Obama or McCain: Israel Debates

Israelis believe that they, too, have a stake in the upcoming U.S. elections, and many appear to favor Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for his hawkish stand on Iraq and Islamic militants to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who they fear will favor the Palestinians.

ABC NEWS.com conducted an unscientific survey among the students at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Located on Mount Scopus in northeast Jerusalem, the university encompasses all sides of the Middle East conflicts. Jewish, Arab-Israeli and international students from all over the world are asking which American presidential candidate will be better for the region.

Many Israeli students said they are sad to see President Bush go.

"Over the last eight years, he was a really terrible president, bad for America, bad for the world economy," business student David Kishony said, "But he was the best friend of Israel."

Israeli Rotem Hermon, an Middle Eastern studies student, said most Israelis she knows support McCain.

"They feel that McCain will be a continuation of Bush, whose policies were Israel-centered," Hermon said. "And they're worried that Obama will be pro-Palestinian."

However, Hermon said that she personally does not agree with the "safer" option of choosing McCain for Israel.

"In my opinion, Bush was too focused on Israel," she said. "He perpetuated this crazy situation. We need someone who will force us to stop doing certain things in the territories and in Gaza, and threaten that if we don't, we won't get American money or support."

"Obama will be focused a little more on the Palestinian situation and will take a tough stand with us," Hermon said, "which will be better for Israel as a country."

Palestinian education student Ahlam Sappah said she cannot wait to see Bush go. "He wanted to fight all the countries. He was always looking for war," she said. "I'm looking for a change with Obama."

If Obama is elected, Sappah said she hopes he will be more peaceful in how he responds to the Palestinian struggle.

"A lot of attention with the last presidents have been on the wars and conflicts between people," she said.

"I hope that Obama will change this view and will give more to build peace in the Palestinian conflict to give more to help our education and economy."

Meanwhile, most Israeli students said they supported McCain because he seems more "hawkish" and has military experience.

"He is an honored officer in the Army," Adam Aizenshtat, a biology student, said. "He learned on his own flesh about real wars, about nations in conflict."

Philosophy student Elisha Halperie said, "I don't really buy all this talk about the bombing of Iran, of an undivided Jerusalem -- that's just the collective talking."

"But," he added, "McCain will be better for us because he knows what it means to be at war. He understands that one side can be more right than another."

For some, U.S. domestic issues lead some Israelis to support McCain.

"He will be better for the U.S. economy and security, and that means a stronger U.S.," history student Benny Bar-Lavi said. "And that means, in turn, a stronger Israel."

Issues outside of Israel and Palestine, particularly the war in Iraq, were on the minds of many students.

"I prefer a Democrat candidate, because the Republicans make wars in Iraq," Palestinian student Zeid Bali said. "Obama says he will get the Army out of Iraq, and that's an important program to me. It's time for them to get out."

But many Israelis said that withdrawal from Iraq would be dangerous for them.

"I support a president who understands that withdrawing from Iraq means a spiral into a civil war, which would ultimately have an adverse effect on the Middle East, including Israel," Bar-Lavi said.

Obama's race plays an important part in Palestinian students' affinity to him.

"He is of African descent," said Ahmad Hamdan, an English literature student. "In America there is racism against black people, and maybe Obama will do something about that. Racism is everywhere and we suffer from it, too."

Ahlam Sappah agreed, saying she wanted Obama partly because of his skin color. "As a minority, we think that we will feel empathy with Obama," she said. "But I really don't know if that's a reality."

Obama's minority status is what draws her to him, but it is also her source of concern.

"Maybe because he is a minority, he will try to display himself a certain way to appease the majority, and thus act ultimately in the way of the majority," she said.

Hamdan said that he hopes for Obama's promised platitude of change. "I hope he can give us a state," he said. "All the presidents who come just support Israel. It's always Israel, Israel, Israel -- all the time."

Some Israelis worry that things might change too much with Obama, feeling that some of his actions and associations have been worrisome.

"Obama has been caught sometimes with anti-Israel people," Elisha Halperie said, noting Obama's close ties with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, known for his anti-Israel speeches.

Halperie said he didn't like how Obama "tries to hide things," referring to when two Muslim women were prohibited from sitting behind the podium at a Detroit rally, so that their headscarves would not appear in photos.

"It's really pathetic," he said.

Bar-Lavi said that he is liberal minded, but that in the next decade, the world will be a "very troubled place."

"I'm not sure that Obama is firm enough to handle it," he said. "I don't like McCain's conservative stances on homosexuality and abortion, but I support the more conservative candidate because of economic and military issues."

"I have my priorities," he said.