There were a few bleary-eyed people walking around Wednesday morning, including
many of those gathered before the big screen in the auditorium of the
Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel’s national headquarters in
They had either come straight from an all-nighter or had risen
early to view the cable news networks in the US declare at around 6.30 a.m.
President Barack Obama the winner in the presidential race against Mitt
Clearly there was a sense that there was a lot at stake in the
race, not just for Americans, but for everyone. As AACI Executive Director David
London pointed out to the mostly American-born Jerusalem residents munching on
rugelach and drinking coffee, “The whole world was watching” as American voters
granted Obama their narrow vote of confidence to lead their country for another
And nobody was watching more closely than those of us in
Israel, especially those of with roots in America. I was there to host a
Jerusalem Post-sponsored round table featuring an astute panel of observers –
New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, who arrived four months ago
after many years covering US issues including the 2004 presidential campaign,
Jerusalem-based political consultant and pollster Mitchell Barak, who’s worked
with President Shimon Peres and former prime minister Ariel Sharon, and Robert
Slater, one of the most experienced journalists in Israel, who has written for
everyone from UPI to Time to Newsweek.
They provided clear and rational
thoughts on reasons why Romney failed to win the support of a majority of
American (ranging from he’s not the “I’d like to hang out and have a beer with
him” kind of guy to suspicions surrounding his Mormon faith, to just not
captivating Republican voters), how much a second Obama term is likely to focus
on foreign affairs and specifically the Middle East (not much) and if the
US-Israel relationship is heading toward a collision course with Obama and
presumably Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remaining in power
The talk was followed by an equally provocative session
hosted by the Post’s deputy managing editor Tovah Lazaroff with Bloomberg senior
editor and former Post managing editor Calev Ben-David, and the Post columnist
and former executive editor Amotz Asa-el.
We had all just finished
watching Obama’s victory speech – a speech which was as good as it gets in its
efforts to reach out to an American electorate at its most divisive point since
probably the US Civil War. It may not have matched the emotions Obama evoked
four years ago when he became America’s first black president, but it was a
moving speech aimed at healing.
As Mitchell Barak pointed out, “It was
the Obama that people fell in love with four years ago.”
And it’s a
little brotherly love that’s in need in the US right now. Supporters of both
Obama and Romney resorted to distortion, character assassination, lies and
threats in their efforts to prove that their narrative is the only
A Martian landing in the US and flipping channels between MSNBC
and FOXNews – equally guilty of pushing blatant agendas under the guise of
journalism – would be excused for thinking that his transporter had
malfunctioned and he had arrived in two mutually exclusive
Romney certainly suffered from a disinformation campaign waged
against him, but most of the vitriol, it seems, has been reserved for Obama. And
this is where we in Israel come in to play. Some of the most rational people I
know turn into raving conspiracy theorists as soon as the topic of Obama and
Israel come up.
I’m sure you’ve heard countless Obama detractors in
Israel refer to him “Barack Hussein Obama.” I’ve never asked why they like to
emphasize his middle name – because I’m afraid of the answers I’ll get – “He’s
an Arab... he hates Israel... he’ll never stand by us.”
hatred belies the fact that, despite some rocky times, Obama’s first-term
policies toward Israel neatly fell within the parameters of all of his post-
Oslo predecessors. Like all previous US presidents – Republican and Democratic
alike – he’s had his sensitive issues which have placed him in conflict with his
All three panelists noted that although the
president is now free of constraints in his second term, he’s unlikely to launch
a major push on the Israel-Palestinian front and will likely keep the same
“sanctions first” policy on Iran. And as Obama confidante Rahm Emanuel pointed
out after the election, the notion that it was payback time or an opportunity
for revenge against a seemingly intransigent Israel was absurd.
who hoped that Obama would be a one-term president, it’s time to lower the heat,
take the blinders off and accept the fact that despite attempts to inaccurately
portray him as the devil incarnate, he was elected as the American president for
the next four years. It’s something his detractors – and Israeli leaders – need
to internalize by the time January 22 and our elections here roll
He’s no longer a temporary historical aberration, and Netanyahu,
who was perceived by most everyone to not-so-silently endorse Romney, needs to
realize that more than anyone else.
As Barak pointed out, Netanyahu
“backed the wrong horse” in the race.
“Whoever is elected prime minister
is going to have to handle the US-Israel relationship, and we all know Netanyahu
is not the right guy,” Barak said.
If he’s chosen to form the next
government as all polls currently show, our current prime minister will have to
find a way to work with Obama on the pressing issues facing Israel.
next four years will be extremely fateful, and here’s hoping that our election
process will be a demonstration of democracy as heartfelt as the one we just
experienced in the United States.