Barack Obama arrives in Jerusalem tomorrow as part of his trip to countries with a lot of American foreign policy investment (the others were Afghanistan and Iraq). On the eve of this trip, Yossi Klein Halevi, who writes from The New Republic, welcomes Obama on behalf of Israelis who have been intrigued by his candidacy but remain anxious with his plans for handling Iran.
Still, as much as Israelis want to embrace you, there is anxiety here about your candidacy. Not that we doubt your friendship: Your description of Israeli security as “sacrosanct,” and your passionate endorsement of Israel’s cause at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, were greeted with banner headlines in the Israeli press. Instead, Israelis worry that, as president, you might act too hastily in trying to solve the Palestinian problem, and not hastily enough in trying to solve the Iranian problem.
On the surface, the Israel you will encounter is thriving. The beaches and cafes are crowded, the shekel is one of the world’s strongest currencies, our high-tech companies are dominating NASDAQ, our wineries are winning international medals, and we even export goat cheese to France.
But beneath the exuberance lies a desperate nation. The curse of Jewish history—the inability to take mere existence for granted—has returned to a country whose founding was intended to resolve that uncertainty. Even the most optimistic Israelis sense a dread we have felt only rarely—like in the weeks before the Six Day War, when Egyptian President Gammal Abdul Nasser shut down the Straits of Tiran, moved his army toward our border, and promised the imminent destruction of Israel. At the time, Lyndon Johnson, one of the best friends Israel ever had in the White House, was too preoccupied with an unpopular war to offer real assistance.
We feel our security unraveling.