Obama & Israel

June 9, 2008 at 12:34 pm | Posted in Barack Obama, U.S. Politics | Leave a comment
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Image by Flicker user threecee (Creative Commons)

Via Hertzberg, a truly enlightening explanation of the tension, condescension and mistrust some Israelis have towards Barack Obama’s bid for the Presidency:

The reasons are many. Israelis instinctively fear charismatic leaders whipping up distant audiences. Or is it that Obama is tapping a pure strain of optimism that, as he told some young people after his speech, should make cynicism seem negotiable? When the Israeli press repeats, again and again, how “inexperienced” Obama is, this is code for their fears, the saddest of which is the fear of hoping for peace again.

In the back of their minds they fear that two generations of special pleading—about how Israel’s occupation should be rationalized as the Jews’ special need to (how does Prof. Yehezkel Dror put it?) “subordinate morality to survival”—may not quite work on Obama, much the way it did not work on Kissinger. Obama has heard Jabotinsky-like apologetics for victim exceptionalism from the Sharptons—indeed, from the Wrights—for two generations. It takes one to know one. The most frightening question is this: if democracy makes a black man a mainstream American, can it also make an Arab a mainstream Israeli?

So there is a peculiarly Israeli condescension for Obama just now, which I predict will dissipate as he grows in stature, and the world he is sketching feels more imminent. It is the same condescension most have, since Oslo, for people who trusted Arabs, or still trust politicians, or stop for pedestrians, or think voters are not just selfish. It is the condescension people in the peace movement endure day in, day out. The thing is, Obama is not a graying professor at a Van Leer Institute seminar. He is quite possibly the next president of the United States.

Mr Avishai also goes on to assess how his speech to AIPAC was received and how it might go some way to reassuring his sceptics. For that, you should go read the whole thing.

Image by Flickr user threecee (Creative Commons)


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