

Several times, Obama made references that might sound like platitudes anywhere else — but which struck a powerful chord with Russians.

It’s time that Obama went to Israel, and made the same kind of appeal to skeptical Jews.

I understand why he didn’t start with Israel. Obama has reached out first to those — in Iran, the Arab world, and Russia — who are most suspicious of the United States and its foreign policy, after eight years of tough talk and sabre-rattling by George Bush. That makes sense.

Now, though, he has an Israel problem. According to a recent Jerusalem Post Poll — much discussed and emailed in the Jewish community — only 6 percent of Jewish Israelis consider Obama pro-Israel. A whopping 50 percent believe he is pro-Palestinian — up from only 14 percent in May.

This, about a president who went to Cairo — the heart of the Muslim world — and declared that America’s bond with Israel “is unbreakable.”

Clearly, there is a growing credibility gap.

There’s an article in Haaretz today by Aluf Benn, who I’m not prone to agree with, but who makes a good point. Benn notes that while many Israelis might actually support a settlement freeze, when Obama called for exactly that, absolutely no one on the political left in Israel sided with him over Netanyahu. One reason, Benn writes, is that:

Obama did not try to communicate with the Israeli public and convince them that freezing settlements will be an important and positive step to contribute to peace and a better future. Obama addressed the Arabs and Muslims, but not the Israelis.

For the Obama administration, it’s not just an issue of assuaging the Israeli public, and thus making American Jews feel better. If the Israeli public understood they had a true friend in the White House, a large segment might line up behind Obama, increasing pressure on their prime minister to compromise on settlements and other tough, intractable issues coming down the pike.

The other day, a U.S. Congressman with unassailable pro-Israel and pro-Obama credentials put it this way: “[The Israeli] public needs to be predisposed to follow” the United States’ lead on peace talks.

The best way for that to happen is for Obama to go to the Jewish homeland and speak to Israelis directly, honestly, and from the heart.

Tags: ,

2 Responses to “The Time is Right for Obama to Visit Israel”

  1. Grosen says:

    You’re right—it is time. Perhaps some of the key national Jewish leaders can put some pressure on him to visit sooner as opposed to later.

  2. Neurotic Dem says:

    Know any?

Leave a Reply