As Barack Obama prepares for his trip to Israel on March 20th—his first as President—he might consider taking the opportunity to correct common distortions about the Jewish state that his administration has, on occasion, helped to promote. Clearing away some of these persistent misunderstandings on the part of both policy makers and the public could strengthen America’s connection to its closest Middle Eastern ally, but also help the president make the peace process progress he clearly craves as a goal of his second term.
For instance, President Obama should acknowledge that too many Americans currently believe the following myths about Israel’s present and past:
*That Israel is a uniquely dangerous nation facing appalling levels of violence, and will only improve security by making major concessions to the Palestinians. In fact, Israel is one of the safer societies on earth with a murder rate much less than half that of the United States (2.1 vs. 4.8 per 100,000 population). Since cracking down on Palestinian militants and building a security barrier beginning in 2003, Israel has experienced less than 190 homicides a year (including terrorist incidents), in a national population of 8 million. President Obama’s home town of Chicago suffered 535 murders last year—three times the killing, with barely one third the population. Moreover, the improvement in Israel’s domestic security has everything to do with smart policing and effective anti-terror strategies and nothing to do with appeasing Palestinians. Major Israeli concessions—like the Oslo Accords of 1993, the unilateral withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in 2000, and the evacuation of Jewish communities from Gaza in 2005—produced only spikes in violence, not periods of enhanced calm or quiet.