Saturday, December 20th, 2014
Half-True
Chain email
Obama's "first call (as president) to any head of state was to Mahmoud Abbas, leader of Fatah party in the Palestinian territory."

Chain email on Saturday, May 2nd, 2009 in a chain e-mail

One of Obama's first calls was to Palestinian leader, and Israeli leader

A recent chain e-mail claiming President Barack Obama directed $20.3 million to allow "hundreds of thousands of 'Hamas' Palestinians to resettle in the United States" (which we found was Pants on Fire wrong) includes a common refrain of chain e-mails that Obama is a Muslim (one we've checked before and found was False), plus a new twist. It said that after Obama's inauguration, "His first call to any head of state, as president, was to Mahmoud Abbas, leader of Fatah party in the Palestinian territory."

We checked the accounts of Obama's first day and found some truth to the claim. According to a statement from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, on the morning of Obama's first full day in office, Jan. 21, 2009, the president placed brief phone calls to four Middle Eastern leaders — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Jordan's King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"He used this opportunity on his first day in office to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term, and to express his hope for their continued cooperation and leadership," Gibbs said in the statement. "In the aftermath of the Gaza conflict, he emphasized his determination to work to help consolidate the ceasefire by establishing an effective anti-smuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming, and facilitating in partnership with the Palestinian Authority a major reconstruction effort for Palestinians in Gaza. He pledged that the United States would do its part to make these efforts successful, working closely with the international community and these partners as they fulfill their responsibilities as well.  The President appreciated the spirit of partnership and warm nature of these calls."

Palestinian officials on the West Bank bragged that Obama called Abbas first.

According to a story in Agence France Presse on Jan. 21, 2009, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina quoted Obama as saying, "This is my first phone call to a foreign leader and I'm making it only hours after I took office."

The spokesman said Obama vowed "to work with him (Abbas) as partners to establish a durable peace in the region" and that he (Obama) "would deploy every possible effort to achieve peace as quickly as possible."

The New York Daily News wrote a story about the slippery diplomatic slope that comes along with things as small as who got called first. The story quotes a spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in Washington as saying his government had "no idea" who Obama called first; and that the White House was mum on the issue. We also got no response from the White House on the matter.

But we think the issue of who got called minutes before someone else is irrelevant. The point is that Obama's first calls were to leaders of this region — all of them. The e-mail may be right that Obama called Abbas first. At the very least, Abbas was among the very first. But consider the context in which the statement was made, to back up the suggestion that Obama is actually a Muslim. Assuming Obama did call Abbas first — and again, we can't confirm that — we do know that one of his very next calls was to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The e-mail conveniently leaves that detail out.

Here at PolitiFact, we define a Half True statement as one that is accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context. We think this claim fits the bill. Half True.