Obama's Shoe Soles Provoke Some Israelis

Obama soles

President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a phone call from the Oval Office, Monday, June 8, 2009 Official White House Photo by Pete Souza hide caption

toggle caption Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Who knew President Barack Obama's simple habit of throwing his feet up on his desk could lead to an international incident?

On Monday White House photographer Pete Souza snapped a photo of Obama while the president was on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Obama, as he occasionally does, had his feet up on the desk and Souza shot the photo of the president with the soles of Obama's shoes in the foreground. It's a fairly straightforward picture.

But few things involving the Middle East are simple. Some Israeli journalists are stirring the pot by suggesting Obama intended to disrespect Netanyahu and Israel by showing the soles of his shoes.

An excerpt from a piece in the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz.

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.

Meanwhile, CBS News' World Watch blog reported:

Israeli TV newscasters Tuesday night interpreted a photo taken Monday in the Oval Office of President Obama talking on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an "insult" to Israel.

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. It is not a Jewish custom necessarily, but Israel feels enough a part of the Middle East after 60 years to be insulted too.

Again, just another example of how even a simple gesture can get twisted by the geopolitical forces of the Middle East.



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