Haaretz features an interesting column by Yossi Sarid praising the U.S. primary system and elections. It’s an unlikely perspective considering how bizarre and exhausting it must seem to most foreign observers. But there is one particular point of Sarid’s essay–in which our primaries and the rise of Barack Obama encourage Sarid, because they provide for an injection of new political blood. Sarid, of course, is interested in Obama’s early opposition to the Iraq war and parallels this with the sad fact that no Israeli politician had the guts or gumption to do the same with the Lebanon war:
Nice things are happening now in America. While the election campaign is only just beginning and the fate of the candidates has yet to be determined, it has nonetheless been demonstrated: Timely opposition to war, and not merely in the shape of pitiable wisdom after the fact, is not a necessary and sufficient condition for defeat at the ballot box. Obama, for example, did not wait for the degeneration of the war in Iraq to reject it in principle. Therefore, it is not necessary to spring to attention and sing the national anthem the moment a Bush or an Olmert decides to wage a forbidden war. It is definitely possible to exercise responsible and independent judgment, and the general public is likely to absorb and ultimately reward this.
It is not yet clear whether Obama’s candidacy will come to full fruition, even though it has already produced early fruits. But the alarm bells are already ringing in Jerusalem: “Israel is worried about Obama.” The media reports: “Senior government officials in Israel fear his meteoric rise.” And the main reasons for this concern, it is reported, are Obama’s support for dialogue with Iran and his weak connections with the Jewish lobby in Washington.
Don’t worry. Anyone who is elected in America will maintain the friendship with Israel and treat it as an ally. But it would be a welcome change for the friendship not to be a blind one, and for the alliance not to lead to a mishap. It is worthwhile conducting talks with Iran, just as much as it is worthwhile conducting talks with Syria, just as it was worthwhile talking with Libya and North Korea. And it is not worthwhile dancing like a trained bear on every issue according to the tune of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) or the evangelical pastors.
If any Israeli politician is so obtuse as to worry about Barack Obama’s fealty to Israel they needn’t worry. But I think they worry about something else–that Obama will be his own man. He will do his own thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and not necessarily be led by the nose by AIPAC or by an Israeli PM. There will be no plane rides over the Green Line like the one Ariel Sharon used to bamboozle George Bush into supporting Sharon’s view of Israel’s security interests. And thank God for that.
I don’t want to make the mistake of claiming that an Obama presidency would provide the break that many of us hope for from the conventions of past history in Israel-U.S. relations. He’s a politician after all and has many interest groups to satisfy not the least of which are American Jews and their conservative leaders. But I think things would be different from the recent past. I believe Obama as president would combine elements of Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and the first George Bush in his willingness to exert pressure on both sides for concessions. If he finds that negotiations with Iran or Syria are in the U.S.’s best interests, he will pursue them and not be constrained by ideological myopia as Bush has been. And this is what has the Israelis nervous.