Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A plea to President Obama

Aluf Benn of Ha'aretz had a forceful op-ed in the NYT yesterday, in which he calls on President Obama to talk directly to Israelis, because he is rapidly losing their sympathy.

It's worth reading in full - considering his terrible relationship with Netanyahu, this might be the closest President Obama gets to hearing what Israelis really think.

In the meanwhile, a couple of particularly astute observations:

This policy of ignoring Israel carries a price. Though Mr. Obama has succeeded in prodding Mr. Netanyahu to accept the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, he has failed to induce Israel to impose a freeze on settlements. In fact, he has failed even to stir debate about the merits of one: no Israeli political figure has stood up to Mr. Netanyahu and begged him to support Mr. Obama; not even the Israeli left, desperate for a new agenda, has adopted Mr. Obama as its icon.....

Mr. Obama seems to have confused American Jews with Israelis. We are close emotionally and politically, but we are different. We speak Hebrew and not English, we live in the Middle East and have separate historical narratives. Mr. Obama’s stop at Buchenwald and his strong rejection of Holocaust denial, immediately after his Cairo speech, appealed to American Jews but fell flat in Israel. Here we are taught that Zionist determination and struggle — not guilt over the Holocaust — brought Jews a homeland. Mr. Obama’s speech, which linked Israel’s existence to the Jewish tragedy, infuriated many Israelis who sensed its closeness to the narrative of enemies like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

One point Aluf did not make: It's not enough to talk to Israelis - it would help if he actually listened, too.

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