I wish I had a dollar for every Tom, Dick and Mary who told me -- with utter certainty -- that "President Obama is no friend of Israel," or that "Obama has thrown Israel under the bus." If I did have that dollar-per-head, I would have easily more than enough gelt to purchase a couple of hundred trees through the Jewish National Fund. For indeed, there are easily that many people who have bought into the canard that not only is Barack Obama bad for the State of Israel, he's "obviously and transparently on the side of the Palestinians."
In the immortal words of Mr. Pitt: "Stuff and nonsense!"
Whenever I challenge a person, asking "what is the basis for your belief that President Obama is anti-Israel?" about the only tangible response I get is "Well, he has yet to visit Israel." Frequently, this comment will be coupled with statements like: "Mitt Romney said that as president, his first trip abroad would be to Israel," or "When he was a candidate, Rick Perry said that one of his first trips would be to Israel."
After hearing this "If Obama truly cared about Israel he would get his fanny there ASAP," dig more times than I care to count, I decided to do some heavy duty research on presidential travel over the past half century. From John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, America has had ten presidents. Of these, five -- Kennedy, Johnson, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama -- traveled first to Canada; three -- Ford, Reagan and George W. Bush -- made their first presidential trips Mexico.
On June 16, 1974, Richard Nixon became the first president to visit Israel. This particular foreign trip, which had begun a week earlier, included prior stops in Austria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria, and concluded with one-day visits to Jordan and Portugal. During his 24-hours in Jerusalem, Nixon met with then-President Ephraim Katzir and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. (During his 6+ years in the White House, Nixon took 11 trips abroad; his visit to Israel came during his 9th trip.)
Presidents Ford, Reagan and George H.W. Bush never visited Israel. President Carter made two trips to Israel, in December 1977 and March 1979. To date, Bill Clinton has the all-time record for visits by an American president; during his eight years in the White House, he went no less than four times. During his eight years in the White House, Clinton made 53 separate trips abroad, during which time he made 133 different stops. His initial journey to Israel -- October 27-28, 1994 -- came during his sixth trip abroad, slightly less than 22 months after having taken the oath of office.
By comparison, President George W. Bush, who was inaugurated in January 2001, did not make his first visit to the Jewish State for more than seven years -- not until January 9, 2008. During his eight years in the White House, W took forty-six trips abroad, encompassing 140 stops. This initial journey to Israel came on the 109th stop of his 39th foreign trip. In doing my research, I did not find a single instance of anyone questioning George W. Bush's Israeli bona fides because he had yet to go to Jerusalem.
And yet, there are all those who see President Obama's not having visited Israel -- and he's only been in office for 38 months -- as somehow being proof that he is against the Jewish State. Up until today -- when the president is in Korea for the "Nuclear Security Summit," President Obama has made 21 trips abroad, incorporating 44 separate stops. And while he has been repeatedly pilloried for "all his visits to Arab countries," it is fascinating to note that during his first 38 months in office, he has spent precisely one day in Egypt and one day in Saudi Arabia. But to listen to his detractors, one might conclude that he has spent so much time kowtowing to King Abdullah and the House of Saud that he has his own personal suite of rooms at the Tuwayq Palace in Riyadh.
So far as the "If elected, my first foreign trip will be to Israel" crowd goes, they are engaging in nothing more than campaign rhetoric meant to shore up as many Jewish votes as possible. As rhetoric, the promise is understandable; as policy, it is neither intelligent nor wise.
An analogy might help: imagine that it's the night before the Superbowl, and you are your team's star quarterback. You go out to dinner and low and behold, who do you see but your opposite number and several members of his team -- dining with the fellow who's going to be refereeing tomorrow's game! Naturally, you wonder about how in the world that ref can be impartial or neutral; he's so chummy with the other team. To announce up front that one's first presidential visit will be to Jerusalem is tantamount to having drinks and dinner with one team the night before the big game. Any overture emanating from that administration; any call for talks between Israelis and Palestinians would likely fail before they even commenced; the latter would see the deck being stacked against them -- or to continue in terms of our analogy, to suspect that the coin toss is going to be rigged in favor of the opposition.
Any foreign policy team that would advise a candidate to announce that if elected, his first foreign trip will be to Israel -- rather than Canada, Mexico, England or Belgium as the last 10 presidents have done -- is not worthy of their paychecks. They have staked their candidate to a promise he'd be smart not to keep -- if he's truly concerned about seeking a two-state solution.
The fact that President Obama has yet to touch down at Ben Gurion Airport will continue to provide all the "proof" many need to back up their belief that he is not a friend to Israel. Countering this falsity is not easy, for many Americans have suspected Barack Obama of anti-American, anti-Democratic, anti-Israel tendencies from the day he first won the Democratic nomination -- without a scintilla of substantiation. George W. Bush did not arrive in Jerusalem until he had nearly completed two terms, and yet -- as noted above -- nobody raised a peep, no one thought to inquire if he -- who entertained Saudi princes at his ranch and was photographed kissing them -- was a friend or foe of the Jewish State.
Yes, yes, I know, politics is not fair. And to further prove it, one of these days, Barack Obama will arrive at Ben Gurion. And at that time, the same people who are damning him for not having been there before, will accuse him of pandering to the American Jewish community -- even if he is not running for reelection.
Although Barack Obama has yet to arrive in Jerusalem his journey in getting there is both sound and sincere.
And, as the late, great British political theorist/author/civil servant Leonard Woolf (Virginia's husband) once noted, "The journey, not the arrival matters . . ."
©2012 Kurt F. Stone