Earlier this week, Jen cited an AP report about President Obama’s Tuesday-evening meeting with 37 Jewish Democratic lawmakers, in which participants urged him to discuss publicly his commitment to Israel and to travel there. The interesting part of the report was what was missing from it: Obama’s response.
A Jerusalem Post report was slightly more informative. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) said Obama “didn’t respond directly.” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) said, “I think he nodded and smiled.” In other words, he said nothing.
This was not the first time the suggestion to travel to Israel was made only to receive a non-response. Last July, Haaretz editor Aluf Benn took to the op-ed pages of the New York Times — in an article entitled Why Won’t Obama Talk to Israel? — and urged Obama to come to Israel. Benn noted that Obama had spoken to Arabs, Muslims, Iranians, Western Europeans, Eastern Europeans, Russians, and Africans – but had not bothered to speak to Israelis: “The Arabs got the Cairo speech; we got silence.”
At the time, Joe Klein wrote that “Obama needs to explain his policy to the Israeli public” and was “already planning to make this sort of effort — Israeli television interviews, etc. — in the coming weeks.” Jeffrey Goldberg thought a visit “soon” was a good idea, but when he asked two “senior administration officials” when Obama might do it, “or at least speak at length about his positive vision for a secure Israel,” the officials were “non-committal.“ Neither the trip, nor the television interviews, nor the speech ever occurred.
Over the following year, the relationship with Israel worsened further — capped by the extraordinary public castigation over future Jewish housing in a Jewish area of the capital of the Jewish state, followed by the humiliation of the prime minister with an after-hours, side-door meeting with no pictures or joint statement. Administration officials are now engaged in endless “outreach events,” but the noteworthy point is that Obama has yet to speak publicly on the issue.
He held a private lunch with Elie Wiesel (no pictures or press) and a private meeting with Jewish Democrats, but there is still no trip to Israel, no interviews with Israeli media, no speech. He has also stopped holding prime-time press conferences at which questions on this and related foreign-policy issues could be asked. The charm offensive provides a kind of nod and smile to Jewish voters, but what Aluf Benn wrote a year ago remains true today — and the underlying issues remain as well.