Reading the Israeli dailies on the eve of President Obama’s policy speech at Cairo Univeristy, I was shocked and saddened at the extremism – and tolerance of that extremism – by the right wing in Israeli society.
Posters are being placed around the country depicting Obama wearing a kaffiyeh and shaking hands with Iranian President Ahmadinejad (allowing Iran to build nuclear weapons). Furthermore, these posters and the official reactions given to the press by these right wing leaders after Obama’s speech consistently call the American president “Hussein,” suggesting that his Muslim middle name reveals Obama’s “true identity” and favoritism of the Arab world over Israel.
I could talk about how ridiculous these communications are and how President Obama is actually very pro-Israel and committed to Israel’s security and peace prospects more than his predecessor, but instead I am saddened. I am saddened because I am a strong supporter of Israel, her people and her chances for peace. I am saddened because the way in which Obama is being depicted in Israel shows an ignorant, extremist and immature view of Israel’s leadership.
The sentiment directed towards President Obama gives exceptional insight into the Israeli mentality. Attacking Obama for being pro-Arab demonstrates an extreme lack of confidence and weakness on behalf of Israelis. Instead of giving this president a chance to work with Israel, they are quickly retreating to a circle the wagons strategy. It’s almost as if Israel still believes the Jewish people are living as guests in other countries instead of their own, where they have defended themselves against warring enemies for six decades successfully. While the rest of the world sees Israel as the most powerful country in the Middle East who holds the majority of cards for diplomatic and military initiatives, Israel’s right-wing still sees itself as weak and threatened whose imminent demise is only moments away.
Furthermore, and most troubling, Israel’s right wing has shown a disgusting double standard. Jews around the world have fought against anti-Semitism and bigotry seemingly forever. They have achieved such gains in defeating widespread anti-Semitism and achieving tolerance, which makes Obama’s depiction as wearing a kaffiyeh and calling him Hussein even more disgusting. What can be more intolerant and prejudiced than that? What if Obama was depicted with a kipah, a beard and sidelocks? Wouldn’t the Jewish people be calling that anti-Semitism? I think so.
If there’s one thing the Israeli right has done well, is testing the limits of free speech. Now they’ve done it too well. They are becoming so extreme and dominating Israel’s political conversation that it will no doubt hurt the country and damage any government’s ability to govern. I hope, for Israel’s sake, that these element of society can look itself in the face and see/hear itself for what it is actually saying.