Israel, which many see as the fifty-first American state does not seem as engaged in debate regarding the 2008 Presidential election as one might expect. Internal political issues regarding country leadership take precedence over events in the United States.
Barack Obama's visit to Israel was not a showstopper and received moderate press attention.
Obama gave a speech to the Israel Knesset. Unlike many of Obama's exemplary speeches, the speech to the Israeli Parliament was not a brilliant speech; it was nevertheless, received well. A problem with Obama's speech was the lack of dealing with controversial issues. This was particularly disturbing to most Israeli people since his position on the future status of Jerusalem was unclear.
Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on June 21, 2008, that he believed a unified Jerusalem would remain and be the capital of Israel. A day later he changed his position. Jerusalem is the heart of Judaism, the cornerstone of the State of Israel, and any attempt to change its status, is paramount to betrayal of Israel and of the Jewish people. When Obama reversed his position regarding Jerusalem, he must have either been ignorant, or stupid. Suggesting that Jerusalem should return to its pre-1967 boundaries may have been politically necessary with some of his constituents, but it could cost him Jewish, and pro-Israel support.
On the positive side, Obama showed sensitivity, and understanding of Israel's need when he said that he supports Israel as a Jewish state and that he was against "the right of [Palestinian-refugees] return." The issue of returning Palestinians to Israel is another sensitive issue with Israel, and with Jews all over the world. Arabs typically have a higher birth rate than do Israeli Jews. A return of a significant number of Palestinian refugees, coupled with the difference in birth rates would surely cause Israel to have an Arab majority within a relatively short time. Obama's stand on the issue was a significant plus for him in Israel, not enough to make up for the Jerusalem blunder, but never the less, a plus.
Obama's other major plus in Israel, a "secret weapon," if you will, is Senator Biden. Senator Biden a staunch supporter of Israel tells all who would listen, that he is a Zionist. A Vice Presidential candidate who is an unquestioned supporter and friend of Israel is a significant plus for Barack Obama with Israelis.
John McCain has always exhibited an unwavering support for Israel. Senator McCain's unequivocal commitment to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem enhanced what was already a positive image of him with Israelis. Even though there are those in the Israeli press, and within the Israeli public who question Senator's McCain ability to move the American Embassy as swiftly as he proposes. Those who question do not doubt McCain sincerity, or integrity, but rather the feasibility of such a move. Doubts are based on the fact that neither President Clinton, nor President George W. Bush, two robust supporters of Israel, were unable to accomplish the embassy move due to "security reasons."
John McCain's strong posture regarding Hammas, Hezbollah, and other groups determined to destroy the Israel, are well known, and documented. McCain's motto, that the enemy of his friend is his enemy, applies to Israel, which he considers one of America's closest allies -- if not the closest. His clear views against unconditional dealings with Israel's enemies, a point on which Obama has taken flak, are a comfort to Israelis who fear the likes of Ahmadinejad.
There are concerns in Israel about McCain's selection of Governor Palin to be his Vice President. Unlike Biden, Governor Palin is an unknown entity. Some believe Palin may hold biases against Israel.
Israelis recognize the fundamental differences between Senators McCain and Obama.
Obama the orator extraordinaire, a charismatic young man with boundless energy and enormous promise is pitted against the aging, serious, experienced John McCain. Are these differences enough to determine which candidate is more suitable to become president of the United States?
A large number of major issues are viewed differently in Israel than they are in the U.S.
• The Bush Presidency. George W. Bush was a very strong supporter of Israel and is viewed here as a true friend. Obama tactic that electing McCain is an extension of George W. Bush policies would backfire if Israelis were to vote in the U.S. election.
• The economy. Israel's economy is "hitched" to the U.S. economy and a decline in the U.S. is looked at in an unfavorable manner in Israel. Obama may have the upper hand here, except that the weak U.S. economy strengthened the Israeli Shekel; as a Tip O'Neil said, all politics are local, and the Israelis benefited from the decline of the U.S. Dollar.
• The Iraq war. Sadam Hussein's Scud missiles attacked Israel. Sadam was an active enemy of Israel, and taking him out is viewed as a very positive move. John McCain supports the war and was an advocate of "the surge." Senator Obama continues to object to the war and is pushing for a quick withdrawal regardless of conditions on the ground. Because of Israel's self interests regarding Iraq, Obama is at a substantial disadvantage.
• Security. McCain appears to be more in tune with the needs of Israel. The Arizona Senator is expected to continue unabashed support and supply to Israel. Obama is an unknown, but with his tendency to reduce defense costs, could Israel suffer?
• International implications. Obama's suggestions that he would hold unconditional talks with Israel's enemies are an item of concern to Israelis. The United States is dealing with Iran as if it is an esoteric issue to be delayed. To Israel, Iran represents a real threat, and McCain's concurrence is reassuring. Obama is vague about how he would deal with Israel's enemies while McCain clearly spells out his position that Israel's enemies are his enemies.
• Religion. Obama's association with the Reverend Wright is of no consequence here. Israelis are used to self-criticism and seem to accept Wright's raving and ranting as routine. The Muslim-birth is also not a concern in Israel. The most unsettling issue here is Palin's Church, including statements by her minister that Arab terrorists acting in Israel are God's way of punishing the Jewish people for not accepting Christ. This item becomes more credible since Palin's church seems to believe that gays can and should be converted. Her brand of faith seem to lack the ability to accept people for who they are.
• Energy. Israelis are as concerned as are Americans about energy. In Israel God might have given the Jews a land of milk and honey, but as Golda Meier once said: Why not oil? Israel uses a great deal of solar energy and is eager to learn what direction the United States will choose to achieve energy independence. Israelis are weighing the Democrat approach, which is guided by environmental concerns, versus the Republican more pragmatic view that economic considerations are key. From the Israeli vantage point neither presidential candidate is favored based on the approach to energy policy. Israelis will need to hear more before agreeing on what policy will benefit Israel.
Some other issues that come into play in the United States do not phase the Israelis. Since Israel is a true "melting-pot," the race and gender issue don't come into play.
There does not seem to be a clear winner in the United States presidential election from an Israeli point of view. Concerns about Obama start with his anonymity, move on to perceived naiveté and the flamboyancy of the Obama phenomenon that overstep bounds of propriety. His note in the Whaling Wall that his campaign milked for all its PR value, and his celebrity make Israelis a bit leery of Obama.
John McCain's age is of concern, especially with the religious issues that surrounds his replacement should he need to forfeit the job. Sarah Palin is not of concern because of gender, Israelis are used to women politicians (Golda Meier of the past, Tzitpi Livni of the present,) but rather to the religious dogma to which she subscribes. Israelis, because of a reasonably large orthodox community here that participates in government and influences legislation, are leery of too much religious power in government.
This week OffTheBus is publishing a variety of stories that cover the presidential election from an international perspective.