Many following Barack Obama‘s campaign to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination may still be wondering if the junior senator from Illinois knows much about Israel and the overall problems facing the Jewish State in the Middle East. It now turns out that Obama visited Israel not long after beginning his Senatorial term in 2006. And from what was said afterwards, he not only was very impressed by what he saw here, but he himself left a very good impression on everyone he met during his five day stay.
Obama came here with a delegation from the Chicago Jewish Federation, which included Michael C. Kotzin, Executive Vice President of the federation. In order to give the senator an understanding of the situation on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, he and his delegation were taken to a small Christian Arab village named Fassouta, which is located less than a kilometer from the actual border fence. The village was selected for this visit due to the Chicago Federation’s sponsoring of a project together with the Catholic community of Chicago to equip the schools of this village with computers and other electronic equipment. Obama was introduced to the town’s mayor, Dr. George Ayoub, who had no idea at that time that Obama would one day be running for President. Ayoub said later that he was very impressed by the U.S. Senator, who asked a lot of questions concerning the situation of Ayoub’s village in respect to being a minority Christian Arab village sandwiched between majority Jewish Israeli population and a majority Muslim Lebanese population.
Ayoub’, together with most of the town’s 3,000 population are Roman Catholic, and this seemed to be of great interest to Obama who is Protestant and attended a Catholic school for a time when young. Ayoub also said that Senator Obama said that he is interested a establishing a dialog between peoples of different religions in order help bring about peace. Obama told Ayoub that “in order to remove our problems, we have to sit at the table and talk about peace.” Obama addressed a town meeting in which he talked about “peace with security” for all the peoples of the region.
Obama was also impressed concerning how the villagers of Fassouta got along with a Jewish village named Ma’aleh Yosef, which is located nearby. In fact a number of girls from both villages participated jointly in a dance program put on in Obama’s honor.
Obama also visited several other place in Israel including a school that had a large number of Ethiopian Jewish students attending, and this impressed him very much. Seeing the results of the 2006 war in Lebanon seemed to have an impact on Obama, as he was able to see the situation while the “wounds” were still fresh.
All in all, the general impression was that Barack Obama came away very impressed with Israel and its people, and this resulted in his saying that Israel is very important to America and therefore is deserving of American support. Should he be elected President, his trip here will most likely influence his foreign policy guidelines, which he is still in the process of formatting. Although Barack Obama still has a lot to learn in the realm of foreign affairs, he seems more than willing to learn and appears to be a very good listener.