Saturday, May 17th, 2008
Tel Aviv — Judging from the views of Israeli academics at a panel Thursday afternoon, Israel has much to worry about if Barack Obama is elected president this fall.
Barry Rubin, a well-known and respected Mideast expert and academic, told an audience today at a conference at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) at Bar-Ilan University here that an Obama victory would precipitate “the most dangerous crisis facing the world.”
After citing his own credentials as a former Washingtonian who worked for the campaigns of numerous Democratic presidential candidates, going back to John Kennedy in 1960, Rubin described Obama as “not the candidate of the [moderate] Arab states, but the candidate of the Islamists, whether he knows it or not.
“If elected, he will be the most anti-Israel president in American history,” asserted Rubin, who is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center at IDC, the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya, and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.
He said that while Obama speaks of his willingness to meet with autocratic leaders of countries like Iran and Syria, he only uses the carrot half of the carrot/stick equation.
“He never mentions what he would do if the talks fail, and he doesn’t talk about the need for the U.S. to show its strength.”
Rubin predicted that Obama would choose Robert Malley, a former State Department official who criticized Israel for its role in the failure of the Camp David peace talks in 2000, to be director of policy planning, if elected. And Rubin said it was no accident that Obama’s recent reference to the Israel-Palestinian conflict as “a constant sore” was the same phrase Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, has used in an article in The Nation.
Another Israeli panelist on Thursday, Eytan Gilboa of the sponsoring BESA Center, was not as critical as Rubin. But he said that Obama has the American Arab vote “in his pocket” and that his lack of experience and seeming eagerness to talk through any problem were “worrisome” traits.
The other two panelists were Robert Lieber of Georgetown University and me.
Lieber said Obama is not anti-Israel and indeed appears supportive of the Jewish state. But he said the Illinois senator would face a serious problem if, as president, he tries to reason with American and Israeli enemies like Iran, whose leaders have proven intractable for decades. “It won’t get him very far,” said Lieber, who also spoke of Obama’s inexperience, predicting that he would be tested early on by U.S. adversaries.
In my presentation, I said there was “a good deal of discomfort and unease” with Obama among American Jews, particularly those over 40, and that it was difficult to tell how much was based on his policies or lack of experience, how much on his association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and how much on race, among other factors.
The two-day conference theme was “Whither American Zionism?” But most of the presentations dealt with the past, with several speakers, including former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens, pointing out that the movement’s golden years were its early ones, in the first two decades of the 20th century.
The movement had “an auspicious start,” noted Arens, who cited early leaders like Justice Louis Brandeis and Justice Felix Frankfurter. “But it didn’t live up to expectations,” he said, citing the low figures of American aliyah.
Large-scale aliyah from the U.S. “could have made all the difference,” Arens said, in Israel’s struggles with its Arab neighbors.