Israelis worry. What will an Obama victory mean for Israel ? Obsession with our election goes far beyond the 250,000 American citizens in Israel, 120,000 of whom are eligible to vote. Israel itself has been riveted by the campaign.
Unlike American Jews and Arabs –- Obama-mania was in full swing when I visited Damascus last spring –- Israelis tend to favor John McCain. They know him. They trust him. Why do so many Israelis resist Obama love?
Partly it's his middle name. "It's ‘Hussein,'" an Israeli friend confided. Nor was she reassured by Obama's statement that his first name in Hebrew –- "Baruch" – means "blessed." For in Arabic, the translation of that is not "Barack," but "Mubarak," as in Egypt's president, a distinctly unpopular leader in the streets of Tel Aviv these days.
Partly it's Obama's lack of experience. A panel of 8 experts surveyed by the newspaper Ha'aretz today say they prefer McCain. The concern about Obama's early pledge to negotiate with Iran without preconditions, which he has been reparsing ever since, is especially telling. Even panelists more receptive to Obama's candidacy say they oppose such talks –- by almost two-to-one.
A senior Israeli official tried calming fears at an "off the record" gathering today. He noted that Obama has repeatedly vowed an "unshakeable commitment to Israel 's security." Plus, he said, Obama has such pro-Israeli advisers as Dennis Ross, the veteran negotiator under Clinton and Bush, and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, rumored to be a potential White House chief of staff. Emanuel's father emigrated from Israel. During the 1991Gulf war, Rahm rust-proofed brakes at an army base as a civilian volunteer.
Even the conservative, pro-Israeli New York Sun, derided a planned GOP assault on Obama last January. The Sun called Obama's devotion to Israel "quite moving and a tribute to the broad, bipartisan support that the Jewish state has in America ." The Sun closed down this fall, peevish Israelis note.
Most Israelis are conservative about security. They relish strong ties to Washington. The last thing they want –- particularly those who fear being pressured into concessions in peace talks with Arabs — is the "change" that Obama promises.