(Editor’s Note: David Farer is a resident of Sderot — the Israeli town on the border of the Gaza Strip that has suffered relentless missile attacks since Israel pulled all military and Jewish residents from the Gaza Strip in August 2005.
On August 15 of last month, the National Jewish Democratic Council released a video and accompanying press release titled “What Do Israelis Think of President Obama?” The press release included this quote from NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris:
President Barack Obama’s strong support for Israel has been recognized by Israeli leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, as well as many pro-Israel leaders here in the United States. … Today, we’re hearing what Israelis living on the front lines think.
Farer recognized his friends and neighbors in the video.
He believed their comments were misleadingly edited or dishonestly encouraged. Farer re-interviewed the subjects and found his suspicions were correct. Some highlights:
— One participant, Sasson Sara, was emphatic: “I do not support [Obama].” Sara claims the video omitted several words he spoke, thus giving his statement the appearance of conveying the exact opposite message Sara had intended.
The video shows Sara saying in Hebrew: “Sderot is important to him. The Jewish people are important to him. The state of Israel is important to him.”
Sasson claims he actually spoke the following in Hebrew: “If Sderot is important to him, the Jewish people are important to him, the state of Israel is important to him, then Obama should do more about Iran.”
— Another participant, Pinchas Ammar, told Farer that he does not support Obama and thinks Obama is not pro-Israel and does not understand Israel’s problems in the least. He was not happy to find himself in a film promoting Obama’s re-election.
Incredibly, this is not the first time Pinchas Ammar has been exploited by an Obama campaign.
When Obama visited Sderot in 2008, Obama himself promised Ammar he would fly him to Washington, D.C., to attend an inaugural ball if he were elected. Many witnesses were present to hear Obama’s promise. After a few months of excitement, the Ammars were disappointed when an invitation never arrived.
Ammar and his wife were seriously injured when a terrorist missile exploded in their kitchen. They have not been able to work since.
— Some participants were not aware they were going to appear in a campaign ad intended to help re-elect President Obama. No participant was asked to sign a release.
— The surveyed answer to the video’s title/question — “What Do Israelis Think About Obama?” — is not remotely comparable to the narrative portrayed by the video.
A Dahaf poll conducted on August 7 and 8 of this year found that 40 percent of Israelis believe Romney to have Israel’s best interests at heart; 19 percent thought the same of Obama.
The remainder of this article is David Farer describing the details of his discoveries regarding this video. — DS)
The Democratic Party campaign to re-elect President Barack Obama to the White House perceives a problem with its Jewish voters and contributors. Jews have historically voted heavily for Democratic candidates, and Obama did well among American Jews during the last election. For this campaign, however, his support among Jews, and especially among Jews who strongly support Israel, has declined. Jewish Democrats, and specifically those from the National Jewish Democratic Council, apparently view this decline as a problem they must solve.
One of the means they have employed to solve it is producing a video titled “What Do Israelis Think of Obama?” The film pretends to answer the question it poses — in just three minutes and three seconds — by displaying what it implies are ordinary, randomly chosen folks in Sderot, followed by other participants from Jerusalem.
The video has received little attention. As of September 6, only 4,854 people have watched it on YouTube; I suspect the video’s mediocrity caused its obscurity.
The first shot is of an Iron Dome anti-missile battery shown at some distance and titled “Southern Israel, Iron Dome Battery.” Most people would not recognize this boxy-looking device as an anti-missile battery, nor would they realize that the white marks on a patch of blue sky indicate that an Iron Dome missile has just taken out an incoming Kassam missile that Muslims have fired at Israel from Gaza. Special effects in science fiction movies look more dramatic, and much more “real,” than do real missiles and anti-missiles. Had I been making this movie, perhaps I would have begun with one of the many dramatic films already available on YouTube of terrorized Sderot children running to a shelter while an alarm sounds.
The video then shows President Obama signing the authorization to give Israel money with which to build more of these anti-missile batteries.
The scene then switches to Sderot, specifically to the little square in the middle of town where journalists go to film and interview the people who live and work there. The media have covered this square and its denizens so well and so often that if every person who was filmed in it had a star let into its pavement in his honor, there would be no place left for them to park their cars. This square is a historic place for the people of Sderot; it was here that shops first opened in Sderot’s early days, and a few of those shops are still in business, continuing in the hands of the children and grandchildren of their founders.
Kassam missiles have exploded in and around this square, as they have all over town. A little monument at the square’s corner displays the name of each individual who died in local terror attacks.
Three of the five Sderotians who appear in this film are men who run businesses on this square. A fourth keeps a shop a short distance away. The filmmakers thus were not too concerned with diversity: women live in this town too, as do black Jews from Ethiopia, and a few Arabs, and of course most people in Sderot do not own shops.
Because the movie is edited so sparingly, with each subject speaking just a few sentences or a few words, the filmmaker is able to present the speaker’s words as conveying meanings that the context into which they are edited creates, rather than those which the speaker intended them to have. Some of these participants told me that the filmmaker informed them he was making a movie about Obama; yet not everybody was fully aware that they were being asked to appear in a campaign ad to help re-elect him.
Nobody was asked to sign a release or other legal document.
Mr. David Segev, a large, extroverted man, told me that when he saw the cameraman walking around the square he went outside his storefront real-estate office to ask him what he was doing there. Segev then found himself being taped, and he started to praise Obama to the heavens. Segev told me that what he said did not represent his true feelings about President Obama, but that he thought it politic to praise him because Obama is indeed president of the United States and will likely be re-elected, and we must therefore be nice to him.
Segev does not really oppose Obama. But he says allowed himself to respond to the signals the cameraman gave him about what he wanted to hear.
Across the street from Segev’s office is SuperDehan, a family-owned food shop that the Dehan family founded in Sderot soon after the town’s birth. A short time after that, more family came to Sderot from Morocco. The sons of the first Dehan keep it going today, and it is several times bigger than it was when they were children.
The Dehans are a well-known, hard-working, and highly respected Sderot family that built a successful business from the absolute poverty they knew when they first arrived in this town. We learn nothing about them in this film — including that Yaakov Dehan learned about Kassam rockets when one tore through the roof of his home.
Yaakov Dehan said nice things about Obama to the filmmaker, partly because Obama is president of the United States, but also because Dehan saw Obama during Obama’s campaign visit to Sderot. Dehan talks in the film about how charming Obama is, and what a good impression he made on everybody — doubtless true, as 2008 Obama was an excellent speaker and a brilliant campaigner.
I had to search for the third star of the film, Chaim Yosef, a young man with a film store in a small shopping center not far from the square. I knew his face from somewhere, but I could not remember where; he is filmed against a backdrop of what I took to be those elaborately ornamented religious books which Orthodox Jews study. I sought Chaim Yosef in both of Sderot’s religious bookstores, but he worked in neither of them. A friend of mine with whom I watched the video recognized Mr. Yosef and knew his shop; those ornamented books were in fact photo albums of a kind one finds in a store for camera equipment and film.
I always identify this row of stores with my being rapidly ushered into a refrigerator when the missile alarm went off. That walk-in refrigerator was the shelter for the sandwich shop where I had been eating at that moment.
Chaim Yosef told me that he was of course happy that Israel now has the Iron Dome anti-missile batteries, and that he had good things to say about the leader of Israel’s major ally. He very much emphasized, however, that he was politically indifferent to these elections, of which he knew and cared very little.
I asked if I could take some pictures of him while he watched the NJDC video on his computer, but he was not keen on it. His assistant told me she had already been photographed enough for one lifetime, because she used to be up in the square where all the journalists go. She mentioned one incident: she had been speaking with journalists while carrying her newborn child on her back when the alarm announced an incoming rocket. She ran to the shelter with her child on her back, and a dozen photographers followed in hot pursuit, flashing their cameras to get her picture as she ran.
She told me that she understands journalists must make a living, and that it is good for the story of Sderot to be told, but she was tired of it all.
I looked high and low for video participant Albert Tzaddikov, but I failed to find him.
Pinchas Ammar lives down the street from Yaakov Dehan. His entire appearance in the film consists of: “Thank you, Mr. Obama, about everything!” — in heavily accented, improper English. Of the particulars of Mr. Ammar’s life we learn nothing.
Specifically, he does not tell, or was not asked, about the fact that he and his wife were both seriously injured when a missile went through their roof and exploded in their kitchen.
Neither has been able to work since that explosion (which I happen to have heard, because I lived nearby). Their daughter told me that when she walks to school in the morning, her friends come to walk with her because she — like many whom a rocket has affected directly — prefers not to walk alone. I know the couple fairly well, having interviewed them in detail for an article about just what happened that evening. I once set up some American volunteers to make them a ceramic patio in front of their house, because they are largely homebound.
The little photo sitting on the table next to Ammar while he is saying his line shows him with Obama during the 2008 campaign stop. I watched this event, too, though from some distance, and I therefore did not hear the warm invitation the then-presidential candidate extended to Mr. and Ms. Ammar to attend the inaugural ball he would hold if he were elected. Others did hear it; it is a well-known incident in Sderot.
The couple spent some months in excited expectation of a trip to Washington, but this invitation never arrived. Somehow, this family was on the NJDC’s list, though, so the filmmaker knocked on their door one day to put him into this campaign video.
Ammar told me flatly, emphatically: the “thank you” he is filmed as having given Obama does not express his feelings toward the American president.
He was thanking Obama for the help the United States has extended to Israel, and for financing the Iron Dome rocket systems. Ammar’s “thank you” appears among a barrage of “thank you” extended by quite a few Israelis, so that each “thank you” reinforces the other, sounding as if they were coming from a chorus. The context into which Ammar’s brief speech is edited changes Ammar’s meaning. It sounds like praise and thanks are due specifically to President Barack Obama, rather than to the United States and its people.
Pinchas Ammar told me he does not support Obama and that he thinks Obama is not really pro-Israel and does not understand Israel’s problems in the least. He was not happy to find himself in a film promoting Obama’s re-election.
So far, pretty manipulative. The next participant revealed the filmmakers participating in unquestionable, outright fraud.
I first read of this movie in Herb Keinon’s article in the Jerusalem Post. The tone he employs in his piece is ironic and rather dismissive of the film. Within less than a minute of commencing watching the video, I knew something was rotten, because the first man to appear is the formidable Mr. Sasson Sara, praising Obama in the most effusive manner.
I have known Sasson Sara for a number of years. I knew he does not think what he says in the film.
Sasson Sara’s shop is on the famous square, where it has been since his father founded it more than half a century ago. Many folks around here call that part of town “Kikar Sasson” (“Sasson’s Square”); they also mostly refer to streets as “Mr. X’s Street” rather than by the official names. Many people of Sderot neither know nor care about the names of streets, not even of their own — small towns are like that.
Sasson Sara was brought up tending that shop, and his daughters now work there every day. Sasson was among the first townsmen here to obtain higher education, at a time when an Iraqi Jew like him was automatically directed to non-academic courses. Sasson insisted on going to college and becoming a teacher. He taught for a number of years until his father asked him to take over the shop. His children all study; they are too young to have experienced much anti-Sephardic feeling.
Sasson Sara is a politically aware man who once ran for mayor, and I am grateful for the help and education he has kindly extended to me, especially about the early days of Sderot. The synagogue he regularly attends is on the same street where Yaakov Dehan and Pinchas Ammar live, and it too had a missile through its roof about half an hour after everybody went home for the evening. Had the rocket come half an hour earlier, dozens would have died.
I walked up to Sasson the morning after I saw this video. “Good morning!” I greeted him. “I see you became a movie star.” We laughed.
“I didn’t know you like Obama so much,” I continued.
“I do not support him!” he responded emphatically (“Ani lo tomech bo!”).
Sasson explained that his portion of the film had been edited tendentiously, omitting his “if”s, and even truncating his sentence to give it a meaning opposite to that Sasson had intended it to convey. The video shows Sasson saying:
Sderot is important to him [Obama], the Jewish people are important to him, the state of Israel is important to him.
Sasson told me that he actually said the following:
If Sderot is important to him, the Jewish people are important to him, the state of Israel is important to him, then Obama should do more about Iran.
There is a word for such a deliberate distortion; it is called fraud.
It is tempting to see the outrageous lie that this video is as merely something a lazy, mediocre filmmaker made in order to get his job finished and his fee collected, but there are larger issues here as well. It is immoral to use people for purposes of which they have no inkling, which they do not support, and in which they have no interest. It is like finding your photograph on a box of cereal or a pack of cigarettes, and discovering your image and person have been used to sell somebody else’s wares, or in this case, to buy him votes.
The good people of Sderot are not plastic. The people in this video have accomplished substantial things against heavy odds. From this movie we learn nothing at all about who they are, because none of them speaks as an individual. These people could have been excellent subjects had the filmmaker forthrightly and politely asked them to tell what they have seen and done. They are articulate, intelligent people.
Here, the folks of Sderot are merely exploited, as when people affix funny captions to pictures of giraffes: “I am in the mood for a longneck today,” or another lame joke. The filmmaker could have told what Pinchas Ammar, Sasson Sara, Yaakov Dehan, and the others truly have to say, rather than reducing them to: “Thank you, Obama!” The film reduces them to suppliant Jews thanking a benefactor, delightedly repeating a mantra of gratitude as if Obama had personally assembled the first Iron Dome battery.
Further, Obama doesn’t deserve much thanks for the Iron Dome anyway.
The missile system was designed and built in Israel, by Israeli engineers, who are among the most important figures in the world in their field. Aeronautical experts view it as a masterpiece of rocket engineering. And its political ramifications are massive: Iron Dome changes the strategic equation in and around Israel’s south by defending towns like Sderot against most incoming missiles, so that Israel no longer feels pressure to send the army into Gaza to stop the rocket attacks. Because of Iron Dome, Israel can choose when to counter-attack the terrorists of Gaza according to its own convenience.
The United States has contributed money to the development and deployment of this anti-missile system, and for that Israel thanks America. But we must not forget that America and her allies benefit from Iron Dome as well. South Korea and other countries are interested in the Israeli-made system, and the U.S. Air Force might well deploy it at various bases in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere to save the lives of American soldiers using Israeli-designed and manufactured equipment. Israeli-American military cooperation follows its own logic. America benefits from that cooperation, too. Israel is today an effective and respected member of a worldwide alliance.
Israel is no longer some poor little country dependent on charity from the White House, as this video portrays.
“What Do Israelis Think About Obama?” Israeli opinion polls answer it more accurately than the video, and more in accordance with what almost everybody would surmise intuitively. A Dahaf poll conducted on August 7 and 8 of this year found that 40 percent of Israelis thought Romney has Israel’s best interests at heart, while only 19 percent picked Obama.
Israelis on the Left were more inclined to pick Obama than were those on the Right. A few people in Sderot who are on the Left, and even the rather far Left, presumably would support Obama, although I have asked no Sderot Leftist I know about his views on the American president. Had the filmmaker stumbled across this rather tiny number of people, his film would have been a bit less dishonest than it is, although it would not have given a more representative picture of what Israelis think of Obama.
One cannot pick a few people of eccentric opinions and present them as proving a representative opinion poll to have been wrong.
The comments this video has elicited on YouTube have been mostly negative; many of their authors seem to think the filmmakers made this video by finding the few Israelis who really do like Obama.
They overestimated the filmmakers’ integrity.
Most American Jews are Democrats, and most of them will vote for Obama. Obama will get fewer votes from them in this election than he took in the 2008 election. Obama’s Jewish problem is mostly among Jews who are solidly committed to their own Jewish identity, who are Orthodox or nearly so, and who strongly support Israel. Those whose Jewish identity extends little beyond checking “Jewish” in a questionnaire inquiring their ethnic origin will probably continue to vote for Obama. Those people will not care about Iron Dome, if they have even heard of it. More positively “Jewish Jews” will not be fooled by this foolish and lying movie, because they are better informed about Israel and about the Middle East.
The reasons why many Jews oppose Obama, and why some Jewish Democrats found it necessary to make this repulsive little video, have been articulated best by my esteemed mentor, Professor Barry Rubin. The problems are several:
A) Obama seems to come out of an intellectual background that was formed in the 1960s. He views military power with suspicion, and he sympathizes with “oppressed,” “colonized” Third World peoples. The Palestinians are often put into this category.
Obama wasted much of his first term trying to arrange a settlement between Israel and them, but the Palestinians refused to make peace or even to negotiate with Israel for much of that time. Obama pressured Netanyahu to make concessions, but this friction did not help bring peace. It should be obvious to anyone who is not blind that the Palestinian Arabs have never approached the two-state solution in good faith, and that they do not want a peace that recognizes Israel.
Obama has now become the third American president to have reached out to these Arabs, and he is the third whose hand they have bitten. Every American president for the last twenty years has had the same experience. Now that Islam, in the form of Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood, is taking over the Palestinian movement and identity, Obama will hopefully internalize this truth and conclude that an Arab-Israel settlement will not happen any time soon.
But Obama might not, and he might even revert to his earlier folly of pressing Israel to make concessions. The people of Sderot, who have suffered through so many Muslim missile attacks, are not deceived about what can be expected from Hamas across the border.
B) Obama does not seem to recognize the extreme danger that Islamism — the belief that Islam is the solution for all problems and the model that every society in the world must follow, and that the apparatus of the modern state must be applied to enforce Sharia law on everyone, everywhere — poses to Europe, the United States, Israel, and the whole world.
He began his presidency with his Cairo speech in which he spoke of Muslim countries, rather than of Arab or Turkish countries. Obama has good relations with the Islamist government of Turkey, and he abandoned Hosni Mubarak, a dictator who killed and imprisoned as needed to keep himself in power, but who repressed the local Muslem Brotherhood, who encouraged the Egyptian economy to develop at least somewhat, and who respected American interests in the Middle East. After Mubarak was gone, and the Egyptian people had the free choice of democratic elections, the inevitable happened: the people chose Islamism.
The Muslim Brotherhood is consolidating its control over Egypt, and nobody can predict how bad it will be for Israel regarding Sinai and Gaza. Barack Hussein Obama might well have been able to prevent this disaster. Understanding that the Egyptian people will choose a much more stringent and cruel dictatorship than that which had oppressed them, Obama might have supported the old military dictatorship, because it was the lesser of two evils.
C) Obama has allowed the Iranians to make progress toward nuclear weapons by allowing the negotiations to drag on forever. It is hard to tell just how committed he really is to preventing Iran from having nuclear weapons. Iran is yet another example of Obama’s accepting an insanely vicious dictatorship that guns its citizens down in the street, while ignoring those Iranians who really do want a democratic government. He also seems to worry little about the fate of America’s small allies in the Persian Gulf. Those countries have more to fear from Iran, nuclear or not, than Israel does. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries will inevitably be compelled to seek subservient accommodation with Iran if they find the United States will not defend them. Bad for Israel, worse for the United States.
D) Lastly, and in some ways most importantly, Obama seems to suffer from tone-deafness regarding Israel. Presidents Clinton and Bush could both articulate strong feelings of admiration and respect for this little country and its achievements, but these feelings seem not to exist in Obama.
After his quick lap around Sderot and his unredeemed invitation to Pinchas Ammar, Obama has never returned to Israel as president. People who chat about politics while sitting around Kikar Sasson notice that kind of thing.
Israelis are also on average substantially more informed and less naive about Islamism and the kinds of societies that Arabs have made for themselves than people living in Western countries are. Few Israelis will call the new Egyptian president “what’s his name.”
I do not know the name of the individual or individuals who shot and edited this movie, nor do I know to what extent the rot extends up into the larger Obama re-election campaign. I do however observe the same kind of condescension — not to say contempt — in the video that I see in certain areas of Obama’s campaigning style.
The kinds of Americans Obama insults are the same kinds of Israelis this movie insults.
During the 2008 campaign, he spoke of Americans who turn to “guns and religion”; now he tells successful, small- town American businessmen who have worked hard all their lives building up family businesses: “You did not build that.” Such a statement will raise the eyebrows of millions of Americans, but also those of the Dehans, the Sassons, and many a hardworking Sderot family whose father lived in a tent before Sderot had buildings, and then in a quonset hut, and then in a little wooden house while working toward the day when he could install electricity in the family shop.
The filmmakers might well have thought they were “rehabilitating” retrograde Israelis from supporting Benyamin Netanyahu, from being fair-to-middling religious, as most folks are here, and even from being Sephardic Jews whose parents and grandparents had the nerve to have been born in Morocco. Many people of leftist notions use the phrase “saving Israelis from themselves.” Was this patronizing phrase in the filmmaker’s mind when he falsified Sasson Sara’s views?
Whatever the filmmakers thought they were doing, their work in Sderot is an outrage.