Accepting the new reality

If he’s chosen to form the next government, our current PM will have to find a way to work with Obama on pressing issues facing Israel.

Barak Obama and Mitt Romeny make election calls 370 (R) (photo credit: Brian Snyder / Reuters)
Barak Obama and Mitt Romeny make election calls 370 (R)
(photo credit: Brian Snyder / Reuters)
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 Jerusalem.
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 Romney.
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 four years.
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 (unlikely).
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 truth.
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 countries.
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.”
That misplaced 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 Israeli counterpart.
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.
For those 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 around.
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.
These 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.