The White House didn’t even try to be coy when I asked earlier this week whether President Obama would be hopping on a plane to Israel any time soon like his competitor Mitt Romney will be.
“President Obama is not expected to make any more foreign travel before the election,” a White House official told me, leaving little wiggle room to squeeze in a trip to Jerusalem before November.
Such definitiveness from the White House is rare and indicates the idea is essentially out of the question, whether due to campaign commitments, diplomatic implications or the logistical challenges in arranging such a large, relatively last-minute undertaking for a president.
But the Obama team did find a way to grab some headlines about an Israel visit in the near term – by sending Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Israel and Egypt in a Middle East add-on to her Asian tour next week.
The statement put out by the State Department Thursday emphasized that the visit will focus on “peace efforts” as well as the standard “range of regional and bilateral issues of mutual concern.”
It’s been a while since Clinton visited, and the administration is indeed eager to see the newly expanded Israeli governing coalition generate momentum for the resumption of talks with the Palestinians. Moreover, the new government in Cairo and the delicate Egyptian dance with democracy are major issues for Clinton to seize on.
But whatever real diplomatic considerations are in play, the political optics couldn’t be better, particularly when it comes to appealing to Jewish voters. There are some hard feelings in the Jewish community over the fact that Obama hasn’t made a visit during his term, and many of those most chagrined by the omission are the same people that preferred Clinton in 2008.
Highlighting that Obama has embraced Clinton and made her a core part of his team – and is now sending her to shower some attention on the Jewish state – is at the very least like chicken soup: it certainly doesn’t hurt.
- Hilary Leila Krieger