President Obama Returns to Israel


Barack Obama and Joe Biden welcome Shimon Peres in the Oval Office.

— by Steve Sheffey

President Obama will visit Israel in March, fulfilling a campaign promise and making him only the fifth sitting president to ever visit Israel. He previously visited in 2006 and 2008. Only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton visited Israel during their first terms; Richard Nixon and George W. Bush visited Israel in the last year of their second terms.

The goal of the President’s trip is to reaffirm the strong friendship between the United States and Israel and to work with Israel on two key issues: Iran and Syria.

When it comes to the US-Israel relationship, we must stand together, regardless of partisan differences on other issues.

More after the jump.
President Obama returns to Israel in March. He visited Israel in 2006 and 2008. This will be his first visit as President. Former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East Colin Kahl told reporters in June 2012 that “we can expect [Obama] to visit Israel in a second term should he be elected.” And so he is.

Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren said “We’re delighted that he’s coming. President Obama was always welcome in Israel. He’ll be received enthusiastically by the government of Israel, by the prime minister of Israel, by the people of Israel.”

US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said “The visit will be a good opportunity to reaffirm the strong and enduring bonds of friendship between Israel and the US.” Shapiro emphasized that the most pressing issues facing the two countries are the Iranian nuclear program and the potential transfer of chemical weapons in Syria. Read more in the Jerusalem Post.

Only two presidents visited Israel in their first term: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Richard Nixon and George W. Bush visited Israel in the last year of the their second terms. Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush never visited Israel as president.

During his first term, in 2003, George W. Bush did manage to participate in a summit at the Port of Aqaba in Jordan, just nine miles from Israel (closer to Israel than Cairo). But Bush didn’t visit Israel. Instead, Bush said that “we have a problem with Sharon” and was visibly irritated with the then-Prime Minister. Remember how the Democrats exploited this for political gain in the 2004 election? Me neither.


Only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton visited Israel during their first term

During the 2012 campaign, President Obama was criticized by some people for not having visited Israel during his first term, as if US presidents routinely visited Israel. We were told how important it was for the President to visit Israel and what a shame it was that he hadn’t.

At the time, I said that I wished President Obama had visited Israel. Of course it’s good if the president visits Israel. It’s good if any politician visits Israel. The more times the better as far as I’m concerned. But the reality is that presidential visits to Israel are unusual. We in the pro-Israel community judge office holders on their policy positions, not their travel itineraries.

If the criticism from our Republican friends during the campaign was sincere, one would expect them to be praising President Obama for fulfilling a campaign promise and visiting Israel. Our Republican friends claimed last June that the reasons President Obama didn’t visit Israel were his personal distaste for Israel, his fear of being booed and rejected by Israelis, his desire to distance himself from Israel, and a desire to avoid drawing attention to the failed peace process.

And what do they say now? They say going to Israel is a mistake on President Obama’s part. Not the right time. I’m not making this up. If President Obama had visited Israel last year, do you think they would have praised President Obama for going or decried it as an election stunt? The President can’t win with this crew. If President Obama split the Sea of Reeds and walked through it dry-shod, they’d say he couldn’t swim.

It’s okay to disagree about policy. It’s okay to change your mind. But when you’ve excoriated President Obama for four years for not visiting Israel, and then he does exactly what you’ve said was so important, maybe it’s time to acknowledge that the President is doing something we should all be proud of and thankful for. The President of the United States is visiting the State of Israel. That’s good. And there is never a bad time to visit Israel.


Obama meets with Jewish organizations leaders, 2011

The reality is that prior to his re-election, President Obama eliminated Osama bin-Laden, did more than any other president to stop Iran’s illicit nuclear program, restored Israel’s qualitative military edge after years of erosion under the Bush administration, secretly sold Israel the bunker-busting bombs it requested but did not receive during the Bush administration, increased security assistance to Israel to record levels, boycotted Durban II and Durban III, took US-Israel military and intelligence cooperation to unprecedented levels, cast his only veto in the UN against a one-sided anti-Israel Security Council resolution, opposed the Goldstone Report, stood with Israel against the Gaza flotilla, and organized a successful diplomatic crusade against the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in the UN Security Council.

After his re-election, freed from the need for Jewish votes, what did President Obama do? He spoke out against the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state at the UN, stated yet again that “we’re not going to let Iran get a nuclear weapon,” and forcefully condemned Hamas and unequivocally supported Israel’s right to defend itself in Gaza. And now he’s going to Israel.

When it comes to the US-Israel relationship, we must stand together. This is essential reading from Aaron Keyak. We can’t afford to let Israel become a partisan issue. There are major policy differences between Democrats and Republicans, but Israel is not one of them.

Please send Aaron’s op-ed to anyone who loves Israel and the values we cherish — even (or perhaps especially) disillusioned Republican moderates looking for a political home. Better yet, share this entire article by using the symbols at the top or the bottom to post it on Facebook or Twitter.  
 

Hot Mike Moment: Mitt Romney and the 47%

Mitt Romney:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what… These are people who pay no income tax…

“My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”


Response by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Daily Show video after the jump.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter:

“The fact that a candidate for President-in a closed door event with donors-said that 47% of Americans are “dependent on Government” and “believe they are victims” is beyond shocking. That he doubled down on those comments in public is unfathomable. But most deplorable about Mitt Romney’s comments is who he is insulting-an overwhelmingly majority or the 47% he is referring to are seniors, working families, students or people with disabilities. The vast majority of these Americans pay a significant percentage of their income in taxes, whether they are federal payroll taxes, property taxes, sales taxes or other state and local taxes. They often pay even a higher share of their income in these taxes than wealthier families, like Mitt Romney’s. How can Mitt Romney continue to run for President when he has categorically written off half of the American people?”

Romney Backer Lobbied for Arab Bank


Arab Bank  Investigated by Bush Treasury for Links to Terrorism

— by David Streeter

JTA’s Ron Kampeas provided additional reporting yesterday on the story of Patrick Cave-a fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney-and the lobbying work that Cave did on behalf of the Arab Bank. The Arab Bank was investigated for links to Palestinian terrorism by the Bush Administration’s Treasury Department and paid a significant fine to settle with the Treasury.

Kampeas’ full article appears the jump.
Why did Romney fundraiser continue to lobby for Arab Bank?

— by Ron Kampeas, JTA

Ben Smith at Politico reported Monday that a fundraiser for Mitt Romney, Patrick Cave, lobbied for the Arab Bank, which has faced accusations that it was used as a conduit for funneling money for Palestinian terrorist groups. The allegations prompted a Treasury Department investigation several years ago.

Regarding his lobbying, Cave tells Politico:

We encouraged [Arab Bank] to settle with the Treasury Department and cooperate with the Treasury Department and we were successful in communicating to the Congress any concerns they may have about the business.

I followed up with Cave, who told me he had nothing to add, in part because the bank’s no longer a client. (He last reported lobbying for the Arab Bank in 2008.)

According to USA Today, the Jordanian-based Arab Bank settled with the Treasury in August 2005, paying a $24 million fine, without admitting wrongdoing. The Treasury, USA Today reports, alleged that there were ‘serious’ weaknesses in the bank’s controls to prevent money-laundering and terrorist financing. The USA Today article also reported that ‘Arab Bank agreed in February [2008] to virtually shut down its New York office.’

The bank has faced lawsuits from families of victims of terrorist attacks. Among other things, the suits alleged that the bank facilitated the transfer of Saudi money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

According to this Jerusalem Post story from September of this year, the lawsuits are still very much alive.

Citing lobbyist disclosure forms, Politico reported that Cave’s company, the Cypress Group, had been paid by the bank for ‘its help managing congressional inquiries about the lawsuits.’

I’ve seen the lobbying filings: Cave’s lobbying, according to the 2008 filing, was for ‘issues related to the Bank Secrecy Act.’ The Act ‘requires financial institutions to keep records of cash purchases of negotiable instruments, file reports of cash transactions exceeding $10,000 (daily aggregate amount), and to report suspicious activity that might signify money laundering, tax evasion, or other criminal activities.’ In total Cave’s company was paid $323,000 for its work for Arab Bank.

Cave is a co-host of a $500-per-person fundraising event for the Romney campaign taking place tomorrow morning in Washington.

I asked the Romney campaign for comment on Monday and have yet to hear from them.

Time’s Klein: Romney “Wrong on Israel”


— by David Streeter

Time’s Joe Klein sharply criticized Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for continuing to perpetuate falsehoods about President Barack Obama’s strong record of support for Israel. Romney claimed today that “U.S.-Israeli relations have hit a low not seen since the Jimmy Carter years,” and repeated the false attack regarding Obama’s stance on Israel’s borders.

Klein wrote in response to Romney:

When he’s having a tough time-as he is this week-Mitt Romney’s first instinct is to attack President Obama. … But Romney’s execution is usually clunky. Last week, we had the Romney ad that pretended Barack Obama was saying something that John McCain had actually said-McCain wanted to avoid talking about the economy in 2008, a brilliant strategy. That was skeevy in the extreme, especially after it became clear that the Romney staff thought the controversy over their unscrupulousness would work in their favor (tone deaf politicians always assume the public is stupid enough to buy such stuff).

This week we have another example. Romney’s press office [put out a] statement about the President and Israel…

Actually, US-Israeli relations are better than they were when George H.W. Bush was President and Secretary of State Jim Baker threatened to cut off aid if Israel didn’t stop expanding its illegal settlements on the West Bank, and (then) in Gaza. And among the few good things Jimmy Carter accomplished overseas was the Camp David Accords, which has provided a generation of peace between Israel and Egypt, a peace now jeopardized by the Arab Spring.

The other inaccuracy-alluded to [in Romney’s statement] but expounded upon in Romney’s stump speeches-is the notion that Obama wants Israel to return to its 1967 borders. He doesn’t. He wants the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed upon land swaps, to be the basis for peace negotiations. Somehow, Romney neglects to mention the land swaps.

The fact is, Obama’s policy toward Israel has been in line with that of every US President since Nixon. No American President has favored the annexation of any Arab lands. The fact is that US-Israeli military and intelligence cooperation, especially when it comes to sabotaging Iran’s nuclear program, has never been greater….

One would hope that Romney, as one of the few plausible Republican candidates, would eschew such cheesy behavior…would not misrepresent Obama’s positions on foreign policy so gleefully. But, if this race continues to slip away from him, I suspect that’s exactly what we’ll continue to see.