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Obama- Let Us Be Friends

by Shmuel Rosner

February 8, 2013 | 5:38 am

President Obama, photo by Reuters

On January 16, pollster Menachem Lazar of Panels Politics asked Israelis if Obama’s leaked remarks- about Israel not knowing “what its own best interests are”- were an attempt to meddle in Israel’s elections, then six days ahead. 54% answered yes (that it is such an attempt), 23% said no.

They were then asked whether it will make Israelis less likely to vote for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu Party. 48% of them – almost half – thought Obama’s remarks would have “no impact”. It's good that Obama is such a thick-skinned President- if he weren't he might have been insulted by Israelis’ low regard for his ability to have impact on Israeli voting intentions. Besides, among the 35% of Israelis believing that Obama’s words might make a change, many more (21%) believed that the change would be in Netanyahu’s favor. That is, Israeli voters choosing Netanyahu to spite Obama.

In this poll though, when voting intentions were examined, Netanyahu’s party was at 34 mandates – a 3 point miss- and Lapid’s Yesh Atid was at 11, an 8 point miss. The right-religious political bloc was at 66 mandates. It ended up having 61 mandates. Clearly, respondents to this poll were not totally honest with Lazar, or weren’t yet decided, or were not representative of the electorate. Maybe what they said about Obama’s impact was also somewhat off?

There are three ways to look at the Obama answers:

  1. The poll is inaccurate. We can’t learn much from it.
  2. The respondents said Obama will have no impact, but voters actually were affected by his words – hence, the final tally in which more votes were given to the “center-left” than what this poll showed.
  3. The voters moved but not because of Obama. In fact, that they were thinking Obama would have no impact is testimony to their confidence that Netanyahu is winning the elections – the confidence that made many of them feel comfortable voting for parties which didn’t pretend to be running as an alternative to the PM.

Lazar, at my request, sent me his last four polls in which questions related to US-Israel relations were asked. In one of them, from November 8, 50% of the respondents said that they “weren’t happy” about Obama getting a second term (40% were satisfied). Those are probably the same 50% that two weeks earlier told Lazar they would prefer Romney as the next US’ president (but only 26% preferred Obama – much lower than the 40% that were “satisfied” after the fact). In late October, 54% of Israelis said that Romney would be “a better President for Israel” (15% said Obama). The solid 50% support for Romney was already in place by October and support for Obama was even lower then (20%), probably because it was less clear at the time that he was going to win.

I pulled these numbers out of the attic (they weren’t published at the time) because of the recent news about Obama’s visit to Israel. If the President wants to get through to Israelis, he clearly has some work cut out for him. The Israeli public is suspicious about him, and is unconvinced that he is a true friend (as is evident from our Israeli Opinion on Obama tracker).

However, there is an opening.

In the January poll where Israelis were treating Obama’s comments and possible influence on the elections dismissively, they were also asked the following question: “To what extent are personal relations between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Israel important to keeping Israel’s safety and security?”

46% said it was “very important”.

40% said it was “pretty important”.

That’s 86%.

8% said “not so important”.

3% said “not at all important”.

That’s 11%.

Clearly, Israelis still don’t feel comfortable with President Obama yet. But they would very much like to be able to feel comfortable with him, and to feel that his “personal” relations with Netanyahu are getting better. That’s something Obama can work with – if he wants to.

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