The Fact Checker: Middle East

Obama, Israel and AIPAC: two dueling videos

“When the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.”

— President Obama, before the AIPAC policy conference, March 4

President Obama spoke on Sunday before the annual policy conference of the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The somewhat defensive speech appeared to be part of an effort to reassure Jewish voters in this election year that “when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.”

When Obama spoke to AIPAC in 2008, as a senator on the verge of securing the Democratic presidential nomination, he made a rookie mistake in talking about the status of Jerusalem. A day later, he felt compelled to clarify his comments in response to Palestinian complaints.

It was not an auspicious beginning for Obama’s venture into Arab-Israeli diplomacy — an issue that has caused him much heartache during his presidency. We have explored earlier whether his problems in this arena were deliberate (as some Republicans charge) or mainly the result of diplomatic ineptitude.

From nearly a decade of covering Middle East diplomacy, we think it is difficult to reach definitive conclusions on this question; it is in the eye of the beholder. We tend to lean toward diplomatic ineptitude as the primary explanation, considering that Palestinians are as irritated with Obama as Israelis are.

Indeed, readers who want to see different views of Obama’s handling of the Israeli diplomatic portfolio can watch two new Web videos. One is a lengthy, negative take by a group called the Emergency Committee for Israel and was released over the weekend; the other is a defense of Obama by the Democratic National Committee that was released last week.

The two videos offer a case study in how certain facts can be assembled to make an argument — while other facts are ignored.

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