Commentary Magazine


WaPo Punts on Middle East Fact Check

I don’t always agree with the Washington Post’s Fact Checker column, but it usually takes a clear position one way or the other on the authenticity of stands taken by politicians. But today’s version, in which author Glenn Kessler attempts to parse the truth of Republican criticisms of President Obama’s attitude toward Israel, is a sad parody of a fact check. While foreign policy may be a bit more difficult to figure out than clear cut gaffes about taxes or history, Kessler simply punts on the question of whether Obama treated Israel poorly in the last two and a half years–giving neither a pass nor fail to Republican candidates who have blasted the president.

Kessler does give Michele Bachmann the column’s “Pinocchio” strawberry for asserting that the president was trying to force Israel back to the 1967 lines. But even he admits the president’s insistence on using those lines as the starting point for future negotiations puts Israel at a disadvantage. The Post writer though claims it is beyond his ability to decipher recent events in such a way as to enable him to determine the truth of Tim Pawlenty’s claim that Obama “thinks Israel is the problem” or Mitt Romney’s assertion that the president treats Israel the same way Europe does and that he thinks it is “at fault.” Kessler seems befuddled by Democratic spin that insists Obama is still Israel’s friend simply because he has not dismantled a decades-long security alliance. But it’s really not so  difficult to understand the basic truth of these GOP arguments.

From the first day of the Obama administration, there was no doubt the president and the entire foreign policy team was intent on reversing Bush administration policy and distancing itself from Israel. Obama’s decisions to pick fights with the Netanyahu government on settlements and, in particular, on Jerusalem were unprecedented in their nastiness. Then there is his insistence on treating 40-year-old neighborhoods in Israel’s capital as if they were the equivalent of the most remote West Bank settlements.

Even more to the point, the president’s decision to ambush Netanyahu in May with a Middle East policy speech designed to tilt the diplomatic playing field in favor of the Palestinians was a crystal clear sign of hostility. As I wrote in the July issue of COMMENTARY, while Israel can survive Obama’s presidency, you either have to be a rabid Democrat or deaf, dumb and blind to believe the relationship with the Jewish state hasn’t suffered since January 2009.

By stating Obama’s stance toward Israel is simply too nuanced for a clear cut true or false label on Republican criticisms, Kessler showed he isn’t as sophisticated or accurate a reporter as he claims to be.

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