Months ago I tried to explain why Israelis don't get Barack Obama. Read about it here. In the meantime, it has gone from bad to worse. I feel the hate, or at least contempt, every day. Read the talkbacks in the online editions of the press, and you will see what I mean.
For one thing, Israelis are traditionally cynical about politics and politicians. Just yesterday two former government ministers were sent to jail with multiple-year sentences for bribery and corruption; the current foreign minister is under investigation for corruption, the last prime minister may stand trial for corruption, and there were corruption allegations against the trhee prime ministers before him. And did I mention that the former President of Israel will soon stand trial for rape and sexual assault?) Obama's belief in hope, change, and government ethics reform, holds up a mirror to the ugliness of the political culture in Israel. And nobody wants to look ugly.
But most of all, Obama is the Other that many Israelis fear – black, educated, with the middle name Hussein and with a preacher like Jeremiah Wright. Before the election many Israelis projected their own ethnic tribalism on America by claiming that Obama could never get elected. And then when he did get elected, and showed that there is a democracy where politics and nationalism can, on rare occasion, transcend race and ethnicity, their shame and discomfort turned to racism and hate.
And this was before Obama's speech in Cairo, and his tough talk on the settlements. Now, the mood is pretty grim. I mean, what Israeli wants a black American telling them what to do? Maybe that last line is too much. After all, they hate Jimmy Carter even worse.
I won't even link to the latest diatribe against Obama in today's Haaretz by Ari Shavit, the Krauthammer wannabe, who writes that Obama's only political idea is to be anti-Bush.
But the reason I am blogging about it is that one "talkback" to the Shavit screed that originated from America caught my eye:
The author is "largey" from Palo Alto.
I find it amazing how deeply Ari Shavit misunderstands the Obama phenomenon.
Do you really think that a leader that is simply "anti-Bush" or "Bush-negative" would have been so popular as Shavit points out?
Ari, you simply do not have the tools, the cultural background to explain Obama.
This is a revolutionary leader, proposing reforms in so many fields of American life that you simply do not understand, because you do not understand America.
That about sums up my feeling about Shavit, and the many other anti-Obama Israelis. According to a recent poll, only 6% of Jewish Israelis think that Obama is pro-Israel. Of course, that is not the same as saying that only 6% of Jewish Israelis support Obama, of course, and I have met a few who are supporters
But we have all felt the hate against Obama in Jerusalem in Max Blumenthal and Joseph Dana's video. (Youtube keeps taking it down, and folks keep uploading it, so just google it.) That video is representative of the sort of bums America sends to Israel (you want real hate; look at some of the videos of settlers.) But many more Israelis don't like Obama. That crummy video made at Bar Ilan of the Other Israelis that the Hasbarah folks have been hawking is SOO unrepresentative. I was on the Bar Ilan faculty for 13 years, and I know whereof I speak.
Should the reactions of Israeli society to Obama, the snide and condescending comments in the media, surprise us?
Maimonides wrote in his law code that people who are ill taste bitter things as sweet, and sweet things as bitter. He was a physician and he knew. I may add that the same applies to societies.
Israelis' attitudes toward Obama speak volumes about the fundamental maladie of Israeli society.
Blessed be the exceptions. Whether at Bar Ilan U or not.