Caroline B. Glick is the deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post and the senior fellow for Middle East Affairs at the Center for Security Policy. Her book, Shackled Warrior, Israel and the Global Jihad was released earlier this year. She took questions from National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez on Friday about Barack Obama’s visit to the Mideast.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Am I wrong in saying that Barack Obama did not impress Israel?
Caroline Glick: Israelis are very caught up with our local news right now. Foremost on our national agenda are the seven criminal probes being carried out against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the political maneuvering surrounding those investigations, and the expectation of new elections or some governmental shake-up in the wake of Olmert’s likely indictment on fraud charges. Consequently, Obama’s visit didn’t evoke any deep-seated interest in Israel.
At the same time, he didn’t make any serious mistakes during his visit so to the extent he made any impression, he made a positive one. There is trepidation in Israel about the statements he has made about Iran and the division of Jerusalem and his associations with anti-Semites like Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But the media wasn’t given much opportunity to challenge him on these points and so the trepidation was not dispelled. But again, Israelis by and large just weren’t that into him.
Lopez: What was the point of the trip there so far as you can tell?
Glick: The point of the trip was clearly to shore up support for Obama among American Jewish voters. It is hard to know whether he was successful in doing so or not, although he certainly didn’t hurt himself among those who already support him.
His repeated assertions of his commitment to Israel’s security were repeatedly contradicted by the policies he wishes to adopt if elected. On the one hand he opposes permitting Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, but on the other hand, he insists that the way to make this happen is to sit down and talk to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has made annihilating the Jewish state one of his main goals in office. He says he understands Israel’s need to protect its citizens from terror attacks but then he says that Israel’s interests are served by strengthening the Palestinian terror groups by extending Palestinian sovereignty from Gaza to the West Bank. Gaza is ruled by jihadists from Hamas who are bankrolled, trained and armed by Iran. How are Israel’s interests served by importing jihadist control to the outskirts of Tel-Aviv and to Jerusalem?
Then again, like Israeli Jews, American Jews are not too caught up in details. He said he supports Israel and got his picture taken at Yad Vashem and the Wailing Wall wearing a kippa. So he probably succeeded in pulling more American Jews into his camp of supporters.
Lopez: How close did you get to the “messiah”?
Glick: I generally try to stay as far away as I possibly can from people who say they can make oceans recede. Our paths didn’t cross. In fact, I managed to be out of the country on Wednesday.
Lopez: How did the Palestinians take to him?
Glick: They were certainly gratified that unlike Senator John McCain, Obama made the trip to Ramallah and had his picture taken with Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas against the backdrop of Yasser Arafat’s photograph. It is hard though to know if Obama’s trip changed the Palestinians’ impression of him. It is already clear, and has been for months that the Palestinians, like the Arab world (minus Iraq) prefer Obama to McCain because they view him as sympathetic to their war against Israel and their hostility towards the U.S. and the rest of the West. But he was in Israel for such a short time that it is hard to say that his visit excited anyone.
Lopez: Does he remind you of anyone?
Glick: Obama acts like a European leader in his treatment of Israel. On the one hand, he professes this profound respect for Israel and the Jews, and goes on and on about how our security is important to him. On the other hand, he espouses policies that undermine Israeli security and threaten its survival, and demands that the Jewish state become the only state that turns its other cheek towards our enemies as they try to kill us. This is the same sort of message that we hear from all Europeans leaders. And it is tiresome and insulting.
Beyond that, Obama is in a unique situation because of the adulation he enjoys from the U.S. and Western media. The media is willing to ignore all of the substantive contradictions inherent in his policy pronouncements and to base their support for him on a quasi-religious faith. I don’t remember this ever happening before in an American election — at least not to the same extent. It is an interesting sociological phenomenon that is worthy of academic research. On a political level, it makes debate very difficult since Obama is treated more as a symbol than a politician. And it is hard to debate a symbol.
Lopez: What the heck happened at the Wailing Wall?
Glick: That depends who you read. In Israel, the story was presented as “an ugly Israeli” story. People were rude and heckled him at the Wall, someone removed his note. Israelis are mean and rude to visitors, end of story.
In the U.S. blogosphere especially, the story was cast as angry Jews yelling at Obama for his desire to transfer sovereignty over parts of Israel’s capital city to the Palestinians.
What is clear is that Obama wrote the following prayer that he placed in the Wall, “Lord, Protect my family and me. Forgive my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.”