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How they see us: Was Obama playing to Jewish voters?

Barack Obama appeared to be speaking to an Israeli audience during his stopover last week, but his real audience was skeptical American Jewish voters who have questioned his commitment to the state of Israel, said Roni Sofer in Israel’

It may have appeared that Barack Obama was speaking to an Israeli audience during his stopover here last week, said Roni Sofer in Israel’s Ynetnews.com. But don’t be fooled. His real audience was back home, especially among those skeptical Jewish voters who have questioned his commitment to the state of Israel. The main thing Obama wanted “in his one busy day in Israel was a good photograph,” and he got a great one showing him wearing a skullcap and looking presidential. As for the content of the message, his every pronouncement here could have been spoken by any U.S. White House hopeful in recent years: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital; Iran is a serious threat; Hamas must stop calling for Israel’s destruction. These are “things that are already known to everyone” here in Israel. Then again, Obama didn’t say them in an attempt to communicate with us, but rather to garner votes from American Jews.

That’s why Arabs shouldn’t take Obama’s remarks too seriously, said Saudi Arabia’s Al-Watan in an editorial. Many of us blanched at Obama’s insistence that Jerusalem would always be Israel’s capital—after all, Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital, too. Yet that “obvious bias” toward Israel was probably just an empty rhetorical flourish of the kind that American politicians must offer to placate Jewish voters. For Arabs, the jury is still out on Obama. His emphasis on dialogue is encouraging. “It seems that the black candidate has more to offer, but so far, he seems to be giving the voters what they want to hear to ensure a position in the White House.”

I’m afraid Obama really has moved to the right on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, said Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah in the United Arab Emirates’ Khaleej Times. When I first met Obama in Chicago in the 1990s, he seemed to sympathize with the Palestinian plight. He understood that the U.S. could not be an “honest broker” in the conflict as long as it was “the main cheerleader, financier, and arms supplier” for Israel. Now that he’s a presumptive presidential nominee, though, he has been “recasting himself as a stalwart backer of Israel and tacking ever closer to positions espoused by the powerful, hard-line, pro-Israel lobby.” Obama visited Israel’s Holocaust memorial, but he did not visit Palestinian refugee camps or denounce Jewish settlement building. So would he be more evenhanded as president? I doubt it. “The reality is that the political pressures evident in a campaign do not magically disappear once the campaign is over.”

The truth is, it doesn’t really matter to Israel who wins the U.S. presidency, said Shmuel Rosner in Israel’s Haaretz.com. The U.S. has always been our most steadfast ally whether a Republican or Democrat inhabits the White House. Regardless of what Obama says or doesn’t say, “if elected, he will be our American friend, like most of his predecessors. If he is not elected, McCain will be that friend.”

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