I am not inclined to make predictions, at least publicly, but three months ago at a breakfast in Berkeley, I predicted that Barack Obama was likely to respond positively to the widespread support within the Jewish community for the release of Jonathan Pollard-- not out of any concern for the convicted spy, now an Israeli citizen, but because without some major gesture on his part, Obama would not be able to visit Israel with any assurance from the Israeli government that he would return alive. And it is the general consensus within the Jewish community that in order to maintain the support of the major Jewish donors in the 2012 election, as well as Jewish voters in the key states such as Florida New York, and Pennsylvania, the president must make a public visit to Israel and not one of those unannounced secret fly-ins such as he has made to Baghdad and Kabul.
The other day, after Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador who, like Pollard, was born and raised in the U.S., visited his new countryman, the first such visit in five years by an Israeli official, Weiss wrote and asked if I didn't need to eat some crow since Pollard was still securely locked away in prison and had even been denied permission to attend the funeral of his father, who had been a professor at Notre Dame.
I still have not changed my opinion although I was surprised when I read in May, after my breakfast prediction, that Obama had been invited by Israeli President Simon Peres to attend a president’s conference in Israel in July. Here and here.
That was the last mention of that invitation. July has come and gone and there have been no new invitations from Tel Aviv and I am not expecting one. I think the White House believes Israel has become too scary, that its security forces have been so heavily infiltrated by religious nutcases who answer first to their rabbis and that the Netanyahu government, realizing that, can offer him no guarantee of protection. If so, they are probably right and that the only way he can get a "Get out of Israel Alive" card is by freeing Pollard.
On receiving Weiss’s email, I Googled "Obama should go to Israel," and the response I got back was "What, do you think he's crazy?" In a more serious vein, I found a piece from the Washington Post nee Commentary blogger, Jennifer Rubin back in May after his AIPAC speech which is very, very telling. Headlined, "Obama shouldn’t go to Israel." Rubin presciently wrote, suspecting, I believe, that it might be actually worse: "Obama’s standing in Israel is exceptionally poor and certainly won’t improve after the most recent controversy. If he goes to Israel, he’ll be booed, and there will be outbursts and demonstrations. "
Now, things may be changing. On August 3rd, the JTA reported that Daniel Shapiro, the new, Hebrew-speaking US ambassador to Israel and long-time Obama aide presented his credentials to Peres and told him that the president wants to visit Israel although he didn’t say when.
After watching Shapiro being interviewed by Israel’s Channel 2, Ha’aretz’s wise Akiva Eldar noted that “The newly-arrived diplomat's decision to jump immediately into the media water and the friendly, almost fawning, content of his interview show that Shapiro was not sent here to promote peace between the Israeli leader and his Palestinian counterpart. Rather, his goal is to promote peace between the American president and American Jewish leaders. His main job will be to dismantle every Israeli land mine on his boss' road to a second term.”
Shapiro’s predecessor, James Cunningham, had also indicated in early July that Obama planned to visit Israel but as the Israeli Insider blog cynically pointed out, “He didn't mention who in Israel invited him.”
By coincidence, Pollard had major surgery the day before Shapiro’s interview and reportedly will require another operation, clearing the path for Obama to give him a "compassionate” release.
The violins, please.