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May 10, 2010

The Snub that Wasn’t

Listed in: Israel, Stop the Smears, NJDC News, Opinions

Originally published in Politico’s Arena


By David A. Harris, President of the National Jewish Democratic Council


I was thrilled to be present this week when Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren held a dinner in honor of DNC Chairman Governor Tim Kaine with some notable guests. Especially in light of the feverish reporting in POLITICO and elsewhere about the U.S.-Israel relationship and heated headlines about ties between the Obama Administration and the American Jewish community, it was fascinating to hear his recounting - echoing his comments on television - about the incredibly tight security cooperation between our two countries, the appreciation for President Obama’s commitment to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, etc.

But what most riveted me was how the ambassador described one of the great frustrations of his position - needing to spend his time fighting persistent myths that have at times been perpetuated by the press, such as the supposed “snub” of Prime Minister Netanyahu by President Obama during Netanyahu’s March visit. Like me, the ambassador apparently continues to hear tales that Netanyahu was somehow humiliated during this visit - that he was snuck in through some back door of the White House, with no photographers, that Obama abandoned Netanyahu to see his wife and children, etc.

But unlike me, the ambassador was there. He reminded us that there are normally no photos in such a non-state visit; Netanyahu came in through the front door, not the back door; it was a last-minute meeting as Obama had expected to be out of the country; and the First Lady and their children were actually not in town. They worked closely and positively until late at night; Netanyahu asked if he could stay to meet with his team and the White House said “of course.” Netanyahu then asked if Obama could return later to hear new ideas and he gladly did, and they parted on good terms. As the ambassador told us, it was not until the following morning that the ambassador read that the visit was described as a “snub,” and he was shocked.

The story of this one supposed “snub” - which in fact was anything but - has been told and retold countless times in the press, unfortunately all too frequently without the facts. Yet this is but one small example of the myriad myths circulating about the relationship between the White House and Jerusalem of late. And Washington being Washington, some political actors will use any issue for political gain - regardless of the actual harm it causes.

Maintaining a strong U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important a cause to let myths and false stories cloud the simple truth: the Obama Administration’s support for Israel remains rock-solid, and support for Israel must continue to be bipartisan. Anyone who traffics in these myths for partisan gain threatens the U.S.-Israel relationship. And that’s no myth.