Saturday, March 20, 2010

Obama and Israelis: The Myth of Hostility

Long before Barack Obama was elected president, this notion arose out of nowhere that Israelis didn't like the guy. Maybe people expected Israelis to dislike anybody with "Hussein" in his name, even though King Hussein of Jordan was quite popular here. Yes, Israelis preferred Hillary Clinton, whose husband Bill is still probably the most popular former American president in Israel, and John McCain. But time and again we see that Israelis aren't as hostile towards Obama as people think. In the Democratic primary in 2008, Americans in Israel gave Obama 45% of their votes.

The recent crisis between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government is an excellent opportunity to check the pulse of Israelis' attitudes towards Obama. According to a poll published by Haaretz yesterday, Obama may not be as popular as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, but Israelis don't show hostility towards him either.

When asked how Obama relates to Israel, 51% said he is fair, 18% said friendly, and 21% said hostile. With the two previous presidents, the vast majority would have said they're friendly. But according to the hostility myth, you'd expect to see at least 80% of respondents saying Obama is hostile. That just isn't the case.

One thing Obama should be worried about if he cares about Israeli public opinion is the question of anti-Semitism. While the majority, 56%, don't think he's anti-Semitic, more than a quarter (27%) said that he is. That's a much higher number than previous presidents would get, and it is also ridiculous, considering the fact that his most trusted advisors are Jewish.

For furthur analysis of the Haaretz poll and other weekend polls, here's Daneil Levy's take in Foreign Policy.

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