11.04.08

Why Israel Doesn't Believe Obama Will Win

A veteran foreign correspondent on Israel’s version of the Bradley effect.

It's been clear, all this year, that most foreigners would love it if we'd elect Barack Obama. Editorial writers in Rome, Paris, and London conveniently put aside the fact that a black or brown candidate would never stand a chance in their countries, with their still rising anti-immigrant tide. Somehow they figure that America the New World, after all, as far as they're concerned can dabble in exciting experiments, even if Europeans won't.

Two countries, however, are exceptions to that rule. Georgians so appreciate McCain's loud support for their nation, against the reawakened expansionism of Russia, that if Georgians could vote they'd go for the older senator from Arizona.

And Israel, a key ally of the United States that is sure to remain in the middle of an eternally troubled region, would also prefer that McCain be elected.

I don't mean everyone, of course, but the Israeli preference is strong: whether it's the Orthodox Jew who moved from America to a West Bank settlement, or a more typical Israeli in Tel Aviv or Haifa or Jerusalem. They felt a bit more secure because of President Bush's unquestioning support for the Jewish state, and their media have told them that McCain (and certainly Palin) would continue that doubt-free, good-guys-versus-bad-guys line.

Israeli newspaper and radio news editors go a little bit further with their preference. They actually believe, and I mean as late as midday Monday, that McCain will win.

Our polls are easily dismissed. In case you didn't notice, pollsters saw their prestige plummet in Israel recently when Tzipi Livni was running in a primary for leadership of her Kadima Party. The polls even the exit polls on the day of balloting indicated that she would win big over General Shaul Mofaz. Yet her victory was razor thin.

Now, wondering if there's secret sexism on the part of voters who lie to pollsters, there's talk of a Livni Factor. (Shades of Tom Bradley!) So of course Israelis don't believe Obama is really leading here in the States.

A friend of mine who's an Israeli correspondent based in Washington for many years, Orly Azoulay, recognized that the young senator from Chicago had a certain something so she quickly wrote a biography (in Hebrew) titled Barack Obama: He Has a Dream. It was published only about a month ago, and bookstore owners in Israel buried it. "Who cares about him? He's not going to win," they're reported to have said, as they ordered just a few softcovers and hid them in the back.

Ms. Azoulay reached a deal with her Tel Aviv publishers: If Obama wins, they'll publish an updated version and this time they'll push it to the highly visible bookshop windows. They apparently didn't think they'd have to make good on that, but Ms. Azoulay has been busy writing the extra chapters so they'll be ready immediately. If journalism is the first draft of history, what writer wouldn't want to help write the opening chapters?

Dan Raviv is a veteran foreign correspondent for CBS News. He reported from the Middle East and Europe for 15 years and now is based in Washington DC. He is author of the best seller EVERY SPY A PRINCE (about Israeli intelligence) and COMIC WARS (about the bankruptcy and renaissance of Marvel Entertainment).