Obama Says Middle Name May Be Source of Israeli Skepticism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, July 6, 2010
AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, July 6, 2010
AP

When President Obama was asked a question about Israeli skepticism of him during an interview with an Israeli television station, he suggested that his middle name Hussein may be a culprit.

"I think what this [skepticism] arises from... some of it may just be the fact that my middle name is Hussein, and that creates suspicion," said Mr. Obama.

The president, however, didn't chalk up the growing sentiment solely to a matter of nomenclature. He added that the United States' ties to Muslim states have played a role as well.

"Some of it may have to do with the fact that I have actively reached out to the Muslim community, and I think that sometimes, particularly in the Middle East, there's the feeling of the friend of my enemy must be my enemy." Mr. Obama said, but added, "...the truth of the matter is, is that my outreach to the Muslim community is designed precisely to reduce the antagonism and the dangers posed by a hostile Muslim world to Israel and to the West."

All this came during a televised interview with Israel's Channel 2 that aired yesterday, which took place just a day after Mr. Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.

During the interview, Mr. Obama was also asked how he would respond to those who believe that he lacks a "special connection to Israel," to which he emphasized his personal connections to the state.

"Ironically, I've got a Chief of Staff named Rahm Israel Emmanuel," Mr. Obama said. "My top political advisor is somebody who is a descendent of Holocaust survivors. My closeness to the Jewish American community was probably what propelled me to the U.S. Senate. "

He then said, "And not just my knowledge but sympathy and identification with the Jewish experience is rooted in part because of the historic connection between the African American freedom movement here in the United States and the civil rights efforts of Jewish Americans and some of the same impulses that led to the creation of Israel."

The president's sentimentalism on the issue, an approach the Washington Post dubbed a "charm offensive," suggests that the president may have also been courting Jews living in the United States - many of whom have been critical of the administration's moves thus far toward Israel.

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