President Bush's recent anti-appeasement Knesset statements and the resulting outrage from Barack Obama's campaign have stirred discussion of how the respective foreign policy approaches of the US presidential candidates are being received in the pro-Israel community.
Some useful insights for this analysis may be found in the recently released results of the Democrats Abroad Global Primary, which provide a window into the electoral dynamics of American Democrats in Israel compared to the rest of the world. (For delegate allocation purposes, the Democrats treated all countries outside of the United States as one "state" which held its primary some weeks ago.)
Overall, Barack Obama won big in the global primary with a commanding 66% of the vote, doubling Hillary Clinton's 33%. In Israel, however, Clinton bested Obama 54% to 45%. Such a huge discrepancy is revealing of the worries many in Israel - including Democrats - have about the prospect of an Obama presidency. As American voters in Israel have a front-row seat to the impact of America's Middle East policies, these results may also be indicative of Obama's vulnerability within the larger pro-Israel contingent of America's electorate.
Interestingly, the only other country in which Obama fared so poorly is the Philippines. Similar to Israel, facing an existential threat from an assortment of growing Islamic terror groups, a solid (55%-44%) majority of American Democrats in the Philippines rejected Obama.
Now the Democrats' presumptive nominee, Obama last week embarked on a highly-publicized visit to a Florida synagogue to address the well-known fears of his Jewish audience about his candidacy. Yet, the numerous conversations we've had with Democrats in Israel reveal continuing significant discomfort with Obama's ascent. Here is what we have found most worries Democrat-leaning voters in Israel:
Obama's foreign policy and Middle East inexperience: In sharp contrast to John McCain (Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, 25 years as a solidly pro-Israel Congressman/Senator) - and even compared to Hillary Clinton who has amassed a solid record - Obama is perceived as a foreign-policy novice.
Senator Obama has been in the Senate barely three years and two of which he has been running for President. While foreign policy experience may not have seemed that important in the elections of 1992, 1996, and 2000 (America's so-called "holiday from history"), in the post-9/11 world, its importance is paramount. Especially regarding the Middle East, foreign policy miscalculations can be lethal.
Obama's naïve approach to enemies of the United States and Israel: Following President Bush's Knesset speech, Obama's oft-repeated promise to meet America's enemies without preconditions during his first year in office is the topic de jour. Obama also continues to promise, in essence, to immediately begin unilateral withdrawal of American troops from Iraq - without regard to the risks posed to any post-surge progress achieved in the improved Iraqi military and political situations.
Democrats in Israel fear that Obama is naïve and overly solicitous of hostile - even genocidal - Arab and Muslim dictatorships. There is also fear that a similarly unserious attitude is pervasive within Obama's wing of the Democrat Party.
In the past year, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former President Jimmy Carter paid high-profile visits to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and Hamas, respectively. The impotence of both missions, which bestowed upon their hosts precious credibility and prestige, undermined attempts at diplomatic isolation and achieved nothing in return, illustrates the dangerously misguided nature of Obama's pledge to unconditionally meet with the world's worst anti-American and anti-Israel leaders - including Hugo Chavez and his satanic allies in the Iranian mullahcracy. To his credit, Obama has so far rejected meeting with Hamas; but he makes no coherent distinction between meeting with one government swearing to wipe Israel off the map or another.
The Hamas "endorsement" of Obama: Now, we don't for a minute believe that Obama has anything but contempt for Hamas. But it's hard to even imagine a Hamas endorsement of John McCain. Even Democrats worry: what does it say about Obama's policies and history that he can be the preferred candidate of a movement whose entire animating purpose is to destroy Israel? In a similar vein, a recent Keevoon poll of Israeli Arabs found Obama to be their preferred choice by an 11-point margin. (Keevoon polls show that Jewish Israelis prefer Clinton to Obama by a whopping 61% to 12 %, and McCain over Obama by better than a two-to-one margin.)
The company Obama keeps: The concerns only begin with Obama's long association with his America and Israel bashing pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Obama counts a disturbing number of vocally harsh Israel-critics as high-profile advisors on his campaign staff. (Just last month, Robert Malley, one of Obama's informal foreign policy advisors, resigned from the campaign after acknowledging repeatedly meeting with Hamas.)
Obama's friends include Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers and former PLO spokesman Rashid Khalidi, and Obama credits Khalidi with uncovering "my own blind spots and my own biases." As a paid director of the non-profit Woods Fund, Obama funneled $75,000 in grants to the Arab American Action Network (run by Khalidi's wife, Mona), which refers to Israel's creation as the "Nakba" (catastrophe).
Obama has additional connections to the Palestinian nationalist community. On his popular pro-Palestinian website, Electronic Intifada, Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah recounted meeting Obama at numerous Palestinian/Arab community events at which, according to Abunimah, Obama called for a more "even-handed" policy regarding Israel. At one such 2004 dinner, Abunimah "went up to greet [Obama]. He responded warmly, and volunteered, 'Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front.' He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, 'Keep up the good work!'
Obama's condescension to the Jewish community: Obama's attempted Jewish outreach has actually insulted many Jews. Here's Obama in Florida last week: "Don't judge me because I've got a funny name. Don't judge me because I'm African-American and people are concerned about memories of the past." Oh. Now I get it-if Jews have a problem with Obama's murky record, incoherent policy recommendations and loathsome friends, it must actually be because we are judgmental racists.
Telling Jews to "call me Baruch Obama" might get his cheek pinched by Jewish grandmothers at Del Boca Vista, but the implicit suggestion that the pro-Israel community has nothing to fear because he can make a cute, canned "insider" quip seems patronizingly dismissive of legitimate concerns about his candidacy.
Obama's support has already eroded among Jewish voters. Formerly split 50-50, the Jewish vote in the Democrats' Pennsylvania primary quickly swung to 62%-38% (according to exit polling) for Clinton following revelations of Reverend Wright's wacky worldview.
That trend of Jewish voters away from Obama is likely to continue until Obama can convince a skeptical electorate that their fears are unfounded. Although Democrats are touting recent polls of Jewish voters favoring Obama over McCain, they neglect to mention that McCain is gaining ground, and is already within striking distance of the highest-ever Jewish vote for a Republican candidate (Ronald Reagan's 40% in 1980 against Jimmy Carter).
This suggests that many Hillary Clinton supporters and independents that had formerly supported Obama will break for McCain in the general election. For many of those once enthused by Obama's seemingly fresh, inspiring candidacy, "Yes we can" has degenerated, sadly, into "Then again, we better not."
Kory Bardash is co-chair Republicans Abroad Israel and Abe Katsman is counsel to Republicans Abroad Israel