I remember the day clearly. The buzz was everywhere. Israelis were certainly suspicious, but they were fixated by Barack Obama’s visit, ahead of his successful Presidential election. Four years on, with Republican presumptive nominee Mitt Romney about to visit Israel on Sunday, the situation could not be more different.
Back in 2008, the daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot likened Obama’s arrival to that of a “rock star.” I wrote in the Forward: “Throughout the day, Israel caught a local strain of Obama fever, with constant news coverage, flags lining his route in the desert town of Sderot and breathless street corner discussions of every word he uttered.”
Whether people liked Obama or feared what he would do if elected, he was viewed as somebody who was most likely to make history. But there is little if any anticipation among the general population for Romney’s visit.
Why? Part of it is timing. Sunday is not the best of days for a high-profile visit. And it is Tisha B’Av, when large sections of the population are preoccupied with fasting and commitments related to the fast. But the timing problem is larger than that — the Israeli news cycle is just so busy at the moment, with last week’s attacks, Likud-Kadima tensions in Knesset, crisis over the issue of a the draft for Haredim, and an upcoming outpost evacuation. With all of this going on, there is little interest in Romney.
If he were a figure whose personality had made a strong impression on Israelis, as Obama’s had, even with all this news interest levels would inevitably be different, and people would take notice. The bottom line, though, is that Israelis don’t dislike Romney or have any axe to grind with him; most simply haven’t taken much notice of him, they are distinctly parev about him. But this could change: If he says things that people like to hear on Sunday, and presents himself as a better friend of Israel than Obama, as he will probably try to, Israelis could start to pay attention.
If he does say the right things, he is likely to have some amiable help getting them publicized and getting into Israelis’ good books. He’s on exceedingly terms with American magnate Sheldon Adelson, who will be meeting him in Jerusalem and who owns the most distributed Israeli daily Israel HaYom.