Showing posts with label President Obama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label President Obama. Show all posts

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"President Obama" Flogging McDonald's in Israel - a Must See

Check out this Israeli TV ad for McDonald's. McDonald's Israel Ad.  It's rather amusing.  If you don't want me to spoil it, watch the ad before reading any further...

The ad features a smiling likeness of President Obama saying "God bless Israel" at the end of the ad - and "God bless McDonald's Big America Meal" (one of the featured meals in McDonald's Israel).  It is being run constantly on Israeli TV.  I find it both interesting and amusing - and maybe somewhat surprising that a major corporation would use a likeness of the U.S. President in a commercial TV ad.  I'm surprised that McDonald's of Israel has not received some sort of cease and desist letter - or if they have they haven't acted on it.

I tend to doubt that President Obama authorize the ads, even though he is known to enjoy the odd stop at a McDonald's, though perhaps not as much as former President Clinton.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The U.S. Election, Obama, Netanyahu and Israel

So after four years of run-up, the U.S. election came and went yesterday.  Although the electoral college system is quirky and flawed, the U.S. still ranks among a fairly small number of truly democratic nations that hold properly democratic elections and transfer power peacefully.  Election night is a great evening (or morning) of television drama and can be quite suspenseful some years.  While things were uncertain at some points last night, there was definitely an early sense that it was going to be President Obama's night, even while Ohio and Florida remained unpredictable.  By the end of the night, Governor Romney gracefully accepted that the American people had spoken and lauded the American democratic system. 

Israel shares that great democratic tradition with the U.S. and other distinguished company and will go to the polls in January 22, 2013, although as of the writing of this blog entry it appears that the political landscape in Israel is not likely to change any more dramatically than the U.S. changed as a result of its 2012 election.

The whole topic of Israel and the Middle East attracted quite a bit of interest during this U.S. campaign., probably more so than many previous campaigns.  Like in the case with many other issues in this U.S. election, particularly social issues, people's views were very polarized.  There were those, like vice Presidential candidate Ryan and Governor Romney himself, trying to portray President Obama as someone who had "thrown Israel under the bus."  On the other side, there were those like former World Jewish Congress Chair Edgar Bronfman, who staunchly defended President Obama as a great friend of Israel.  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu seemed to have gotten himself involved in the campaign in a very partisan and unprecedented fashion and this may not have been such a great tactic for ongoing Israeli-U.S. relations even though it might assist Prime Minister Netanyahu in his dealings with his domestic constituency.

In looking at President Obama's record in his first term, it does seem odd and uncomfortable, to say the least, that the President would fly to the Middle East and visit Egypt - in a very apologetic way - and not find the time to visit Israel. While I appreciate that President Obama visited Israel before the 2008 election (and it is fair to say that his trip was better planned and more graceful than Romney's visit this year), he should have found the time to visit Israel at some point during his first term.  Hopefully, he will visit soon.

It was also unhelpful, to say the least, to lay all of the blame for the failed peace negotiations on Israel by insisting that the first step that must be taken, as a precondition for any negotiation is a building freeze.  President Obama realized this and backtracked somewhat.  But his call for a return to 1967 borders also seemed to be handled in a deliberately provocative way even though he added "with mutually agreeable land swaps" to the phrasing.  At the time time, Prime Minister Netanyahu's response was predictably excessive and seemed intended to further the rift with the U.S. President.  Despite all of this, most analysts who are genuinely interested in a peaceful solution recognize that the eventual result will have to be a two state solution with mutually agreeable land swaps.  This is even a solution that the present Israeli government has endorsed - and certainly the kind of solution that former President Bill Clinton pushed so hard to achieve, while remaining extremely popular in Israel.

Another source of tension between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama has been the issue of Iran.  President Obama has overseen a series of very significant sanctions imposed on Iran in an effort to cease the Iranian nuclear program.  Yet despite these sanctions, it is far from clear that the sanctions will actually result in Iran dismantling its program.  So it does seem reasonable for Prime Minister Netanyahu, as he proposed at the U.N. to ask that the world draw a "red line" beyond which other means may become necessary if Iran continues to develop a nuclear program.  Neither President Obama nor Governor Romney were willing to stake out a "red-line" position and in the third U.S. debate, their positions on this issue sounded very similar if not identical.  It may well be naive, given Iran's history, to assume that Iran will concede its position as a result of the sanctions or that this plan of action will actually stop Iran from producing nuclear weapons.  But it is unclear whether any U.S. president would support Israel in conducting a pre-emptive attack at this time.

It may well be the the source of tension is also related to a personality clash between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama or a perception of policy direction rather than actual policies that have been implemented.  In fact, the level of strategic, military and economic cooperation between Israel and the United States is it one of its highest points ever and the two countries remain very close allies and friends.

In Israel, the perception of antipathy towards Israel by President Obama apparently translated into a voting trend by absentee American voters living in Israel choosing to vote for Governor Romney by a margin as high as 85% to 15%.  Of course, the explanation that has been suggested by some is that a significantly high percentage of American expatriates living in Israel are observant Orthodox Jews who might also share some of the social policy preferences of the Republican party and are likely to vote for "right wing" parties in Israel.  I am fairly confident that if one were to poll Conservative (Masorti) and Reform American Jews living in Israel, the results would be quite different.

On the other hand, President Obama apparently carried close to 70% of the Jewish vote in the United States itself.  While some suggest that this is because many American Jews are apathetic about Israel, I don't think this is the real explanation.  American Jews tend to share many policy preferences on a whole range of social issues with the Democrats rather than the Republicans (ranging from abortion and gun control to who might be the most suitable candidate for appointment to the Supreme Court).  Further, while many of these American Jews are staunchly supportive of Israel, that is not necessarily synonymous with being staunchly supportive of all of Prime Minister Netanyahu's policies.  In fact, many very committed Israelis have views about the peace process and other matters that are diametrically opposed to those of Israel's current Prime Minister.  Overall, most American Jews probably prefer Edgar Bronfman's viewpoint that President Obama is, and will continue to be a strong friend of Israel rather than the rhetoric that was coming from the likes of Sheldon Adelson.

Even though President Obama has vowed to continue the strong relationship between Israel and the United States, there are certainly areas of concern.  The tension over Iran's nuclear program will heat up as Iran draws closer to its goals.  The continuing absence of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is also a sore spot and one that is potentially explosive.  And the personal tension between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu has probably been exacerbated after Netanyahu's failed efforts to bolster Governor Romney's campaign.
The tension even increase further if President Obama chooses to become as involved in the Israeli election as Prime Minister Netanyahu was in the American election.

Yet, it seems to me that with all of this said, the best thing that President Obama could do in the area of Mideast policy, would be to plan a visit to Israel, Jordan and the area governed by the Palestinian Authority at a fairly early stage in his second term.  With a short but meaningful visit, President Obama could send a confidence boosting message to the Israeli public and to the Palestinians that would probably help him regain some of the trust he would need to oversee a peace deal successfully. 


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Israel, the U.S. and Iran - Rosh Hashanah 5773

As Jews around the world prepare to celebrate Rosh Hashanah  - the Jewish New Year of 5773, it is probably fair to say that many of us have significant concerns about the coming year and in particular the situation that Israel is currently facing.

Events throughout the region over the past year have demonstrated yet again that Israel resides in a very unstable and dangerous neighbourhood.  The emergence of an Islamic government in Egypt, with its volatile and often hostile rhetoric has led to a heightened level of security on Israel’s southern border and accompanying sense of deep concern.

Events  unfolding in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East have all reinforced the idea that Israel really is an island of democracy and western values in a sea of dark, hostile regimes.  As Caroline Glick recently suggested in the Jerusalem Post, many liberals held the optimistic view that these regimes would be “liberated” and would choose freedom in their new transformed governing structures.  But this hope has not turned to reality.  In fact, even Turkey, a country that once was the example of a true Muslim democracy, seems headed in the other direction.  For all the talk of an “Arab Spring” in Egypt, there is no sign that Egypt will be emerging from winter weather any time soon even though summer and early fall temperatures may regularly pass 40 C.

Of course, above all else, the Israeli government, the Israeli press and much of the world media have been consumed with the ongoing threat posed by Iran and the best way for Israel to address it.

There is no easy solution here.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has been pushing for a “red line” threat to be presented by the world to Iran, beyond which the world community would take military action to prevent Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions. 

On the one hand, Israel has every reason to be concerned.  Iranian leader Ahmadinejad has vowed to destroy Israel and has repeatedly called for its elimination.  He has called Israel “a cancer” on the body of the world that needs to be removed.  Iran has certainly shown in the past that it is not averse to suicidal missions that could result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of its citizens if this is viewed as justifiable.  Should Israel simply dismiss his rhetoric as that of a madman?  This could be a very dangerous miscalculation, as history has shown.  This is a very real, existential issue for Israel.

On the other hand, it is not clear that Israel would be able to carry out a successful attack on all of Iran’s nuclear facilities at this time, even with U.S. help, if such help was forthcoming.  This does not appear to be the same type of situation that Israel faced in dealing with Iraq’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, Iraq in 1981 or the alleged attack by Israel on the Syrian nuclear project in September 2007.  Iran supposedly has many different sites, spread out throughout the country and hidden deep below the ground.  These sites have purportedly been designed to repel traditional air attacks.

Moreover, if Israel were successful, it is far from clear that such success would translate into a significant delay in Iran’s nuclear capabilities.  Perhaps Israel would gain a year or two or more, but Iran might also redouble its efforts with increased aid from sympathetic countries.  As well, Israel could face massive reprisal attacks from a range of sources.  Israel had a very difficult time defending itself from rocket attacks in the 2006 war with Lebanon.  This time around, the attacks could be far more severe.   

Radio talk shows have filled the airwaves in Israel with discussions of possible consequences.  One radio show I was listening to was hosting former Israeli generals to discuss competing estimates of potential Israeli casualties in the event of an attack on Iran.  The estimates ranged from 300-400 Israelis killed in a “highly successful attack and defence strategy” to tens of thousands in a less successful operation.

Another radio show appealed to the black humour of the Israeli public which is often necessary for those of us living here.  Callers were asked to come up with an appropriate code name for the eventual military operation to be undertaken.  This show was a few months ago, just after the holiday of Purim (which is said to have taken place in ancient Persia (i.e. Iran).  Callers were suggesting names like “Operation Avenge Esther,” “Operation Crush the Hamentaschen” or “Operation Ra’ashan” (a noise maker used on Purim to blot out the name of the evil villain of the story, Haman).  Even though the callers were trying to be humourous, one could still sense the readily apparent level of unease.

More recently, much has been made of the apparent rift between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and U.S. President Obama, particularly over the very issue of whether to proceed with an attack on Iran.  Many have suggested that Netanyahu is openly interfering with the current U.S. election campaign by attempting to call attention to President Obama’s failure to give Israel a green light (at least publicly) to proceed with an operation against Iran.  Indeed, Netanyahu often seems to be echoing the sentiments of Republican candidate Mitt Romney who claimed that President Obama has “thrown Israel under the bus.”

But President Obama’s record  vis a vis Israel is not nearly as negative as one might believe from listening to the words of Prime Minister Netanyahu or Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  In many respects, U.S.-Israeli cooperation in military, economic and technological spheres is the strongest it has ever been.   While it is somewhat disconcerting that President Obama has not visited Israel during his first term in office (even while visiting Egypt), it is far from clear that the U.S. President must be seen as supporting every policy of the current Israeli Prime Minister to be viewed as a close friend and ally.  In fact, quite a number of Israelis do not agree with many of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies.  Many Israelis feel that Prime Minister Netanyahu has gone out of his way to try embarrass President Obama and to push for the election of Romney.

While some Israelis might accept Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assessment of President Obama’s views of Israel, it appears that American Jews are remaining supportive of President Obama.  According to a Gallup poll released this week, some 70% of American Jews are expected to vote for President Obama in the upcoming elections.  While this may signify the fact that American Jews overwhelmingly support more liberal positions on a range of social issues – and these are the issues that dominate an American presidential election campaign, it may also indicate that American Jews still believe that Obama will be fine for Israel in the long run.  Many Israelis (and American Jews) would count Democratic President Bill Clinton as one of the best friends that Israel ever had in the White House.  On the other hand, Republican President Ronald Reagan was a tremendous friend of the Saudi Arabian regime, perhaps more so than with Israel.  It is far from clear that President Bush’s policies (either one of the two presidents) left Israel in a safer, more secure or more stable situation in the Middle East. 

Hopefully, despite all of the posturing by Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli-U.S. relationship will continue to be a close, strategic relationship between friends, irrespective of who wins the White House in November.  And hopefully, these friends will continue to work together on an urgent basis to come up with the best way of preventing Iran from fulfilling its nuclear ambitions.  It may well be that military leaders have a detailed plan for a pending attack that will meet all of its objectives successfully.  Or perhaps, there will be other ways to achieve this result.

That’s a lot to hope for at Rosh Hashanah, along with our hopes for peace throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world.  But I do believe that we have to be optimistic, even while being realistic and being prepared for a whole range of possible scenarios. 

A happy and healthy New Year to all.  Shana Tova.