What can a young boy living in Israel teach us about American policy and the support of the American president for Israel?
In an era when candidates tell audiences of all walks what they want to hear to steer votes their way, what should an electorate do to discern the truth from hyperbole? No matter which candidate or party one supports, the messages seem to change, the promises seem to adjust to the sounds of popular opinion and we are left each day being bombarded with pundits trying to interpret the newest campaign comments and gaffes into palatable positions.
John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
For the past nine years, an American-born boy named Menachem Zivotofsky who is now living in Israel, through his parents and attorney, Nathan Lewin, has been fighting for the U.S. Congress to enforce a law that it passed overwhelmingly in 2002. Even after a resounding loss in the Supreme Court, with two of the judges appointed by President Obama voting with the majority, the President and the State Department do not allow American citizens born in Jerusalem to identify themselves on their American passports as being born in “Israel”, even those born in Western Jerusalem which many had thought was previously undisputed.
Remarkably, whereas anyone born in any other part of Israel can list Israel as their birth country on their passports, there is a U.S. accommodation for those opposed to Israel’s existence to list just the city of birth without the country if they are born, say in Haifa or Tel Aviv. So, this administration is fighting an American’s right to list his country of birth as Israel even though he was born in Western Jerusalem, but a Palestinian American born in Ramat Gan, Israel can voluntarily leave Israel off his passport.
It was about six weeks ago when the Democratic Party held its convention in Charlotte, North Carolina and the gasps of shock were heard that the issue of Jerusalem being the capital of Israel was removed from the Democratic position statements. Then, amidst the confusion and desperation to hide the truth, it was awkwardly placed back on its platform in an uncomfortable, highly questioned public televised vote that seemed as if it had actually failed.
Then, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, declared that “the personal views expressed by the president” are that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.” In another address, former Democratic Congressman and president of Center for Middle East Peace Robert Wexler said that President Obama’s policy on Israel was an “unflinching commitment,” and assured the crowd that the president had “directly intervened” to have the Jerusalem language added to the platform.
That fact must have fallen flat in White House spokesman Jay Carney when one month prior to the Convention, at a White House press briefing on July 26, Carney refused to acknowledge that Jerusalem was considered the Capital of Israel; the press briefing was subsequently reported on by media and the video posted to Youtube as indelible evidence of the less than certain policy on Israel.
The fact is that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling made in March 2012 rejected the State Department’s claim that Congress had no authority to require it to permit the identification of Jerusalem as being in Israel because it was a “political question, ” in an 8-1 vote. The State Department has chosen to ignore that ruling and the case is heading back to court. The secretary of state contends that requiring the State Department to allow Jerusalem-born citizens to identify themselves as born in “Israel” unconstitutionally interferes with the president’s authority “to recognize foreign sovereigns.”
The truth is that since 1948, successive administrations have declined to recognize any country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. It is not an Obama issue alone, yet it is his administration that is rejecting even undisputed western Jerusalem while claiming to support Jerusalem as the capital of Israel when it comes to lobbying for votes. The President is trying to talk the talk; some argue having it both ways. Yet, in action, he seems to want it just one way; talk or action, what is the fitting measure of commitment?
On paper, and according to his supporters, President Obama has an indelible record on supporting Israel. The continued issuance of military aid and support for the Iron Dome missile defensive program and the administration’s support for sanctions against Iran are solid. Facts are though, the aid was committed by Congress and administrations prior to Obama’s presidency, and not a lot that he has done on his own short of signing legislation that had enormous bipartisan congressional support.
President Obama has said that he will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. He pushed Congress to impose sanctions against Iran that appear to be affecting Iran’s economy. However, in an editorial published by the Wall Street Journal on July 2, 2012, titled, “Obama's Iran Loopholes: All 20 of Iran's major trading partners have sanction exemptions,” the ease of subverting those sanctions become evident. The editorial concluded, “We've never considered sanctions likely to persuade Iran to drop its nuclear program, but it's dangerous to pursue them half-heartedly while claiming progress and keeping the international temperature down as Iran's centrifuges spin.”
Facts are facts and talk is talk. Mr. Romney is prone to it as well, like when he poked fun at green initiatives at the end of his Convention acceptance speech and then endorsed them in the debate he apparently won more than a week ago. The difference for Jewish voters who support Israel is which set of facts and which campaign speeches will resonate the deepest.
It is no secret that Russia supports the anti-Israel Syrian regime that is slaughtering its people and that is likely sending its weapons to Hesbullah militants who are already armed to the teeth. Nor is it a surprise that Russia has trained hundreds of Iranian nuclear scientists and blocked international action against Tehran. So when President Obama was unintentionally caught on an open microphone asking former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for “space” until after his reelection, when he’d have more “flexibility” on missile defense, Jews need to ask what may happen in an Obama administration that is not seeking Jewish votes, money or re-election.
Spero columnist Juda Engelmayer is an executive with the NY PR agency, 5W Public Relations.