Seth Eisenberg
Freedom matters

When what’s said on the campaign trail doesn’t stay on the campaign trail

“What’s said on the campaign trail, you know, those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities. They’re not commander-in-chief,” President Obama said at a 2012 White House Press conference.

Today, the President and his spokesman say Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements in the final hours of Israel’s recent election call for a reassessment, including reconsidering longstanding support for Israel at the United Nations.

The President is right that Mr. Netanyahu said some things in the campaign that were hurtful.

Anyone with an ounce of empathy can imagine how many of Israel’s Arab citizens felt when the incumbent prime minister made reports of their large turnout an issue to get Likud supporters to the polls.

His words were neither kind or a reflection of his commitment to equality and respect for all of Israel’s citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity.

That’s disappointing, although unfortunately not surprising when candidates in democracies face the final moments in which a minute shift in voter turnout can determine their political future.

Keep Calm: What happens on the campaign trail stays on the campa

The same is true throughout the United States, where Democratic and Republican GOTV (“Get Out the Vote”) campaigns are significantly influenced by turnout among those likely to support the other Party. That’s definitely something Jeremy Bird, President Obama’s 2012 National Field Director, who spent months leading efforts to oust Mr. Netanyahu, knows better than anyone.

It’s doubtful Mr. Bird was surprised that in the final hours of the campaign, Mr. Netanyahu said as prime minister he would not support creation of a Palestinian state.

In democracies, it’s not unusual for candidates to speak to constituencies in ways that are very different than their subsequent words and actions in office.

“What’s said on the campaign trail …”

As John McCain, the Republican Senator from Arizona, stressed on a Sunday talk show, campaign trail promises aren’t a problem for Israel’s neighbors.

None of them will be hiring Mr. Bird or any of President Obama’s other senior campaign staff anytime soon.

In Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and many other places in the world, “approved” candidates rarely represent their people’s most cherished aspirations nearly as much as the powerful interests that rig elections, stuff ballot boxes, prohibit, jail, exile or, a tragic tradition in Lebanon and Gaza, assassinate their opponents.

While watching the president’s interview with the Huffington Post calling for a reassessment based on Mr. Netanyahu’s election eve comments, it was impossible not to consider Mr. Obama’s own words, both as a candidate and president:

I marched with you in the streets of Chicago to meet our immigration challenge. I fought with you in the Senate for comprehensive immigration reform. And I will make it a top priority in my first year as President.”

~ July 8, 2008

(Despite Democratic control of Congress, it didn’t happen.)

Guantanamo will be closed no later than one year from now.”

~ January 22, 2009

(Still open after all these years.)

If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.  If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.  The only change you’ll see are falling costs as our reforms take hold.”

~ June 6, 2009

(Selected by Politifact as “Lie of the Year”)

I think the analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant. I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”

~ January 7, 2014

(President Obama’s statement about ISIS four days after the terrorist group took control of Fallujah. Not long afterwards, ISIS captured one of Iraq’s largest military bases, including vast stockpiles of heavy weapons and tanks before beginning public beheadings of American and other western hostages.)

This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

~ September 10, 2014

(Within weeks, Iranian-backed militants occupied the capital, seized the presidential palace, headquarters of the presidential guard, and an arsenal of tanks and artillery.)

Perhaps most concerning is that President Obama’s second-term statements about the U.S.-Israel relationship call into question his 2008 denunciation of his longtime pastor and mentor, Jeremiah Wright.

 What became clear to me was he was presenting a world view that contradicts who I am and what I stand for. And what particularly angered me was his suggestion that somehow my previous denunciations of his remarks were political posturing. Anybody who knows me, and anybody who knows what I’m about, knows that I’m trying to bridge gaps and that I see the commonality in all people.”

~April 29, 2008

One of the first acts of Mr. Netanyahu after the final ballots were counted was to meet with Israeli Arab leaders to publicly apologize for his remarks. In a U.S. television interview, he also gave context to his statement that he would not support a Palestinian state while the region is enflamed by Iranian-backed proxies and Islamic terrorists.

Closer to home, as we approach the seventh year of the Obama presidency, those who value the U.S.-Israel relationship, including many longtime Democrats, have reason for concern about what our commander-in-chief said on and after the campaign trail.

About the Author
Seth Eisenberg is President of the PAIRS Foundation, a former At-Large chair of the National Writers Union, elected labor leader, and pro-Israel activist. He is an author of Instructions for Intimacy, The Laundry List of Relationship Mishaps, Knots and Double Binds, PAIRS Essentials, Warrior to Soul Mate, PAIRS for PEERS, and the SHALOM Workshop. He can be reached via LinkedIn at
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