President Barack Obama’s middle name, Hussein, makes him seem less pro-Israel — at least as far as Israeli students are concerned.
According to a study published Wednesday, the president’s Arab-sounding middle name influences perceptions among both Jewish and Arab Israeli students, making them perceive him as less pro-Israel. Ultimately, the research found, Israeli Jewish students who were exposed to Obama’s middle name thought he was less fair toward Israel, while Israel Arab students saw him as being more fair.
The study, which was conducted by Israel Waismel-Manor of the University of Haifa and Natalie Jomini Stroud of the University of Texas, also examined whether Obama’s middle name affected American opinions, and compared the differences in cultural perceptions of his name. Pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students in America were not affected by the use or non-use of Obama’s middle name.
“Even though the Israeli public has extensive information about the American president and his positions, its opinions can still be swayed by cultural cues, such as a name that in this case is perceived as Arabic,” said Waismel-Manor.
The study sampled Israeli Jewish students, Israeli Arab students, American students who sympathize with Israel, and American students who sympathize with Palestinians.
Participants were randomly divided into two groups, with both groups watching the same news clip of Obama speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at an official meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The difference: One carried the caption “President Barack Obama,” and the other “President Barack Hussein Obama.”
Researchers found that Jews who had watched the clip that included the president’s middle name perceived him as being anti-Israel, whereas those who saw the other clip did not. Likewise with Arabs: those who watched the clip with “Hussein” in the caption perceived the president as being less favorable toward Israel.
In another test, participants were asked to comment on the associations triggered by certain names. Jews attributed a negative connotation to the name Hussein, while Arabs felt an affiliation.
Participants were then asked whether Obama favored Israelis or Palestinians, and what their opinions were regarding the president’s proposals for the Middle East, as well as what their overall perceptions of Obama were in terms of trustworthiness, competence, honesty, warmth, intelligence, and fairness.
The Israeli Jews who saw the “Hussein” clip felt that Obama was less pro-Israel than those who saw the same clip but omitted the president’s middle name. In addition, “Barack Obama” was perceived as being a more positive individual than the same man with the appellation of “Hussein.”
Surprisingly for the researchers, however, Israeli Arabs also found that the simple “Barack Obama” was a more positive individual.
Among the American students no significant difference was recorded between the two groups.
“In a world of global media, a seemingly irrelevant detail such as a middle name can affect particular audiences to develop an affinity or aversion to a person,” concluded Jomini Stroud. “It seems that a politician’s decision to use a middle name or omit it — as Obama did in his Cairo speech — can have an impact on certain members of the public.”