US media set the bar low for Obama visit

The president will view the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum, tour the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem among other stops.

March 19, 2013 05:01
2 minute read.
Obama and Airforce One 521

Obama and Airforce One 521. (photo credit: JASON REED / REUTERS)


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NEW YORK – American media outlets have already declared US President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel this week to be a trip void of policy and full of imagery – a standard the White House seems to have intentionally set for itself.

The Wall Street Journal stated that the trip has been “purposely cloaked in low expectations,” while The Los Angeles Times claimed that the president travels with “quiet hopes,” but few real expectations, on what will effectively be a “listening tour.”

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Politico – an influential, nonpartisan publication in Washington – called the trip “symbolism on steroids.”

“The president, it is fair to say, also grew tired of being asked why he hadn’t yet visited Israel,” Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in Bloomberg.

In press briefings leading up to the regional trip, which begins on Tuesday, the White House said plainly that the president will not present a plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, though it promised that he remains “serious” about getting both sides back to negotiations. It is widely believed that – in public, at least – the productivity of the trip will mostly be a measure of tactical public relations success.

That goal, in and of itself, is not to be dismissed, wrote The New York Times, noting the loaded history of presidential trips to the Holy Land.

Laying out bluntly that the trip is “lacking substance,” the Times wrote that “before he even departs, Mr. Obama is confronting the reality that in a land so freighted with symbolism, any place he chooses to visit, or not visit, can strike a nerve.”

The president will view the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum, give a speech at the Jerusalem International Convention Center and will tour the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, though he won’t visit the Western Wall. During his 2008 visit as a presidential candidate, the prayer he put in its cracks was removed and published.

“Obama could be the first sitting American president to visit Israel as a tourist,” wrote Thomas Friedman.

“Little is expected from this trip – not only because little is possible, but because, from a narrow US point of view, little is necessary. Quietly, with nobody announcing it, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has shifted from a necessity to a hobby for American diplomats.”

Recent polling conducted in both countries indicated that American and Israeli public opinion was in sync on Obama’s perceived support of Israel: 39% of Americans believe the president doesn’t support the Jewish state enough, according to The Hill newspaper, and a Ma’ariv poll claimed that 39% of Israelis view Obama’s attitudes toward their country as “hostile.”

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