Friday, June 12, 2009

The Great Obama Shoe Photo Debate: What Was He Trying to Say?

by Gil Ronen and Hana Levi Julian

( A White House photograph of U.S. President Barack Obama with his feet on his desk while speaking on the phone with Binyamin Netanyahu has turned into a news story in own right, with reporters in Israel and elsewhere speculating that it was meant to send a message of disrespect.

The photograph, snapped by White House photographer Pete Sousa, was sent out to news media earlier this week.

The ripples began with an article by a political correspondent for the Hebrew-language newspaper Haaretz who noted the photograph and interpreted its meaning in a way that is consistent with the newspaper’s pro-Palestinian Authority position:

A photo released by the White House, which shows Obama talking on the phone with Netanyahu on Monday, speaks volumes: The president is seen with his legs up on the table, his face stern and his fist clenched, as though he were dictating to Netanyahu: "Listen up and write 'Palestinian state' a hundred times. That's right, Palestine, with a P." As an enthusiast of Muslim culture, Obama surely knows there is no greater insult in the Middle East than pointing the soles of one's shoes at another person. Indeed, photos of other presidential phone calls depict Obama leaning on his desk, with his feet on the floor.

The story was then picked up by at least one Israeli TV newscaster, who in turn was quoted by Howard Arenstein of the World Watch news blog on CBS news.

“Israeli TV newscasters Tuesday night interpreted a photo taken Monday in the Oval Office of President “It could also be interpreted as a very relaxed feeling that Obama has when he speaks with Netanyahu,” Amb. Etinger said.Obama talking on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an ‘insult’ to Israel,” Arenstein reported. “They saw the incident as somewhat akin to an incident last year, when the Iraqi reporter threw a shoe at President Bush in Baghdad.”

“It is considered an insult in the Arab world to show the sole of your shoe to someone,” the correspondent noted. “It is not a Jewish custom necessarily, but Israel feels enough a part of the Middle East after 60 years to be insulted too.” Whether or not a subliminal message of pressure was intended, Arensein added, "it shows the mood in Israel. They feel cornered. The reactions out of Israel reflect that feeling.”

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