The ongoing Middle East conflict is so sensitive, so nuanced and so tinder-dry that any alteration in what is said, what is not said, the timbre of the saying of it, and which parts are emphasized and de-emphasized can cause a conflagration to break out.
Added to these variables are the one that has been occupying the news of late: Who says it. George W. Bush, who was considered a “Friend of Israel,” could say that peace negotiations should use as their basis the pre-1967 borders with mutually-agreed swaps. No ripples in the waters of the status-quo. But Barack Obama says it, and suddenly it’s an international incident.
A colleague who has been to Israel several times, and who has her finger on that country’s political pulse, says that our president is not a popular figure in Israel. This is putting it mildly. She says the general feeling there is that Obama “is too busy trying to suck up to the Arabs.”
Since all matters regarding our relationship with Israel must be viewed through the prism of domestic politics (both for Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu), one has to assume that every presidential utterance on the topic has been pre-parsed, analyzed and vetted for its effect on various groups of ears before it emerges from Mr. Obama’s lips.
I put it to my colleague this way: “He’s thinking, of course, about the 2012 election. He’s talking tough in order to prove to the moderates he’s not in the tank for Israel. The evangelicals will never vote for him, anyway, so no loss there. The Jewish vote will always be Democratic. They have nowhere else to go.”
“That isn’t true anymore,” my friend said. “My father, who used to be a faithful Democrat, has started listening to Fox News. He’s getting brainwashed. You wouldn’t believe the stuff he spews at me now. I think he’s going to vote Republican the next time. And there are a lot more like him.”
Maybe those too-clever-by-half West Wing advisers ought to be listening to more people like my friend.