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The ECI’s Bibi-Obama Robocalls Are Kind of Sad

And everything that’s wrong with the American discourse on Israel

Adam Chandler
November 01, 2012
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama in 2009(Getty)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama in 2009(Getty)

While a large part of the country was preparing for a devastating hurricane, people in swing states like Virginia, Ohio, and Wisconsin were receiving slightly creepy and laughably misleading robocalls pit out by the Emergency Committee for Israel.

As of yesterday, there had been two robocalls, which sought to portray President Obama as the candidate who either (1) believes Jerusalem is a settlement or (2) is ideologically committed to allowing Iran to get a nuclear weapon. The first deception came when with the robocall’s ID, which led callers to think they were being personally phoned by ECI Founder Bill Kristol–the veritable dream scenario for maybe 14% of American Jews. But when callers actually answered there were treated to recordings of a fake “debate” that never actually took place between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, using spliced quotes and half-uttered sentences.

The first “debate” was about the status of Jerusalem. Ron Kampeas did the good work of including the links to the sources of the actually statements by both Obama and Netanyahu, which were quotes from speeches given three years apart from each other. Absent of their context, it almost (in a janky xerox-of-a-xerox kind of way) sounds as if the two men are talking about the same issue, but as the links show, they are not.

DEBATE ‘MODERATOR’: Welcome to the first debate between Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. President, we’ll start with you.

OBAMA: I’ve made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran’s affairs.

“MODERATOR”: Mr. President, thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, your response.

NETANYAHU: The Jewish state will not allow those who seek our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal. A nuclear armed Iran must be stopped.

“MODERATOR”: Mr President, your rebuttal.

OBAMA: Obviously there are some differences between us.

ECI: Friends, Americans and Israel cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama. This call was paid for by the Emergency Committee for Israel because your vote will make the difference in this election.

Here is the recording of the second call:

Both Kampeas and Dave Weigel debunk the content of the calls, rightly contending that these distortions would probably not fool anyone with a working knowledge of the actual issues. But that wasn’t the point. The desired effect is to create hysteria among voters who may not exactly know what’s going on and mislead them into thinking that President Obama’s positions are not what nearly four years of his policy have reflected. The result is kind of sad.

It’s this season for cheap and dirty politics, yes, but this is actually a metaphor for what’s wrong with the conversation happening about Israel in American politics right now. It is a triumph that the issues surrounding Israel’s strength and security enjoy such widespread support among American leaders. But with efforts like these robocalls in mind, the farther away that Americans are from understanding what’s really driving the discourse on crucial issues like Jerusalem (by the way, here’s George W. Bush calling for 1967 borders) and Iran’s nuclear program (here’s a sample of Obama’s record on Iran), the greater the difficulty there will be in forging the necessary bipartisan support required to honestly confront these issues in the future, no matter who wins on Tuesday.

There are certainly things that voters could fault President Obama on with regard to the Middle East. But rather than make substantive points, the ECI seems to prefer to act as if Americans are stupid. It doesn’t seem like an exaggeration to say that provoking this hysteria hurts Israel in the long run.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.

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