Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama, McCain, and Israel

The more I see him the more I like him. But I still cannot vote for him. I like him because he is so young yet so polished. He exudes confidence. His image is unlike anything we’ve seen since the days of John F. Kennedy. He is the closest thing to JFK since… well… JFK. The smile, the youthful family, the tall good looks, the intelligence… It’s all there. Add to that that he will be the first black President - and it’s just about a foregone conclusion. The latest poll seems to indicate that too.

There is an excitement about him I haven’t seen since JFK's time. It’s magical. Contrast that with the lackluster campaign of John McCain. That’s why I think the man from Chicago with the funny name -Barack Obama - is going to be the next President of the United States.

How can he not be with the media fawning all over him? They treat him as though he was already President. And so does just about everyone else - including most foreign leaders. Media attention to presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain can be summed up in two words: John who…?!

In order not to be accused of the obvious bias they have, the media has begrudgingly given McCain some attention albeit not as fawning. Yesterday in counterpoint to the media circus surrounding Obama, McCain was asked how his views about Israel differed from those of Obama. He had a very brief answer that spoke to his underlying attitude. ‘I will never allow a second holocaust to take place.’

I will say this about Obama. I do not think he is as bad for Israel as I originally feared. Nor do I believe that people in his life who have spoken hateful rhetoric against the State of Israel or that have a nefarious past have influenced him in any significant way. Nor will his past relationships with them influence the potential voter.

Yesterday, Barack Obama was in Israel and met with many Israeli leaders. And he was treated practically like royalty. In the TV news coverage I saw, Obama said all the right things. He hit all the right notes in all the right places.

For example in Sederot - the city near Gaza that Hamas has terrorized with daily rocket fire since Israel withdrew - Obama said that if he lived in Sederot and his daughter’s bedrooms were in danger of being hit with a deadly rocket he would do what ever it took to stop it.

Many similar statements were made along those lines in many different locations. He was given the ‘royal’ helicopter tour given to all national leaders when they visit Israel to show how vulnerable their narrow borders are to attack from their hostile neighbors. All the famous Israeli politicians met with him. Olmert, Barak, Livni, Peres, Netanayahu - they were all there and were all ‘back-slapping’ friendly.

But what I also saw was body language. Sometimes that will tell you more than words. During all his expressions of support, his face was dour. He sounded pro forma - almost formulaic in his statements. Never any passion. Never a smile. Just an expressionless face mouthing the same platitudes any politician running for office would make when courting the Jewish vote.

If I could judge him by his words alone I could almost see myself voting for him against the lackluster John McCain. They have said virtually the same things. But at this point in time they are only words.

I am now fairly convinced that Obama will not put the kind of pressure on Israel to make concessions as I first thought. But I am equally convinced that his commitment is not of the same type as John McCain’s. McCain comes across - at least to me – as more emotionally involved in Israel’s welfare.

Anyone who sees Israel’s survival in terms of the holocaust has a commitment that transcends the cold calculations of geopolitics - or even the politics of one’s own country. McCain’s support is more from the gut. It is instinctive. Obama’s is more rational.He sees first what is best for his own country. Which is I suppose the most important thing for a President to consider.

I don’t think John McCain is any less devoted to the welfare of his own country. If he were, he shouldn’t be President. Of course he would put America’s welfare first. But when it comes to Israel I am going to vote for the man who will be less likely to sacrifice Israel’s needs, when push comes to shove. I want a man that sees Iran as a mortal threat to Israel and will do whatever it takes to prevent that 2nd holocaust. Not that Obama wouldn’t do the same thing. But his calculations would be different.

Most Jews are not single issue voters. Most of us will vote the same way our Christian neighbors will – on issues that affect the United States such as jobs, the economy, or the environment. Or they will vote their values. Israel is a factor too but that is not necessarily on the top of the typical Jewish-American voter’s mind - anymore that Ireland is on top of the typical Irish-American voter’s mind.

But to me the Jewish people come first. Israel - the land deeded to us in the Torah by God - is where they live now in large and growing numbers. And they are constantly being threatened by Islamists like Iran’s Ahmadinejad - and Jihadist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. The holocaust is deeply burned into my mind. As it seems to be evidently burned into the mind of John McCain.

This is the man I want for President.