Obama Must Start Listening

Things have changed.

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Danny Hershtal,

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Arutz 7

When US President Obama first forayed into the Israeli-Arab conflict, many Israelis became very apprehensive about his tone. While Obama's policies essentially echoed those set by previous administrations, there was a general feeling that there was a change in the US-Israel dynamic.
There was a change in the US-Israel dynamic.

Of greatest concern to me and many other Israelis was the dissonance between Israeli Jews and Jews living in the USA. A poll found that Obama's popularity in Israel had dropped to 6%, indicating that both left-wing and right-wing Israelis were opposed to Obama's foreign policy decisions. In the meantime, US Jewish support for Obama remained relatively unchanged.

However, in the past couple of weeks, things have changed and classic left-wing sources are beginning to question Obama's approach to Israel.

The New York Times ran an opinion article by Aluf Benn (a reporter for Haaretz, who was a correspondent in Washington for a number of years), which called on Obama to speak directly to the Israeli public as he had to the Arabs in his famous Cairo speech.

A Washington Post editorial decried Obama's relentless pressure on Israel's government at the same time he advocated an outstretched hand approach to countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Iran.

An article in Newsweek by Greg Levey (a former speechwriter for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon), advised Obama to take a more Bush-like approach lest he lose all ability to have influence over Israeli policy.

These three organs of America's left-wing all took a critical view of the demands Obama placed on Israel; and American Jews reacted, as well. In all fairness, Aluf Benn is Israeli and Greg Levey is Canadian, but the sentiment was reflected in Jewish attitudes even among Obama supporters. Obama had to react.

Sure enough, George Mitchell, the American Special Envoy to the Middle East, began granting interviews to Israeli papers. Other administration officials wrote rebuttal pieces in the New York Times and the Post, and the National Chair of the Jewish Democratic Council refuted the charges laid by Aluf Benn in an article in the Jerusalem Post.

So, what's the story? Is Obama in a dialogue with Israel or not? Is he responsive to Jews' concerns or not? The answer, of course, is both.

As Mr. Stanley points out in his Jerusalem Post piece, top-level Americans have been flooding Israel to hold discussions with their Israeli counterparts. On the other hand, we aren't sure if they are just talking, or also listening.

Israel feels, especially after the Lebanon and Sderot wars, that land concessions have not achieved peace and are not in Israel's interest. There have been no statements from Obama or any other American official recognizing or empathizing with this sentiment. In fact, America essentially sidelined Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman after his meeting with Hillary Clinton in Washington, essentially because the State Department felt that he was not receptive to the proposed settlement freeze.

Lieberman is an integral leader of the right-wing bloc that commanded a majority in Israel's recent election. The mutual policy of this bloc was that the US-mediated negotiations started at the Annapolis conference, and promoted by Tzipi Livni and Kadima, were not in Israel's greater interest. The process, which was rejected by the Israel people, was embraced wholeheartedly by Obama's administration.

Also, Obama has specifically attacked Israeli construction and law enforcement in Jerusalem. In Israel, a united Jerusalem enjoys a broad consensus of support from both the right and the left, and enjoys even more support
Obama has not reassured the Israeli people on the right or the left.
among American Jewry.

While Mr. Stanley is correct that official communication with Israel has continued apace on a myriad of diplomatic issues, Aluf Benn is correct that Obama has not spoken to the Israeli populace directly. The Washington Post argues that this contradicts Obama's own diplomatic view of bypassing leadership and creating bottom-up support, rather than the top-down support which had led to widespread anti-Americanism in much of the Arab world. Levey is correct in his assessment that Obama has not reassured the Israeli people on the right or the left that his policies are intended to benefit them.

If the current US administration wants to retain the great amount of Jewish support it received in the last election, and maintain a sense of trust and friendship among the Israeli people, then it must take a hard look at why Israel has shifted its attitudes toward the concept of "land for peace". Obama has to deliver the "change" he promised and stop arrogantly insisting that the US has the only solution to the conflict. He must try to listen to the Israeli people and their representatives, who echo their concerns.