WASHINGTON — Two new television ads are attacking President Barack Obama’s commitment to the Jewish State by pointing out that the US commander in chief has not visited Israel since assuming office (he went as a candidate in 2008). But Democrats and fact-checkers are quick to point out that Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush never visited Israel as president, and George W. Bush waited until the final year of his second term to travel to Jerusalem.
Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney is running a spot called “Cherished Relationship,“ in which a narrator says, “As president, Barack Obama has never visited Israel, and refuses to recognize Jerusalem as its capital.”
Meanwhile, a hawkish pro-Israel group called the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) has launched a more acerbic campaign ad assailing Obama for not having “found the time to visit our ally and friend, Israel.” The narrator says:
“Over the past four years, President Obama has traveled all over the world. He traveled all over the Middle East. But he hasn’t found time to visit our ally and friend, Israel…As the dangers to Israel mount, where’s Obama? Anywhere but Israel.”
Democrats are reacting furiously, accusing Republicans and the Romney campaign of turning Israel into a partisan wedge issue by “replacing reality with distortion and fantasy,” as Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) exclaimed on the Senate floor last week:
“I rise today out of disbelief with the rhetoric coming from Republicans and their presidential candidate concerning the US relationship with Israel. Unfortunately, Republicans want to use our relationship with Israel as a political game, which is terrible for US national security and bad for Israel.
“The implication that we are weak in our support for Israel is foul play. We have built a relationship between our countries that is firm and unshakeable since 1948. To try and clumsily interfere with that is shameful…They are encouraging hostile neighbors with their misrepresentations. Shame on them.”
According to the Office of the Historian at the US State Department, only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton – both Democrats – visited Israel during their first terms. Here is a list of presidential travel to the Jewish State since 1948:
- Harry Truman: no visit
- Dwight Eisenhower: no visit
- John Kennedy: no visit
- Lyndon Johnson: no visit
- Richard Nixon: one visit in the sixth year of his presidency
- Gerald Ford: no visit
- Jimmy Carter: one visit in the third year of his presidency
- Ronald Reagan: no visit
- George H.W. Bush: no visit
- Bill Clinton: four visits — in the second, third, fourth and sixth years of his presidency
- George W. Bush: two visits — in the eighth year of his presidency
ECI Executive Director Noah Pollak said the focus of the ad was not specifically on whether or not the president had set foot in Israel during his term.
The “daylight” policy, as Pollak called it, is a belief among Republicans that Obama has set out to drive a wedge between the US and Israel in order to strengthen ties with the Muslim world. They point to Obama’s trip to Egypt early in his term, in which he delivered a speech promoting outreach between America and Muslim nations.
“It criticizes him for traveling to the Middle East repeatedly but intentionally skipping Israel as part of his ‘daylight’ policy of distancing the US from Israel while pursuing friendly relations with Muslim states,” Pollak said.
The American pro-Israel community has also expressed its concern over Obama’s warm relationship with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, cemented during an April 2009 visit to Turkey. Erdogan has been a harsh critic of the Jewish State.