The Israel Factor: Learning to live with the new Obama

Our panel still views many of the potential Republican 2012 presidential candidates as being preferable to the current US president.

February 20, 2011 18:33
3 minute read.
Barack Obama

Obama smiles 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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The Israel Factor panel of experts is warming up to President Barak Obama. Or so it seems. As you can see in the Complete Factor Statistics page, Obama’s numbers are going up since the Factor was re-launched, back in October 2010, just before the 2010 midterm elections.

Back then, with the much-too-long battle over settlement freeze still fresh in mind, the panel was hardly favorable of Obama’s handling of Middle East and Israel-related affairs, and gave him a meager 5 out of 10 on the question of “good/bad” for Israel. The Obama team’s first two years in office were not easy ones for the US-Israel alliance: While the administration was much more accommodating than many observes thought (American Jews included), public perception does matter - and both the Israeli public and American supporters of Israel felt Obama was letting matters deteriorate for no good reason.

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The Israel Factor: The complete statistics
The Israel Factor: The February 2011 questionnaire

But this was the old Obama, the pre-2010 election Obama. The new Obama, the one giving up on pressuring Israel for more concessions, the one deciding that settlement freeze no longer will be the ultimate goal of American mediation of the peace process, is much more in tune with our panel’s view and beliefs (And as I’ve demonstrated recently, this panel is not a very hawkish one, but rather moderate by Israeli standards). One can add to the mix the general assumption that Obama is moving to the center on most matters, that the lesson of 2010 had been learned, and suddenly, our Israeli panel sees the American President more positively.

No – I’m not at all sure that public opinion polls in Israel will follow the panel – upgrading Obama’s marks from 5 to 5.25 and now to more reasonable (but not quite great) 6. Recent events in Egypt, and the so-called “abandonment“ of President Mubarak by its ally the US, had made Obama, yet again, more suspicious to Israeli eyes. However, one suspect that the panel’s view does reflect in some way the fact that Israelis are getting more used to Obama, and maybe do not feel as threatened by his policies as they used to. Of course, this can change very quickly if the President will go back to making demands and to blaming Israel for making peace-processing impossible. But for now, when all eyes are on Egypt and the administration seems less eager to push the Netanyahu government around, things look little better on the Israel-Obama front.

Little better, doesn’t mean good or great.

As you can see in the table that’s dealing with 2012 presidential prospective candidates, our panel still view many of the candidates on the Republican side as being preferable to Obama. True, Obama’s numbers were getting higher, but so were the numbers of other leading candidates. Mitt Romney had visited Israel not long ago, and is leading Obama in The Israel Factor survey of preferable candidates. Mike Huckabee and Haley Barbour were here following Romney and both beat Obama in our survey (Romney and Huckabee 7, Barbour 6.4 to Obama’s 6).

Rudy Giuliani was always our panel’s favorite candidate. Will he run? Not many believe he will even though Giuliani himself refuses to rule himself out. We keep him on the list just to make sure. But Mike Pence should be eliminated – he will not be running.

A note of caution: Many other candidates on our current, expanded list are long shots. The panel isn’t familiar with the Israel-related views of some, and couple of the panelists reluctantly passed on ranking candidates such as Gary Johnson, Scot Brown, Bob McDonnell, Jon Huntsman. Thus, it should be noted that our ranking is more full and reliable when it comes to the more familiar faces: Romney, Gingrich, Palin (still doing pretty badly), Paul (he’ll do badly all the way to election day), Pawlenty, Huckabee, Bolton (because of his UN gig).

All in all, The Israel Factor 2012 favorites are, by this order: Giuliani, Gingrich, Romney, Huckabee, Bolton, Bush, Barbour, Rubio. Thune and Pawlenty are both tied with Obama at 6. We will further discuss this list of “best for Israel” candidates next week.

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