By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
Writing in the New York Times last week, Aluf Benn, the editor at large of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, argued that President Obama was losing face with Israelis by declining to speak directly to them:
In his global tours and TV appearances, President Obama has spoken to Arabs, Muslims, Iranians, Western Europeans, Eastern Europeans, Russians and Africans. His words have stirred emotions and been well received everywhere.
But he hasn't bothered to speak directly to Israelis.
And the effect? Six months into his presidency, Israelis find themselves increasingly suspicious of Mr. Obama. All they see is American pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze settlements, a request that's been interpreted here as political arm-twisting meant to please the Arab street at Israel's expense—or simply to express the president's dislike for Mr. Netanyahu.
First, it is important to bring perspective to the vocal group of individuals in our community who remain unhappy with our president. Despite this group's extraordinary efforts to smear Obama in the Jewish community during last year's campaign, the president received 78% of the Jewish vote. The media has much experience overhyping the man-bites-dog Obama-has-a-Jewish-problem story, but at some point Obama's actual record ought to beat out salacious copy. . . .
What may speak louder than Obama's words are his actions. As the ink of Benn's op-ed was drying, the president sent Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones and Middle East Special Envoy George Mitchell to talk with their Israeli counterparts. They spoke about issues ranging from US policy against Iranian nuclear proliferation to the continuing strategic partnership between our governments. We now see numerous media reports reflecting the reality that this administration will couple any settlement deal with sharp pressure on the Arab world to normalize relations with the Jewish state.
An important difference between the two op-eds is that the favorable one was written by an Obama partisan, lending the critical one more credibility.
For now, Obama is showing Israel tough love. The political question is how long the Israelis and American Jews will take Obama's word on the "love" part without a big-hearted gesture toward the Jewish state, like a visit.