Now this is just getting silly. The Obama White House is gearing up for a Supreme Court case in which it will defend its refusal to list “Jerusalem, Israel” on the passports of Americans born in the Israeli capital. As part of its preparations the administration recently scrubbed all the captions on a White House photo gallery of Vice President Biden in the city, changing “Jerusalem, Israel” to “Jerusalem.” The optics of methodically erasing the word “Israel” from the White House webpage caused a predictable uproar.
Those who make it their business to rationalize White House hostility toward Israel were relieved, then, when the Washington Jewish Week’s Adam Kredo published an article claiming that the Bush administration had enforced an identical policy. Kredo cited a “search of the Bush White House’s archives” and photos of Laura Bush touring the Western Wall to conclude that the Bush White House webpage “never explicitly labeled [Jerusalem] as part of Israel.” Though he was otherwise unsparing in criticizing the White House’s “horrible, simply ridiculous… photo mistake,” Obama’s defenders latched on to his article anyway. The NJDC and J Street found particularly grating and obnoxious ways to pass along the article. You should read them because they’re about to become deeply embarrassing.
Elliot Abrams responded in a quote he gave to Jennifer Rubin, forcefully insisting that Kredo was “just wrong” and that the Bush White House “did not have a hard and fast rule that prohibited referring to Jerusalem” as part of Israel in documents and captions.
Basic Google searches are enough to show that Abrams is right and Obama’s defenders are flat wrong.
Sometimes Bush-era White House photos explicitly identified Jerusalem as being in Israel and sometimes they didn’t, just like sometimes they explicitly identified Tel Aviv as being in Israel and sometimes they didn’t. A naive “Jerusalem, Israel” Google search on the Bush White House archives is sufficient to turn up this 2002 photo of Vice President Cheney captioned as “a press briefing in Jerusalem, Israel.” It also turns up this photo labeled “Mrs. Laura Bush visits the Western Wall Tunnels… in Jerusalem, Israel.” That’s from the exact, precise, identical tour that Kredo linked to in order to “hammer home the point” that the Bush administration “never explicitly labeled [Jerusalem] as part of Israel.”
Getting beyond photo captions, Bush-era documents show that the previous White House was indeed able to correctly identify the city of Jerusalem as being inside the state of Israel. The record shows that the President even acknowledged that the Jerusalem consulate – the same one that won’t issue passports referencing “Jerusalem, Israel” – was located in Jerusalem, Israel. Bush’s statement nominating Jeffrey Feltman to be ambassador to Lebanon, for instance, explicitly described Feltman’s previous position as “Deputy Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, Israel.”
It gets worse for Obama’s defenders, though, than merely being demonstrably wrong. It turns out that while they were insisting that the Bush administration consistently refused to reference “Jerusalem, Israel,” the Obama State Department was busy scrubbing documents in which Bush administration referenced “Jerusalem, Israel.” Straight down the memory hole. That’s kind of amazing when you pause and think about it, no?
The “Jerusalem, Israel” captions and statements from the Bush-era White House are digitally archived and frozen, and so beyond the administration’s reach. But Bush-era State Department reports are stored on the Obama State Department’s servers. Two old documents in particular – the State Department’s FY 2002 and FY 2003 Performance and Accountability Reports – come up quickly in searches. When they were originally written they both had appendices identifying the location of the Jerusalem consulate as “Jerusalem, Israel.” Some time in the last two weeks that location was changed to “Jerusalem.” Whoever made the changes even went back and scrubbed the old “hard copy” PDFs. You can do the compare and contrast yourself. Click on these links for scrubbed versions of FY 2002 HTML, FY 2003 HTML, FY 2002 PDF, FY 2003 PDF, and on these links for cached original versions of FY 2002 HTML, FY 2003 HTML, FY 2002 PDF, FY 2003 PDF.
The Bush White House was simply not as hostile to Israel as the Obama administration. It simply did not engage in the same consistent, systematic efforts to undermine Israel’s diplomatic positions. Efforts to rewrite history, which at this point have become quite literal, won’t change that basic fact. Those who continue to grasp for pretexts to believe otherwise – and you really should go back to see the sneering smugness with which the NJDC and J Street approached this controversy – will continue to get embarrassed. Facts are not only stubborn things but, in a digital age, fairly easy for anyone to find.