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An anti-Obama ad, featuring a Jewish Democrat

at 06:00 AM ET, 07/27/2012

“I was a big Obama supporter. I had a fundraiser in my home, gave money to his campaign. I really believed in him and believed in what he stood for. When he gave the speech about the ‘67 borders, it was nothing that had come up in his campaign originally. That really changed my mind about him. When he had the prime minister of Israel, [Benjamin] Netanyahu, to the White House…he was disrespectful to him to the point that I’d never seen.”

— Disillusioned Obama voter Michael Goldstein, in an ad by the Republican Jewish Coalition

The Republican Jewish Coalition is launching a $6.5 million campaign to convince Jewish voters — among the most loyal segments of the Democratic coalition — that it is okay to vote against President Obama because of his stand on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The campaign is aimed at key Jewish areas in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, where the RNC hopes to swing just enough votes to tip those states in Mitt Romney’s electoral vote column.

 RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks told us that the ad push will be accompanied by a Web site, www.mybuyersremorse.com, in which people can upload videos expressing their own thoughts on Obama and Israel. Brooks said the remarks by Goldstein were edited down from a 25-minute conversation.

 Democrats are planning to fight back with their own operation. The National Jewish Democratic Council has launched a Web site that includes a quiz that invites visitors to guess which president said what about Israel. (Hint: Obama didn’t do any of the negative stuff.)

 We obviously can’t fact-check opinions, but this is a fascinating example of how relatively incremental moments in the course of a presidency — and how they are portrayed by the media — can solidify into “facts” that erode support for that president. We spoke to Goldstein, who lives in East Brunswick, N.J., to gain a better understanding of how the two events he mentioned — the 1967 borders and the meeting with Netanyahu — turned him against the president.

The Facts

 Obama entered office determined to finally achieve a historic agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, even appointing a special envoy on his second day in office. As documented in the authoritative report this month by our Washington Post colleague Scott Wilson, Obama’s efforts quickly ran aground, and within six months the administration’s policies were in tatters. The administration never really recovered from its early stumbles.

A year ago, we had also looked at the question of whether the criticism of Obama’s record on Israel was justified — or if it was simply a matter of poorly executed diplomacy. (We left the conclusion up to readers, pleasing no one.) Since then, having apparently realized the Palestinian issue will not get resolved any time soon, the Obama administration has moved to firm up its public support of Israel. By virtually all accounts, the Obama administration has been especially strong in bolstering security ties between Israel and the United States.

 But old impressions linger, as demonstrated by Goldstein’s commentary in this video. Here are explanations of the two key issues.

“The speech about the ‘67 borders.”

In a May 19, 2011, speech about the Middle East, Obama made this comment: “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

As we wrote at the time, for people not trained in the nuances of Middle East diplomacy, the sentence might appear unremarkable — but it represented a significant shift in U.S. policy.  In part, it was a shift because of what Obama did not say. Obama made no mention of the need to accommodate Israeli settlements in a peace deal, as previous presidents had done, and he left out the usual balancing language about how Palestinian refugees need to give up any hope of returning to Israel.

 As Wilson documented, former Obama adviser Dennis Ross wanted Obama to give two speeches — fearing that remarks on Arab reform would be lost if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was mentioned — but he was overruled. Ross’s concerns were justified in retrospect. Now, the speech is barely remembered for its sections on the Arab Spring.

 Goldstein, in an interview, said he was horrified by Obama’s language. “I don’t think any president publicly made that [the 1967 boundaries] the starting point for negotiations,” he said in an interview, because Obama’s formulation appeared to lack balance in making similar demands of the Palestinians. “It changed my view of him,” he said. “That was not the man I voted for. I thought I was voting for a better version of Bill Clinton.”

 The speech was obviously carefully written and negotiated, and some of Obama’s decisions on the language appear to have led to the resignation of special envoy George Mitchell. This episode shows how such word choices can have consequences. (Note: Some readers mistakenly believe that Obama was only echoing words that Netanyahu had said in a statement issued with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton a few months earlier. This is completely incorrect, as we have explained previously.)

The irony, of course, is that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating track has been dead for almost two years. Obama uttered these words in a desperate hope that they might spur some movement — but at the moment the consequences are political, not diplomatic.

“He was disrespectful to him [Netanyahu]”

 The video suggests that Obama was disrespectful to the Israeli prime minister after he gave the speech on 1967 boundaries, but in reality the perceived snub had come more than a year earlier — after the Israeli government had diplomatically embarrassed Vice President Biden, with an announcement on settlement housing starts during a trip to Israel.

 No photo was permitted of Obama’s follow-up March 2010 meeting with Netanyahu — in part, the White House suggests, because Obama had signed the health-care law that day, making it the administration’s message of the day.

 Goldstein rejects that as a “made-up” excuse, saying a snub was clearly intended.

 Netanyahu also has been publicly tough with Obama, especially after the president’s speech on the 1967 boundaries. He in essence lectured Obama in full view of television cameras, suggesting the president had an unrealistic view of the region.

There is clearly no warmth between the two men, but the ad somehow manages to elevate a diplomatic dispute into an insult against Israelis and even all Jews.

 Though it is not mentioned in the video, Goldstein told us that he is also miffed that Obama has not yet visited Israel. When it is pointed out that George W. Bush did not visit Israel until the last year of an eight-year term — and Ronald Reagan never did — Goldstein acknowledges those facts but brushes them aside. He said that because Obama initially spent so much time reaching out to the Muslim world, it was even more necessary for him to visit Israel rather than repeatedly assert that he has Israel’s back.

The Bottom Line

 This particular ad is very effective because Goldstein appears to be talking from his heart. He had shaken Obama’s hand in the 2008 campaign, and says he was thrilled when Obama won the election. Goldstein and his wife “bought Obama T-shirts and hats,” he recalls. “We were true believers and loved him.”

 Despite acknowledging counterarguments to the points he made in the video, Goldstein says “you have to go with your feelings.” He now is so distrustful of Obama’s handling of Israel that he is convinced Iran will get a nuclear weapon during Obama’s second term. 

 Polling indicates that foreign policy is regarded as a strength for Obama. But this ad is cleverly designed to undermine support for Obama in the Jewish community — and to signal that it is okay for a Democrat to vote against him. Goldstein suggests that the impressions he has about Obama are widely shared among Jewish friends, though few want to admit it publicly. If that’s the case, the Obama campaign will have to work hard to overcome the perceptions that have taken root.

UPDATE: Some have noted that Goldstein is listed in contribution records as having given $250 to GOP presidential aspirant Rudolph Guiliani in 2007. Goldstein says it was not done for political reasons but because Guiliani was a close personal friend of his late father. The money was raised at a bowling party, he said. He added that he gave much more to Obama, but in $25 and $50 increments.

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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