Less than 100 days before the US presidential elections, the Obama administration is openly denying Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem. Can this be a vote-getter?
Last week, the Emergency Committee for Israel released an ad titled, "O, Jerusalem." The commercial showed administration officials squirming when asked to name the capital of Israel, and highlighted the recent refusals of White House and State Department spokespeople to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel's capital city. The underlying message of the ad was that the administration's policy is out of step with the views of the majority of Americans.
Barack Obama's position is certainly a political outlier. The 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, passed nearly unanimously by both houses of Congress, explicitly stated that it is the policy of the United States that Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of Israel. The law granted the president a right to postpone the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on national security grounds. But the law's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital was unconditional.
During his visit to Israel earlier this week, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney highlighted the fact that he holds the consensus view of the American public on Jerusalem.
In his speech in Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon, Romney said simply, "It is a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel."
The Palestinians were predictably enraged.
Also predictably, the Palestinians chastised Romney for another statement he made that was equally rooted in America's bipartisan consensus.
Romney noted that other things being equal, cultures that uphold and protect political and economic freedoms are more prosperous than cultures that don't.
In a breakfast meeting with American supporters in Jerusalem on Monday, Romney noted that Israel's per capita income is significantly higher than the per capital income of Palestinians in areas governed by the Palestinian Authority, just as per capita income in the US is higher than per capita income in Mexico, and per capita income in Chile is higher than per capita income in Ecuador.
It is hard to think of a milder criticism of Palestinian society than Romney's comparison of the Palestinian economy to the economies of Mexico and Ecuador. Romney could easily have gone much further without ever leaving the confines of received wisdom. For instance, he could have mentioned - as Obama did in his speech in Cairo in June 2009 - that Muslim societies under-invest in education relative to non-Muslim societies.
Or he could have highlighted - as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton often did during her tenure in the US Senate - that official Palestinian institutions indoctrinate Palestinian children in a culture of death, teach them to hate Jews and aspire to become suicide bombers in a jihad aimed at Israel's physical eradication.
It was predictable that the Palestinians would condemn Romney for his run of the mill support for Israel and his milquetoast criticism of the Palestinians, because they reject every criticism of their behavior and take umbrage at every step anyone takes that suggests acceptance of the Jewish state or recognition of Jewish history.
This behavior is common to all groups in Palestinian society, from Hamas to Fatah to the so-called liberal reformers. In line with this, while Hamas condemned visits to Auschwitz as helping "Israel to spread the lie of the Holocaust... and garner international sympathy... at the expense of the Palestinians," the supposedly moderate, liberal Palestinian for Dignity organization condemned the EU for upgrading its trade ties with Israel.
The EU is the largest financial backer of the PA. Its policies towards Israel are in complete alignment with what the purportedly moderate Palestinians claim they want in a peace deal with Israel, including the partition of Jerusalem, and the expulsion of 600,000 Jews from Judea and Samaria and the neighborhoods built outside of the 1949 armistice lines in Jerusalem. And yet, as Shoshana Bryen from the Jewish Policy Center reported, for simply upgrading EU trade ties with Israel, Palestinian for Dignity announced its members "will organize to protest the latest manifestation of EU complicity and to challenge its presence and operations in Palestine."
Given the routine nature of Palestinian hysteria at Romney, and the bipartisan consensus upon which Romney's remarks were based, there was no reason either his remarks or the Palestinians' response to his remarks would spark any controversy in the US. Indeed, given the fact that both US law and the majority of Americans respect Israel's determination that Jerusalem is its capital city, it could have been taken for granted that Obama would keep his head down and hope to avoid further discussion of the issue.
Certainly, given that he had made statements similar to - indeed stronger than - Romney's statements about cultural causes for economic prosperity, it could have been assumed that Obama and his surrogates would have disregarded PA spokesman Saeb Erekat's ridiculous characterization of Romney's statement as "racist."
Given that it is election season, and then-candidate Obama's stated support for Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2008, the Obama administration could reasonably have made its own endorsement of Jerusalem as Israel's capital city.
But amazingly, the Obama administration has taken the opposite tack. Obama and his media surrogates seized on the Palestinians' criticism of Romney as proof that by embracing the American consensus on Israel, Romney had committed an unforgivable diplomatic faux pas.
First there was the White House's statement Monday on Jerusalem. Rather than keeping quiet, Obama doubled down. In a press briefing, White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest not only refused to acknowledge that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. He drew attention to the difference between Romney's position and the administration's and denied that Israel has a capital.
In Earnest's words, "Our view is that [Romney's position that Jerusalem is Israel's capital] is a different position than this administration holds. It's the view of this administration that the capital should be determined in final-status negotiations between parties."
At the same time, Obama's media surrogates have focused their wrath on Romney's statement about the cultural sources of economic prosperity.
Foreign Policy's David Rothkopf condemned Romney's statement as racist.
The New York Times' Thomas Friedman accused Romney of "not knowing what he was talking about."
Both Rothkopf and Friedman - and a chorus of their colleagues on the even more hysterical Left - laced their broadsides against Romney with frontal assaults against top Republican donor Sheldon Adelson and other Jewish American supporters of Romney. These denunciations were - at a minimum - infused with anti-Semitic innuendo.
Rothkopf wrote that in embracing Israel, "at a fund-raiser to pander to big donors - including Sheldon Adelson," Romney displayed "a willingness to sacrifice US interests in exchange for political cash."
Friedman's entire column was a screed against pro-Israel American Jews who contribute to the campaigns of candidates that support Israel. He argued that in pursuit of these American Jewish dollars, Republican politicians have abandoned America's national interest. In other words, Friedman alleged that American Jewish money is causing Republicans to betray their country.
Friedman wrote, "the main Israel lobby, AIPAC, has made itself the feared arbiter of which lawmakers are 'pro' and which are 'anti-Israel,' and therefore who should get donations and who should not."
On their face, Obama's repeated assaults on Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, and his surrogates' attacks on pro-Israel politicians, make no sense. For the past two years, Democratic leaders have insisted that support for Israel is bipartisan.
Last year, Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz demanded that her Republican colleagues avoid making Israel a "wedge issue," that would distinguish Democrats from Republicans.
But again, Romney's statements in Jerusalem did nothing of the sort. They were the embodiment of the bipartisan consensus. It is Obama who is distinguishing between the parties' positions on Israel.
Obama is making his hostility to Israel a wedge issue.
As Republicans repeat traditional positions, the Democrats are rendering conventional statements of amity with the Jewish state controversial. It is the Obama White House and its surrogates who are attacking those who recognize Israel's capital as diplomatic flamethrowers. It is the Democrats who are demonizing American supporters of Israel as disloyal.
Obama's assault on Romney is an extension and amplification of his Jewish proxy J Street's campaign against Congressmen Allen West of Florida and Joe Walsh of Illinois. Last month, J Street released ads attacking West and Walsh for being even more pro-Israel than most of their pro-Israel congressional colleagues. After Romney returned from Israel, J Street released a new ad attacking Romney for being nearly as pro-Israel as West and Walsh.
What has changed? Why are Obama and his surrogates now highlighting Obama's hostility? Why are they making opposition to Israel a partisan issue and attacking Republicans for being pro-Israel?
Much of the answer was provided by by J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami last week. In an interview with The New York Times, Ben-Ami explained, "Every single number indicates that there is simply no such thing as a Jewish problem for the president. The people who only vote on Israel didn't vote for Obama last time and know who they are voting for already."
In other words, Obama has given up on the pro- Israel vote. He's going for the anti-Israel vote and the indifferent-to-Israel vote. True, Obama outrageously markets his anti-Israel platform as pro- Israel. For instance, J Street attack ads on pro-Israel Congressmen West and Walsh present them preposterously as "anti-Israel."
So, too, Friedman and Rothkopf write that by supporting Israel, Romney is harming Israel, because it is Israel's vital interest to be diplomatically coerced into surrendering to its Palestinian enemies.
Although this seems merely ridiculous, it is actually insidious. These arguments are implicit messages to three groups. For out-and-out anti-Semites, they reinforce the paranoid belief that Jews and Israel are so powerful that even the president is afraid to openly say what he thinks about us.
For socially conscious Israel-haters, the messaging enables them to continue bashing Israel without fear that they will be accused of being anti-Semites.
And for American Jews who are indifferent to Israel, the messages give them cover to vote for Obama without having to admit that they couldn't care less about Israel.
Obama's reelection campaign strategy has mystified many observers. Why, they wonder, is he playing to his base instead of moving to the Center? Like his attacks on free enterprise and Catholics, his attacks on Israel seem to indicate that he doesn't care about getting reelected.
But this is not the case. Evidently, Obama's campaign strategy is to conduct multiple micro-campaigns rather than one national campaign. Apparently his data indicate that he will win or lose the election depending on how a few key districts in swing states vote. Based on these data, his campaign strategists have plainly concluded that some of these decisive districts are populated by anti- Semites, Israel-haters and indifferent Jews for whom his absurdly marketed anti-Israel positions resonate.
Aside from that, these positions clearly resonate with him. Consequently, they will certainly form the basis for his policy towards Israel if he wins a second term in office.