Inside the Middle East
February 10, 2009
Posted: 2306 GMT


By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) – Talk to Israeli voters, and you hear disillusionment.

An Israeli voter casts her ballot on Tuesday.  

An Israeli voter casts her ballot on Tuesday.

"We are the young people. We don't believe in politics," an Israeli voter told CNN. "They disappointed us, year after year."

You also hear longing for an Israeli Obama. Another voter said, "Now in the United States, you have Obama, who manages to carry away the people and give hope and faith. I think that's someone that we need in Israel and is missing."

Israeli candidates got the message. They tried to be like President Obama.

The Kadima Party brought a truckload of young people to dance at a rally for their candidate, Tzipi Livni. Livni's slogan? "Believni." They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Benjamin Netanyahu's Web site was explicitly modeled after Barack Obama's Web site.

Can any candidate be Israel's Obama? Not so easily.

Two candidates - Ehud Barak and Netanyahu - are not exactly fresh and new. Both have already served as prime minister. And both got thrown out by the voters. Video Watch what Israelis say about Obama »

As for Livni, she and her party are already in power. "Tzipi Livni is a fresher face," David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, said, "but she's the foreign minister. She has been around."

The far-right contender Avigdor Lieberman did create a big stir in the Israeli campaign. But Lieberman was not exactly the candidate of hope.

"What you see here is despair, you see fear and you see a wave of dangerous nationalism," Ha'aretz columnist Ari Shavit said.

Lieberman was more Israel's Ross Perot than Israel's Barack Obama. Israeli political analyst Chemi Shalev said, "It's a kind of protest vote against Israeli politics and against Israeli politicians."

Israelis use the Hebrew word "mavrik" to describe Obama. But it doesn't mean "maverick," exactly.

"'Mavrik' means 'brilliant,'" journalist Gil Hoffman explained. "Brilliant not only in the 'smart' sense of the word but also in the 'cool' sense of the word, the sense of what Israelis see Americans as, what they want America to be."

Do Israelis feel confident that President Obama will be a true friend to Israel?

The headline from a January 2007 Israeli tabloid newspaper read, "Worry is in Jerusalem. Obama is coming closer to the presidency."

On November 5, 2008, the same newspaper had a photo of Obama on the front page with the headline, "He has a dream."

Hoffman explained, "Obama came here to the town of Sderot and identified with the people of Israel. He said that if rockets were fired on his house where his two daughters were sleeping, he would do everything possible to stop it. So he has come a long way."

In fact, President Obama became a bit of an issue in the Israeli campaign.

Livni charged that Netanyahu would not be able to get along with Obama. Netanyahu countered by saying, "I've had a couple of really good meetings with Barack Obama. We speak the same language."

Asked whether he expected a better relationship with the United States now that Obama is President, former prime minister Ehud Barak told CNN, "My experience with all presidents since President Ford is that each and every president becomes even more friendlier with Israel than we can expect."

Nevertheless, Shavit noted, "There is still caution because it's not clear that it's the same kind of intimacy that Israel had, not only with Bush, but also with Clinton and other American presidents. But this is typical in any period when a new President steps in."

Israelis are openly envious of the American political process that produced President Obama.

As Horovitz put it, "When Israelis made comparisons with the American election, we were full of admiration and envy. We have a lousy system here."

Shavit said, "There is so much apathy, there is so much disillusion, there is such lack of enthusiasm - the political vacuum here is so deep and enormous that one can almost expect the unexpected."

Israelis are certainly disillusioned with the peace process. And they are disillusioned with their leaders. Who can inspire them and be their Obama?

The best bet right now is - President Obama. After all, Israelis have fallen in love with an American president before.

"Had Bill Clinton run in Israel in 2000, he would have won in a landslide," Shavit said.

Clinton and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin were icons of the Israeli peace movement.

"Rabin and Clinton were our Kennedys in many ways," Shavit added. "To this day, Clinton is Israel's love."

With President Obama, Israelis are hoping to fall in love again.

Filed under: Israel •Obama

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Sam   February 10th, 2009 11:10 pm ET

I thought they already have a Barak..... but their Barak is no match for our Barak. :)

Carlos   February 10th, 2009 11:20 pm ET

So, Israel is looking for "their own Obama"!!!!

How wonderful-- Just what every democracy needs!!! An empty suit in which to cast their dreqms and their hopes for prosperity!

I guess the Israeilis have been sucked in to the same whirlpool of hoplessness as the American people!!

Hopefully, their "Obama" will actually be able to deliver the desired results!

Sam   February 10th, 2009 11:35 pm ET

I am just glad that Netin yahoo did not win.... not that I am expecting Livni to be any better... but oh well.

Sam   February 10th, 2009 11:47 pm ET

I am glad the three axis of evil did not get a chance.... Netin yahoo, Ehud Barak and Lieberman.

Nona   February 11th, 2009 12:16 am ET

I hope both the Israelis and the Palestinians find their own "Obama" in the sense of the emergence of a leader who can unite people peacefully and inspire them to work hard to improve their own situations, to work together, and to engage in meaningful dialogue with each other, including those with whom they have longstanding fundamental ideological differences.

The American Obama has been successful in inspiring hope and genuine desire for change. But in terms of actually solving real and complicated problems ... well, he's only been president for three weeks. Although strides toward change are certainly being initiated, there's no real track record to point to - it's too soon.

As for Israelis being "openly envious of the American political process that produced President Obama, " this envy may be just a matter of the grass being greener on the other side. The campaign season that led to Obama's election was excruciatingly long (3 years or so) and often painful, dirty and ugly. It's a good system, but there's probably a better way to do it.

And any observer of the last presidential campaign in the USA has to chuckle at the irony of Obama being referred to as "mavrik."

Let's all hope for the best outcome for the USA, Israel and the Palestinians.

Jim   February 11th, 2009 1:16 am ET

Regardless of who actually won, the voters expressed a strong mandate to take a heavy hand against Islamic terrorism. I think it will be unlikely that the new government will allow the Palestinians to turn more land into another terrorist enclave. The whole world saw what the Islamic terrorists did to Gaza. What would be the sense in allowing the same thing to happen to the West Bank? I think it will take a long period of calm before anybody can trust the Palestinians enough to even consider letting them have more Israeli land.

GLeigh   February 11th, 2009 4:59 am ET

Hi all. History has shown, from the past, that a President coming into dire situations such as are economy tend to be popular the first little bit, then turned into a villian, then if all works out, a hero. The next four years will be interesting. Hopefully President Obama is aware of this history and has thick skin.

sam   February 11th, 2009 5:02 am ET

Hi, I love CNN but recently i feel like i 've been let down. Cnn used 2 be where the facts count the most but it seems CNN cares most about the people who dont want the truth to come out.......!! CNN do me a favor tell the whole truth and cover more of the tragedy and not the policy such as "Israels right to defend itself" and more of the fact that 600 children killed in Gaza!!

GLeigh   February 11th, 2009 5:04 am ET

I enjoyed his comment that there was no apostrophe after the O in Obama – he's not Irish. Glad he mentioned that, thought he was Irish....

GLeigh   February 11th, 2009 5:07 am ET

No single person has all the answers. Working hard and listening to others but being decisive seem good things. A sense of humor and decorum don't hurt. I hope Israel and Gaza can create good things under whatever leaders are chosen.

sami"Yemeni American"   February 11th, 2009 5:18 am ET

To: Regaurdless Jim you might try watching the Palestinian -Jewish conflict with your glasses or maybe from the U.N school and Hospitals. You just might reconsider on who you decide to call the terrorist. I"ll give you a hint it"s the one that are using the White Phosforus " you know it's been band all over the world. Smell the Olive oil!

Fawad Ali   February 11th, 2009 7:18 am ET

"Israel Looking for an Obama"

How come?

All these candidates are pro war......their policy toward Iran is clear “Knock them down” and they have no regrets about the killing and wounding tens of thousands in Gaza.

Obama on the other hand is a real Maverick 'not brain washed by powerful Democrats who supported the Iraq war and Republicans who probably love to wage another war.

Nona   February 11th, 2009 4:19 pm ET

When the rockets and suicide bombers stop, so will the "pro-war" politics of the candidates.

Carlos   February 11th, 2009 7:01 pm ET

Fawad Ali,

Just wait, you'll get plenty of help from Obama, "The Maverick"!

Akiva   February 11th, 2009 8:14 pm ET

Oh Joy, after 4000 years of being shafted by the Arabs there are still Jews who think that peace is a possibility!
There will never, ever be peace until one or the other is annihilated!

Nona   February 12th, 2009 6:40 am ET

The Arabs have been shafted by the Jews for 4,000 years? Oh REALLLLY? That's very interesting, considering that the overwhelming majority of Jewish populations in every single Arab state have been annhilated or exiled, with only a handful of Jewish communities left remaining in any Arab country.

Way to drive the ol' brain train, Akiva. Keep advocating annihilation and then complain about how the Arabs are "shafted."

Igor   February 12th, 2009 9:52 pm ET

To Fawad Ali
Non of the candidates are pro war ,all want peace with the Arabs but when there is organization like Hamas declare their intent to destroy Israel, and firing rockets and sending suicide bombers and gunners to kill people, the is no left or right wing, all understand it must be stopped, just like in any other country.Even the very left wing who support Saudi peace plan supported it. I don`t think that Obama would allow whole American cities running to bomb shelters many times a day for years. As Israeli i do sorry about Palestinian civilians , they are victims of Hamas policies, just as Israelis.And it is Hamas who must be held responsible for high number of civilian deaths. They chose the battlefield. Do you really think that there would be any civilian casualties in Gaza if Hamas fired their rockets from open areas and not heavy populated? They forced innocent people to stay in buildings from which they fired,shot in the arms and legs those who refused. Hamasniks even changed their closes to civilian when war started.

Carlos   February 13th, 2009 1:50 am ET

Oh Akiva!!! - you get what you wish, nothing more...

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