On Saturday night, Barack Obama upstaged Donald Trump. The 44th president gave commencement speeches to historically black colleges and to high school seniors, which were broadcast live on all the TV networks. Trump, for some reason, wasn’t invited to deliver any similarly aspirational address. No wonder he’s livid.
For many Americans, including some who were never his fans, Obama’s appearances kindled a longing for the kind of presidency that he represented before his successor’s election. Who remembers anymore, pundits wondered, that a president could also be honest, moral, educated, and empathetic, with a healthy sense of humor. Who can recall those days of yore when the president could actually finish complete and complex sentences that aren’t devoted exclusively to trashing his rivals and aggrandizing himself?
Most Israelis, however, will be unimpressed. Here we prefer the president who is a loudmouthed ignoramus, a shoot-from-the-hip liar, a leader who craves corruption and strives to demolish the rule of law. The only criterion we care about is whether the president serves our needs, or, to be more exact, the wishes of the right-wing/Jewish settler axis. Nothing else matters: Neither honesty nor integrity, logic nor even plain sanity.
Obama’s admirable personal traits, along with the countless times he intervened on behalf of Israel’s wellbeing and security, are inconsequential against the backdrop of his opposition to Jewish settlements, efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians or attempt, naively or not, to curtail Iran’s nuclear program by agreement rather than confrontation. For these three cardinal sins, Obama has been dubbed a hater of Israel, an anti-Semite, and even the devil’s spawn itself. It’s not ObamaGate, but ObamaHate.
For more than eight years Obama was demonized consistently, deviously and venomously, first by virulent parts of the hard American Jewish right and shortly thereafter, by Netanyahu as well. The modus operandus was identical to the methods routinely used by Netanyahu to besmirch home-grown Israeli leftists and to dispatch them on their way: Lies, fabrications, defamation and cockamamie conspiracy theories involving George Soros through to the New Israel Fund to the Joint List.
Obama, however, had two exceptional traits that helped his enemies pour even more fuel on the fire. His middle name, Hussein, sufficed to invoke insidious insinuations about his supposed loyalty to Islam – even jihadist Islam – and, of course, the color of his skin. Among rich and conservative Jews, of the kind that are now close to both Trump and Netanyahu, one of the prevalent depictions of the 44th president was “Muslim monkey.”
Israelis’ distaste for Obama isn’t just an isolated phenomenon, supposedly reflecting an instrumental attitude towards U.S. presidents. The hatred for Obama and the admiration for Trump provide a window into the weaknesses and ailments of Israeli public opinion and Netanyahu’s ability to manipulate it at will. It also reveals a worrying preference for convenient lies over bitter truths.
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The character assassination carried out on Obama wasn’t meant to simply stop his nefarious peacekeeping designs. Its overriding goal was and remains to eliminate support for the values he embodies as well – including liberalism, equality, mutual assistance and respect for others. The love of Trump, on the other hand, entails wholesale import of all the arrogance, dishonesty, corruption and disdain for life and the rule of law that comes with his presidential baggage.
We don’t really care that Trump’s presidency is a malignancy that threatens American democracy and sense of decency: The only thing that matters is that he loves us, supposedly, and detests our neighbors. A short and direct line goes from there to the fact that a prime minister facing harsh criminal indictments was sworn in once again as prime minister on Sunday. In a world in which Trump is held up as a role model, Netanyahu almost seems squeaky clean in comparison.