Attacks by Romney and ECI “Hollow” and “Galling”

— by Max Samis

Following another series of deliberately misleading ads from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and the Emergency Committee for Israel attacking President Barack Obama on his record with Israel, a number of prominent journalists have condemned the attacks as “misleading,” “hollow,” and “galling.”

Beth Reinhard of the National Journal took the Romney campaign to task for refusing to acknowledge “a more nuanced and honest” look at the Obama administration’s achievements and efforts in Israel. Reinhard wrote:

But Romney’s most recent ad is particularly galling because it seeks to suggest the president is anti-Israel or anti-Jewish. ‘Who shares your values?’ the spot demands, chiding Obama for failing to visit Israel during his first term and for ‘refusing’ to recognize Jerusalem as the capital. Romney should have touted his own recent trip to Israel-though it was light on policy details-and stopped there. But instead, he put money behind advertising that implies something sinister behind Obama’s policies, even though plenty of news outlets cried foul when he first started raising these issues.

Former Republican Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan never visited Israel during their presidencies, and George W. Bush didn’t go until the last year of his second term. And like his Democratic and Republican predecessors, Obama has described Jerusalem as the capital but signed waivers putting off moving the U.S. embassy because it would inflame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Romney’s campaign clearly knows these facts but can’t be bothered with a more nuanced and honest criticism of the administration’s failure to broker peace in the Middle East. That’s a shame.

Douglas Bloomfield of The Jewish Week also found himself puzzled by Romney’s attack, noting that by the ad’s standards, the only presidents who had an acceptable record on Israel were Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton – both Democrats. Bloomfield wrote:

According to an ad just put out by the Romney campaign, only Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter qualify among the last six presidents over the past 35 years as leaders who ‘recognize the cherished relationship the U.S. has with Israel and stands with our allies.’

How can that be? Why do only these two Democrats make the grade?  Because Romney’s standard is a first term presidential visit to Israel, and that’s something Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama (so far) never did.  Reagan didn’t go in his second term, either, and Bush 43 only went late in his second term.

Only Carter and Clinton visited Israel during their ‘first four years as president,’ something Romney has said he would do and castigates Obama for following the example of Reagan and the Bushes.

The 30-second ad also criticizes Obama for ‘refusing to recognize’ that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

All three Republican presidents – like all other Republican and Democratic presidents – also did not officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, which means moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv. Any number of presidents have said they’d like to be able to do that, but the fact is none ever did it, and none will, as noted in this space earlier, until the Israelis and Palestinians make peace and agree on the location and borders of their capitals.

In checking both Romney and the ECI’s ads for honesty, The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler assigned them two Pinocchios. Kessler went on to note that “the basic frame of the [ECI’s] ad is misleading,” and that Romney’s attack echoed a “hollow talking point.” Kessler wrote:

Only four of the last 11 presidents visited Israel during their presidency, and two — Nixon and George W. Bush — waited until their second term to make their first trip. In both cases, they visited in the last year of their presidencies (Nixon resigned because of the Watergate affair shortly after his trip.)

Only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, then, visited Israel in their first term. And of the last four presidents, two never visited Israel, one visited in his second term and one visited in his first term.

Thus Obama’s failure to travel to Israel thus far is not unusual at all.

The Emergency Committee ad also suggests that Obama has visited Arab countries rather than Israel. But the State Department records also demonstrate that every president who traveled to Israel had previously visited Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The ad also incorrectly says Obama has ‘traveled all over the Middle East.’ Obama visited just Turkey and Iraq in April 2009, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia in June 2009. The stops in Iraq and Saudi Arabia were barely a few hours long – and Obama has not traveled at all to Middle East in the past three years. (Many of the images in the ad of Obama with Arab leaders are from international confabs held outside the Middle East…)

Meanwhile, the Romney ad also knocks Obama for not recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital ‘as president.’ As we noted last week, Obama, just like Romney, said Jerusalem was Israel’s capital during a 2008 trip there as a presidential candidate. But Obama, following the path set by previous presidents, has held off official recognition by the U.S. government pending the outcome of peace talks. Romney has never pledged that he would direct the State Department to immediately recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, so thus far this is a hollow talking point.

Pollak is correct that the Emergency Committee ad does not directly say that Obama’s travel record was unusual for a president, but it certainly suggests that. While there may have been good political reasons for Obama to make a trip to Jerusalem, the basic frame of the ad is misleading, especially the claim that he’s traveled all through the Middle East at the expense of a visit to Israel.

The Romney ad also misleadingly suggests Obama’s failure to visit Israel is unusual since it asks, ‘Who shares your values?’

Obama may have failed the Woody Allen test, but his travel record to Israel is par for the course for American presidents.


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