Defense & National Security

President Obama’s remarkable Holocaust cheapshot

President Obama's remarkable Holocaust cheapshot

During the third — and mercifully, final — presidential debate, Republican candidate Mitt Romney, as expected, hit Barack Obama for his awful record on Israel. The president was ready.

“If we’re going to talk about trips that we’ve taken — when I was a candidate for office, first trip I took was to visit our troops,” Obama explained. “And when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn’t take donors. I didn’t attend fundraisers. I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.”

Big deal.

To begin with, a president who attends a fundraiser in Las Vegas  the day after four Americans are killed in Libya probably shouldn’t be throwing elbows on this issue. No, Romney didn’t visit Yad Vashem in 2008, but he did unequivocally call Jerusalem the capital of Israel in 2012. One of these things is deeply meaningful to Barack Obama; the other is meaningful to Israel.

Instead, the administration berated Romney for his stand on an undivided Jerusalem — and, actually, it’s been berating Israel three years running for failing to be pliable in the face of extremism and anti-Semitism. But Obama went to Yad Vashem. So he cares.

Dan Senor, a senior Romney adviser, called Obama’s criticism of Romney’s Israel trip “pathetic.” It was. But this is hardball. And on the topic of Israel, the challenger missed an opportunity, letting Obama off the hook more than once.

Romney surely could have pointed out that, even when running for president, even before his spiritual journey to the Holocaust Museum, Sen. Obama had noted: “There is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel.” Israel didn’t have a Likud government at the time (even though, this so-called “strain” Obama refers to happens to be the conventional pro-Israel position), but it does now.  So while the president claims that Israel is a “true friend” and our “greatest ally,” judging from his record, he means only if some Likudnik like Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t running the show.

You’ll remember, after a few months of flogging Israel on issues large and small, in April of 2010, 38 Democratic senators (78 in all) sent a letter to the Obama administration, asking it to resolve its problems with Israel amicably. The central problem irking the administration in those days was that Israelis had the audacity to build housing. In Israel. For Jews. These Jews even had the temerity to do it when the vice president was visiting.

And when Romney accused the president of wanted to put “daylight” between the United States and Israel, the Republican was, despite the president’s protestations, telling the truth.

The Washington Post reported that Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told Obama, “If you want Israel to take risks, then its leaders must know that the United States is right next to them.” “Look at the past eight years,” Obama answered. “During those eight years, there was no space between us and Israel, and what did we get from that? When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states.”

Perhaps you agree with Obama, perhaps you think it’s a prudent course for the United States, but the position is not “pro-Israel” in any traditional sense.  Obama wasn’t searching for credibility with the Likud-led government in Tel Aviv, or the centrist Kadima party in the Knesset, he wanted credibility with the Sultans of Arabia, the King of Jordan, Hamas, Fatah, et al.

At one point during Monday night’s debate, Obama delivered a lecture on the decision to kill bin Laden, claiming that these sorts of tough leadership moments were not generally “poll tested.” (Americans support killing bin Laden, Mr. President, I assure you!) Well, Israel matters to Obama nowadays because it is poll tested; and it polls well.

According to a survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee, 71 percent of U.S. Jews agree “somewhat” or “strongly” with the following statement: “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew.” But, too often, pundits ignore the importance Israel among the Evangelical community — and among many others. A recent Gallup poll found that 80 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of Independents and 65 percent of Democrats still have a favorable view of Israel. Only 19 percent have a similar view of Palestinians.

And on Monday, the president got away on the issue using the cheapest trick available on the issue.

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