The mainstream media have been at pains to generate as much noise and confusion as possible around President Trump’s visit to Israel, the second stop in his first overseas itinerary as president.
But a look at social media shows how very many Americans are celebrating the visit to Israel — as well as the visit this past weekend to Saudi Arabia, where Trump made a well-received speech, and danced with a sword in a Saudi ritual.
LU’s own Howard Portnoy took note of the difference in Trump’s style, as opposed to that of former President Obama. Other commentators, with a combination of enthusiasm and relief, ticked off the contrasts between Trump’s 2017 Riyadh speech on relations with Muslim countries, and Obama’s speech in Cairo in 2009.
Trump now has the distinction of being the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall of the Temple (the “Kotel”), which he did on Monday. As is customary for U.S. officials, he made the visit in a private capacity, accompanied by the Chief Rabbi, but not by an Israeli government official.
— James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) May 22, 2017
FLOTUS Melania Trump also engaged in reflection/prayer at the Wall. (Men and women advance to the Wall separately. Anyone who’s ever been to the Wall will no doubt marvel at the spectacle of it without the worshipers who normally swarm it 24 hours a day. The Wall was cleared temporarily for the presidential party’s visit.)
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) May 22, 2017
But the Trump administration may have done something even more substantive, at least by default. Before Trump gave his address in company with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House website showed this screen to viewers on Monday:
Q: What country does the Trump administration think Jerusalem is in?
— Omri Ceren (@omriceren) May 22, 2017
Placing the president in “Jerusalem, Israel” would, as Adam Kredo notes, amount to a revision of U.S. policy, which has long refrained from explicitly stating that Jerusalem is part of Israel.
(The U.S. doesn’t say Jerusalem is not part of Israel either. Our policy is somewhat complicated, with a U.S. position from 1948 never formally revised; i.e., that Jerusalem was at that time an “international city,” the subject of competing claims by multiple parties with strong historical ties. Later policy nevertheless endorsed the concept that some aspects of the status of Jerusalem could be negotiated in a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. This is a very simplified outline. Congress, of course, voted over two decades ago to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump ran on a promise to do that.)
Whether the Trump administration will adjust official documents to reflect “Jerusalem, Israel” remains to be seen.
But in this, too, there’s a distinct contrast with the Obama administration. During the earlier George W. Bush years, State Department photo captions often referred to events taking place in “Jerusalem, Israel.”
Then Obama took office. At one point, in 2011, the Obama administration – which had also captioned a photo, perhaps inadvertently, with the location “Jerusalem, Israel” – went in and changed its caption after it received criticism over it. But there was criticism over that as well, whereupon the Obama administration claimed that Bush had prohibited the use of “Jerusalem, Israel” in photo captions, and Obama was just following in his footsteps.
That claim was too easy to disprove, merely by doing simple web searches. So within a short period of time, journalist Omri Ceren caught the Obama State Department actually going through the old photos from the Bush administration and removing the caption “Jerusalem, Israel” from them.
Besides being a breach of the normal courtesy between administrations, which don’t muck around in each other’s archives, that’s just wiener-ly. There’s more than one reason so many Americans are glad to have an administration that has better things to do with its time.