Photo: AP
Obama. Not perceived as an 'Israel lover'
Photo: AP
Prof. Tamar Hermann

Israelis indifferent to Obama visit

Op-ed: Lack of public interest particularly intriguing as US president repeatedly urged to come to Israel

President Obama's arrival is just around the corner, and apart from those in charge of the visit in government ministries and secret security agencies – there seem to be no fervent preparations or any special excitement ahead of the visit. It appears that the construction of the new coalition, the distribution of government portfolios and the upcoming Passover holiday with all its family and consumer-related aspects, are overshadowing the upcoming event.


Every thought or slip of the tongue made by Lapid/Bennett are perceived as much more fateful than the president's planned speech this Thursday, and discussions revolving around what we'll be cooking this holiday are more heated than those dealing with the approaching visit's positive or negative potential.


The lack of public interest in the visit – which is accompanied as always by sighs over the disruptions to our routine life due to the draconian security arrangements forced on Israel's residents in the relevant areas and occasional articles condemning Obama's decision to deliver his address at Jerusalem's International Convention Center in front of students rather than at the Knesset – is particularly intriguing in light of the fact that many in Israel and abroad it recommended such a visit repeatedly.


Moreover, the fact that in his previous presidential term Obama failed to visit us, especially in light of quite a few trips he made to other countries in the region, was presented more than once as conclusive evidence of his lack of affection – if not real hostility – toward Israel in general (as opposed to his strong relationship with the Jewish people, which there is no doubt about) and its current political leaders in particular.


So it is quite surprising that when the visit is actually happening, the hosts seem unenthusiastic. What does the Jewish public in Israel think about the president and his visit to the region, and can that explain the apparent lack of interest we are witnessing?


As shown by surveys in the past, the president is not perceived as an "Israel lover." In the Peace Index survey conducted recently, 51% defined his attitude as "merely businesslike-neutral" and only 36% defined it as "friendly." Even worse is that he is perceived as more pro-Palestinian (23%) than pro-Israel (18%), while the majority (52.5%) see him – again – as balanced. In other words, the Israeli-Jewish public sees no great love on the part of the president.


Moving from the emotional level to the practical political level, the percentage of those who do not count on Obama to maintain and protect Israel's interests (53.5%) clearly exceeds the percentage of those who believe he will maintain and protect those interests (43%). And lastly, a clear majority (62%) believes the president will not be able to bring about a real breakthrough in the negotiations with the Palestinians during his visit here.


In other words, the figures show that – like in the past – Obama is perceived as lacking any special attitude toward Israel and having a tendency to favor the Palestinian rival, and as someone who will not go out of his way to defend Israel either.


And if that were not enough, the common assumption is that the visit cannot lead to a substantial change in the state of affairs. Add the memory which still lives on in Israel of the historic 1977 visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who also spoke before the Knesset, paying his respects to the Israeli sovereignty while bringing new hope to the region – and it is quite clear why Obama, who chose to address the Israeli public "over the heads" of its elected representatives, and will likely not bring along a dove of peace (or his assertive and elegant wife, Michelle), has failed to get the public all excited. Instead, people are carrying on with their business, hoping that the visit will go by without any major traffic jams, as we all rush to fill up our fridges for Passover.



פרסום ראשון: 03.18.13, 11:00
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