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Jonathan Pollard Photo: AP
Jonathan Pollard Photo: AP
 
Barack Obama Photo: AFP
Barack Obama Photo: AFP
 
 

Pollard case and Obama

Op-ed: Handling of Pollard issue again shows that Obama understands US Jews, but not Israelis

Gil Hoffman
Published: 06.17.12, 11:13 / Israel Opinion

There was never any real expectation that Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard would immediately return to Israel, aboard the plane of President Shimon Peres. It would have made a really good movie - but it was never going to happen.

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There was never any real chance that Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard would have boarded the plane of the man who was prime minister at the time of his arrest and come home to Israel in time for Shabbat. That isn't the way things are done in America.

 

But what could have happened is that Peres could have persuaded US President Barack Obama to begin the process of commuting Pollard's life sentence and announced it before they went to the White House dinner Obama hosted in Peres' honor. The reason why this did not happen is because of a fundamental difference between Israeli and American Jews.

 

American Jews like pomp and circumstance. For them, there is nothing better than a formal gala dinner honoring the most consensus Israeli figure in the world other than Jerusalem-born Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman. Having Peres share the limelight with a spy would have been distasteful.

 

Israelis like results, and they are impatient. They were hoping the Peres-Obama meeting would result in Pollard coming home on the Concord last night. For them, Obama's spokesman - a mere clerk - announcing during Israel's nightly news that the White House's position on Pollard had not changed was an insult.

 

Instead of Peres getting positive headlines, the banner across the top of the largest circulation newspaper in Israel was “With a medal, without Pollard.” Instead of Israelis getting a goodwill gesture from Obama, many felt they got yet another cold shoulder.

 

Re-election or peace?

This was not the first instance of Obama showing that he understands American Jews but not Israelis. It happened in June 2009 when he balanced visits to Saudi Arabia and Cairo by going to the Buchenwald concentration camp and not Israel.

 

It happened again in July 2010 during what was called “Obama's charm offensive.” After he was seen as slighting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the way he greeted him on his previous trip, this time he welcomed him on a red carpet.

 

Obama gave an interview to Israel's top anchorwoman Yonit Levy in which he praised Israelis up and down and said what Israelis had been longing for him to hear: That despite previous indications otherwise, preventing Iran's nuclearization was his top foreign policy priority.

 

But he made one misstep. When Levy asked why he felt Israelis did not believe he had a special connection to their country, Obama blamed it on superficial reasons and ruled out it having anything to do with policies or his behavior.

 

“Some of it may just be the fact that my middle name is Hussein, and that creates suspicion,” Obama said. That answer might work with American Jews but Israelis saw it as insulting, as if he was calling Israelis racist and shallow.

 

American Jews he understands. He knows how to reach out to them. And he will get the votes of the overwhelming majority of them in November. Israelis he doesn't get. But then again, some say he doesn't have to impress Israelis. After all, they can't vote anyway.

 

That is obviously true, and it makes sense if Obama's goal is merely to get re-elected.

But Obama has said he wants to make peace. For that, he needs Israelis. He needs to learn how to understand Israelis if he wants to make the ultimate movie. The one that ends in Middle East peace.

 

 

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