Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Chain Reaction?

While we witnessed a dramatic shift to the left on Tuesday, we may well expect a, though less dramatic, shift to the right in Israel’s government if for no other reason than the election of Barack Obama. Israel showed a strong preference for John McCain with polls of Israeli citizens mirroring the votes of Americans in Israel, who supported McCain over Obama by a 76% to 24% margin.

Israelis worry that President Obama will engage too quickly or too deeply with Iran, empowering its leadership (how could an Iranian not vote for Ahmadinejad if America comes knocking on their door?). They fear that America will pull out of Iraq too quickly, further destabilizing the region and leaving control of Iraq to those who most hate Israel. They are apprehensive that America may reduce its aid and security partnership with Israel. They are panicked because President Obama may tie future UN support to Israel giving up more concessions to the Palestinians in negotiations. They are concerned by President Obama’s condemnation of the IAF’s attack on the Syrian reactor. And they hold all these fears because no matter how many editorials proclaim Obama a true friend of Israel, Israelis never saw proof of this statement. Conversely, they were shown his connections with Jeremiah Wright, Rash Khalidi, William Ayers, Samantha Power, Robert Malley, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, all of whom have strong anti-Israel records.

It is telling that so many Americans in Israel voted for McCain. Unlike the members of the Carter and Clinton administrations, Oslo graduates, who advise Obama, Israelis live on the front line and do not have the luxury of ignoring reality, like the daily barrage of rockets, or the obvious (obvious, that is, if you actually pay attention) use of the “ceasefire” by Hamas to build up its military. Adding to Israeli concerns was Vice President Joe Biden’s guarantee that an Obama Administration would be tested by an international crisis within its first six months. As a proven friend of Israel and a long time Senate Foreign Relations Committeeman, Israelis take him seriously.

If all this rational is not convincing enough, one only need look at Kadima’s reaction to Obama’s victory. Party leader Tzipi Livni and coalition partner Labor quickly issued a very strong statement that Likud should not be elected because its views were too different from the Obama Administration. The story here is that Kadima is worried Likud might benefit from the Israeli concern of the Obama victory.

The following day, in an effort to look strong and independent, Livni issued a statement in which she urged Obama not to talk to Iran “at this time,” warning that such dialogue would project “weakness.” Ignoring, for the moment, that she is right, she is concerned that Likud could benefit from Israeli concern that the Obama Administration will allow Israel to fester in a Middle East made more dangerous and jeopardizing by Obama’s foreign policy.

Just as Obama’s victory may push the Israeli government towards the right, his actions leading up to the February election in Israel could pull the Israeli electorate back towards Kadima. Were Obama to moderate his stance on the Middle East and the War on Terror and made demonstrable moves to ensure Israel that America will not spend $1 or 1 minute less on Israel, Israelis may see Kadima as the better partner to Obama. However, Israelis better understand than Obama that words have never made, nor kept, them safe.

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