I do not like to grandstand or give speeches when I ask a question, and am known for asking direct questions. White House spokesman Jay Carney (a really fine gentleman) once said I asked the toughest questions in the press corps. But I did not intend to trip him up or play "gotcha" with him when I asked a question about Israel.
I knew Mitt Romney was going to Israel the following day. I was also aware of the tragic violence in Syria, and the tensions in Egypt, Iraq, Iran and other parts of the region. So I was very insistent about getting recognized, saying, "Jay a question about Israel." When he finally called on me, I asked, "Jay what city does this Administration consider to be the Capital of Israel?" Many of my colleagues laughed nervously, knowing that was a "third rail question." Jay tried to move on, insisting I knew the answer. I said several times I did not. Then another reporter joined the fray, and became loud and dramatic. So Jay moved onto another topic, and I never had a chance to ask a series of follow up questions. But the incident hit the web, and appeared on a number of sites within hours. I have no idea how this happens. But at this writing, the exchange had received 375,861 hits on You Tube alone. I do not know about the other websites. There were also thousands of responses, some of them quite vulgar. Honestly folks, get a life!
The next day, Friday, Jay took a step that only a decent man would take. He joked he "wanted to start with the tough questions, but he did not see Connie here, adding, "she got me yesterday." I was not there, because I was still filing on an event which happened an hour earlier -- the president's signing of a new U.S.-Israeli Security Agreement. But several of my colleagues did ask follow up questions. The standard answer given was long-standing U.S. policy -- that Jerusalem is part of the Final Status talks, to be decided by the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The problem is, the Israelis and Palestinians appear far from any peace talks or any good will. Several U.S. Government publications list Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel. The Israeli Government buildings are in Jerusalem. The U..S Congress has passed resolutions for years, affirming the U.S. Embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Mitt Romney delivered a powerful speech in Israel on Saturday, and began by calling Jerusalem the Capital of Israel. He spoke with the walls of the ancient city behind him. Barack Obama once called Jerusalem the Capital of Israel, but later rolled back on the statements.
We all know the ancient city of Jerusalem is a sensitive topic. It has been been considered sacred and holy by Jews, Christians and Muslims for centuries. A visit to Jerusalem is a powerful experience -- you can look down at, and walk through, thousands of years of history.
Perhaps none of these wars and divisions would have happened, if the Arabs in the region had welcomed the Jews in the 1940s. The survivors of the desperate, brutal times in Europe just wanted to live in peace in an area where some Jews lived for thousands of years. But instead, many of the Muslims fled, and attacks and wars began.
Perhaps there can be peace and resolution in the area sometime. Until then, many religions may pray "next year in Jerusalem." And I will continue to ask tough questions as long as my strength holds out.