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Let's hope Obama won't be a 'friend of Israel'

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by Gideon Levy
Haaretz Nov. 9, 2008


The march of parochialism started right away. The tears of excitement
invoked by U.S. president-elect Barack Obama's wonderful speech had not
yet dried, and back here people were already delving into the only real
question they could think to ask: Is this good or bad for Israel? One
after another, the analysts and politicians got up - all of them
representing one single school of thought, of course and began

They spoke with the caution that the situation required, gritting their
teeth as though their mouths were full of pebbles, trying to soothe all
the fears and concerns. They searched and found signs in Obama: The
promising appointment of the Israeli ex-patriots' son, whose father
belonged to the Irgun, and maybe also Dennis Ross and Dan Kurtzer and
Martin Indyk, who may, God willing, be included in the new

But in the background, a dark cloud hovered above. Careful, danger. The
black man, who had associated with Palestinian expats, who speaks of
human rights, who favors diplomacy over war, who even wants to engage
Iran in dialogue, who will allocate more funding for America's social
needs than to weapons exports. He may not be the sort of "friend of
Israel" that we have come to love in Washington, the kind of friend we
have grown accustomed to.

What's the panic all about? The truth needs to be said: At the base of
all of these fears is the angst that this president will push Israel to
end the occupation and move toward peace.

Well, maybe Obama will not be a "friend of Israel." May the great
change he is promising not omit his country's Mideast policy. May Obama
herald not only a new America, but also a new Middle East.

When we say that someone is a "friend of Israel" we mean a friend of
the occupation, a believer in Israel's self-armament, a fan of its
language of strength and a supporter of all its regional delusions.
When we say someone is a "friend of Israel" we mean someone who will
give Israel a carte blanche for any violent adventure it desires, for
rejecting peace and for building in the territories.

Israel's greatest friend in the White House, outgoing U.S. President
George W. Bush, was someone like that. There is no other country where
this man, who brought a string of disasters down upon his own nation
and the world, would receive any degree of prestige and respect. Only
in Israel.

Only in Israel does the prime minister place George Bush's portrait in
his den, in his private home. Only in Israel does the prime minister
travel to visit him in the White House.

That's because Bush was a friend of Israel. Israel's greatest friend.
Bush let it embark on an unnecessary war in Lebanon. He did not prevent
the construction of a single outpost. He may have encouraged Israel, in
secret, to bomb Iran. He did not pressure Israel to move ahead with
peace talks, he even held up negotiations with Syria, and he did not
reproach Israel for its policy of targeted killings.

Bush also supported the siege on Gaza and participated in the boycott
of Hamas, which was elected in a democratic election initiated by his
own administration.

That's just how we like U.S. presidents. They give us a green light to
do as we please. They fund, equip and arm us, and sit tight. Such is
the classic friend of Israel, a friend who is an enemy, and enemy of
peace and an enemy to Israel.

Let us now hope that Obama will not be like them. That he will reveal
himself to be a true friend of Israel. That he will put his whole
weight behind a deep American involvement in the Middle East, that he
will try to solve the Iranian issue through negotiation - the only
effective means. That he will help end the siege on Gaza and the
boycott of Hamas, that he will push Israel and Syria to make peace,
that he will spur Israel and the Palestinians to reach a settlement.

We should hope Obama will help Israel help itself, because that is how
friendship is measured. That he will criticize its policy when he must,
because that, too, is a test of true friendship.

Let him use his clout to end the occupation and dismantle the
settlement project. Let him remember that human and civil rights also
apply to the Palestinians, not only to black Americans. And apropos
world peace, he needs to start with peace in the Middle East, home to
the most dangerous of conflicts, which has been threatening the world
for a century now, and is feeding international terrorism.

A true friend of Israel needs to remember that Israel may be "the only
democracy in the Middle East," but not in its own backyard. That next
to Sderot, which he visited, is Gaza. That "common values" must not
include a cruel occupation. That friendship does not mean blind and
automatic support.

Let him speak with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, as often as he can and
with whomever is willing to talk. And let him do it before the next
war, not after it. Let him remember that he has the power to do all

Changing the Middle East was in the power of each and every U.S.
president, who could have pressured Israel and put an end to the
occupation. Most of them kept their hands off as if it were a hot
potato, all in the name of a wonderful friendship.

So bring us an American president who is not another dreadful "friend
of Israel," an Obama who won't blindly follow the positions of the
Jewish lobby and the Israeli government. You did promise change, did
you not?

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