Friday, March 22, 2013

Obama in Israel

Recently I returned from Israel after spending nearly 2 and a half years studying for my Masters degree at Tel Aviv University. Tel Aviv is a fairly liberal city, with bars and clubs, beaches and cafes, and even a few museums and art galleries. It is also a young and lively place, where people are often friendly and willing to engage anyone. This can be a blessing and a curse as one can imagine. Politics is often something that arises in conversation, and Israelis rarely mince their words on this subject. 

Throughout my 2+ years in Israel, I rarely heard anything positive about Obama. Even in Tel Aviv there were not many kind words for him. Some told me that they didn't particularly care for him, but also didn't dislike him. People would tell me that Obama liked Palestinians and not Israelis, that his speech in 2009 in Cairo was the worst thing he could have done as a president, that he did not give enough money to Israel. A taxi driver I had emphatically told me that he did not like Obama because Obama was a Muslim. I asked him why he said that Obama was not a Christian, and his reply was a dismissive "everyone knows this". 

In the build up to the US Presidential election of 2012 I was exposed to even more anti-Obama rhetoric. "He is not good for Israel", "He is trying to appease the Iranians like Chamberlain did to Hitler", "He insulted Bibi because he hates Israel". This went on and on, usually without any real justification or facts as support. 

Today I woke up to glowing praise from all sides of the Israeli political spectrum (with the possible exception of the pro-settler crowd) for Obama and his speech. Even the right-wing Ynet (English version of Yediot Aharonot) had some nice things to say about Obama. The Jerusalem Post (center-right), the Times of Israel (center), and Haaretz (left) all had positive articles about what Obama said. 

From the guy who "threw Israel under the bus" to this, it is pretty impressive that a speech can make such a difference. I would be interested to see if some of the people who I spoke to and had such negative opinions of Obama have changed their minds at all.

Update 1:
Israel National News (Pro-settler and based in the West Bank settlement of Beit El) has released this article where Obama is called a "true friend of Israel" by multiple members of the religious-Zionist HaBayit HaYehudit (Jewish Home) so it appears as though Obama has won over every significant political group in Israel, the exception being Shas (Ultra-Orthodox Sephardic political party).

Update 2:
Times of Israel has a poll showing that 39% of Israelis changed their minds towards Obama in a positive way. 

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