Al Jazeera has just run a provocative but important clip capturing some public attitudes of Israeli Jewish views toward Obama. One of those questioned — an otherwise seemingly reasonable young man said that he would harm the President if he had the chance and others had no problem furthering the fabrication that he is an Arab or that he is a Muslim.
Max Blumenthal, author of Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party, did a similar experiment earlier this year around the time of Israel’s elections and found plenty of young and inebriated Israelis to publicly say some outrageous things about Barack Obama. Clayton Swisher‘s subjects are not drunk but are offering their comments while sober and during the day.
If one did a similar set of interviews in any number of Arab countries, I think it would be easy to find many who would say pretty awful anti-Semitic things about Israeli Jews, so there is no path to moral superiority on one side of the Arab/Israeli line over the other.
However, there is a question of whether more Jews in Israel — who feel threatened because of what the media has been feeding them or feel threatened by the prospects of Obama seriously pursuing a peace plan — are diverging from American Jewish views or not in their perspective about the President.
This video clip is not scientific and can’t really answer that question — but my own sense of leaders in the American Jewish community, whether from AIPAC leaders or from the American Jewish Committee, is that they would strongly protest the kind of statements that people in the Swisher/Al Jazeera video are making.
What is more disconcerting, however, is the seeming absence of criticism of this kind of threatening and racist commentary by leading Israeli government officials.
Over the last few years, until the healthy national shift represented in the election of the Democratic Party of Japan, I wrote now and then about the growth of a strident, dark, pugnacious nationalism in Japan in which violence — threatened and real — was more and more a part of the tool kit of Japan’s far right nationalists. They intimidated leading elected and civil service officials and their families for expressing what they believed were unacceptable views on China, on the imperial system, or Japan’s past historical deeds. What was disconcerting was the reluctance of both Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his successor Prime Minister Abe to criticize this violence and to speak out against Japan’s growing thuggery.
Today, what is more worrisome than the views on the street that Al Jazeera was able to record is the absence of national condemnation of those views.
I remember when former Deputy Spokesman of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Gideon Meir once told me that Israel’s diaspora — including AIPAC — often try to help so much that it hurts, that Israel’s view of the world sometimes were different and less dire and certainly more complicated than the diaspora groups could comprehend.
Well, in this case, I think it is the American Jewish community that has a far greater fix on appropriate conduct with regard to Barack Obama than some of the rank and file citizens of Israel. This is a time when listening to the diaspora voices would be important.
And reversing the obvious ignorance of many in Israel about Barack Obama’s faith and background is long overdue.
— Steve Clemons