Politics & Policy

White House Mischief

The Obama administration’s sleazy sleights of hand expose it to ridicule.

The White House engaged in two puerile gambits last week that exposed the Obama administration’s amateurish and deceitful Middle East policies in a painfully obvious manner.

The first case concerned the thorny issue of Jerusalem’s legal status in American law. In 1947, the United Nations ruled the holy city to be a corpus separatum (Latin for “separated body”) and not part of any state. All these years later and despite many changes, U.S. policy continues to hold this to be Jerusalem’s status. This ignores that the government of Israel declared western Jerusalem to be its capital in 1950 and the whole of Jerusalem in 1980. The executive branch even ignores U.S. laws from 1995 (requiring a move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem) and 2002 (requiring that U.S. documents recognize Americans born in Jerusalem to be born in Israel). Instead, it insists that the city’s disposition must be decided through diplomacy.

#ad# In a challenge to this policy, the American parents of Jerusalem-born Menachem Zivotofsky demanded on his behalf that his birth certificate and his passport list him as born in Israel. When the State Department refused, the parents filed a lawsuit; their case has now reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Things started to get interesting on August 4, when Rick Richman of the New York Sun noted that “the White House acknowledges on its own website that Jerusalem is in Israel — as does the State Department and the CIA on theirs,” undermining the government’s case. Richman pointed to three mentions of “Jerusalem, Israel” in captions to pictures on the White House website in connection with a trip by Joe Biden in March 2010: “Vice President Joe Biden laughs with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, Israel”; “Vice President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Israel”; and “Vice President Joe Biden has breakfast with Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair . . . in Jerusalem, Israel.” Richman deemed this wording to be potentially “pivotal evidence” against the government’s case.

At 3:22 p.m. on August 9, Daniel Halper of The Weekly Standard reiterated Richman’s point by posting the first of those pictures. Two hours and four minutes later, at 5:26 p.m., Halper reported that “the White House has apparently gone through its website, cleansing any reference to Jerusalem as being in Israel.” The new caption read, “Vice President Joe Biden laughs with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem.” Someone on the White House staff hoped to pull a fast one. As James Taranto noted in the Wall Street Journal, the Supreme Court does not take kindly to such pranks.

The second deceit concerns the iftar dinner (breaking the Ramadan fast) at the White House on August 10. The White House published a guest list “of some of the expected attendees” that included four members of Congress, 36 diplomats, and eleven “community members.” To the relief of those of us who watch these matters, the list mentioned no American Islamists.

But “some” was a weasel word. Research by the Investigative Project on Terrorism and others established that the published list did not mention the American Islamists attending that dinner, including Haris Tarin of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Mohamed Magid of the Islamic Society of North America, and Awais Sufi of Muslim Advocates.

(Also noteworthy: The White House invited not a single representative of the twelve-member anti-Islamist group the American Islamic Leadership Coalition, whose mission statement proclaims the goal “to defend the U.S. Constitution, uphold religious pluralism, protect American security and cherish genuine diversity in the practice of our faith of Islam.”)

In combination, these two deceits in two days make one wonder about the morality and even sanity of the White House staff under Barack Obama. Do his munchkins really think they can get away with such sleazy sleights of hand?

Separately, each of these deceits warrants condemnation; together, they symbolize the tenor of a failed administration in panic over its lowest-ever poll ratings (43.3 percent approval according to RealClearPolitics.com’s aggregation of surveys) and trying to revive its fortunes by whatever means necessary, even if its dishonest efforts expose it to ridicule.

More specifically, the two incidents point to the bankruptcy of the administration’s Middle East and Muslim-outreach policies. The arrogance of 2009 remains in place, but now it is tempered by failure and desperation.

— Daniel Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. © 2011 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.

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