Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

Tom Feran
By Tom Feran September 24, 2012

Republican Jewish Coalition says Obama refuses to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel's capital

Editor's note: This item was originally rated Half True. After a panel of editors reconsidered the rating, it was upgraded to Mostly True.

The Republican Jewish Coalition -- a group backed by the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and a few other wealthy GOP donors -- has opened a campaign in battleground states to persuade Jewish voters to turn away from President Obama and support Mitt Romney.

The group said its effort, called "My Buyer’s Remorse," includes a $5 million television ad buy in Ohio (specifically Cleveland), South Florida, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) and Nevada (Las Vegas) that will continue through Nov. 5.

It also includes a direct-mail brochure to voters saying Obama is "wrong on Israel, wrong on our economy."

First among the statements answering its question "Why is Barack Obama wrong for us?" is that he "refuses to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."

Given that the flier is showing up mailboxes in the battleground Buckeye State, PolitiFact Ohio thought it was worth looking into the coalition’s claim.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a similar claim in a 30-second TV ad that aired in early August 2012. PolitiFact national looked at his claim then. We’ve incorporated some of that research here.

The United States does not formally recognize any state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. In the decades-long conflict between Jews and Palestinians, both sides stake a claim on Jerusalem and consider it their capital and a holy site. So even though Jerusalem is the Israeli seat of government and its capital city in every traditional sense, the official position often involves some tip-toeing.

The CIA, on its World Factbook website, lists Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with a footnote stating "Israel proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital in 1950, but the U.S., like all other countries, maintains its Embassy in Tel Aviv." The U.S. Department of State posts similar language.

During the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama declared that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided."

The remark pleased the pro-Israel lobby, which had been somewhat skeptical of him. But it also served as an early lesson in the delicacy of diplomacy, particularly when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arab groups took offense, and the campaign had to do some damage control. "It's going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations," Obama said in the wake.

For his part, Republican rival John McCain weighed in, agreeing "Jerusalem is undivided. Jerusalem is the capital."

"And," he added, according to the New York Times, "we should move our embassy to Jerusalem," from Tel Aviv, "before anything else happens. The subject of Jerusalem itself will be addressed in negotiations by the Israeli government and people."

Therein lies a long-running point of contention: the location of the U.S. embassy.

As our peers at the Washington Post’s Fact Checker column noted, the Republican Party platform has long included a pledge to move the embassy to Jerusalem. But that’s never happened, even when a Republican was in the White House.

How wide is the gap between campaign rhetoric and official policy? During a press briefing on July 26, 2012, White House spokesman Jay Carney twice dodged the question when asked directly to name the capital of Israel.

He replied only that "our position hasn’t changed" and "you know the answer."

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland parried similarly at a briefing on March 29, 2012.

"Jerusalem is a permanent-status issue," she said. "It’s got to be resolved through negotiations."

Those briefings are the evidence the Republican Jewish Coalition pointed to when PolitiFact Ohio asked for backup to its brochure. Romney’s campaign cited the Carney briefing.

The claim in the RJC brochure is accurate. Obama has not formally acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Featured Fact-check

But the claim needs additional information for clarification. 

As a candidate, Obama identified Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But as president since then, he has shied away from making statements that could be perceived as taking sides in the ongoing peace process.

The RJC's brochure portrays that position as a betrayal of an ally. But it's a continuation of the position that previous presidents, both Democrat and Republican, have taken.

Formally, the United States does not recognize any state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. Both the state department and CIA note that Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with a footnote attached, on their websites.

On the Truth-O-Meter, the claim rates Mostly True.

Our Sources

Republican Jewish Coalition, "$5 Million RJC Ad Buy Begins," Sept. 19, 2012

Republican Jewish Coalition, brochure, "We had high hopes," September 2012

New York Times, "Mogul’s Latest Foray Courts Jews for the G.O.P.," July 25, 2012

PolitiFact, "Mitt Romney says Barack Obama rejects Jerusalem as capital of Israel," Aug. 7, 2012

YouTube, video of White House press briefing, "Carney Refuses To Identify Capital Of Israel Twice In White House Press Briefing," uploaded July 26, 2012

Real Clear Politics, "WH's Carney Refuses To Name The Capital Of Israel," July 26, 2012

Real Clear Politics, "Obama State Department Won't Say If Jerusalem Is The Capital Of Israel," March 29, 2012

Central Intelligence Agency, World Factbook entry on Israel, accessed Sept. 19, 2012

U.S. Department of State, Israel page, accessed Sept. 19, 2012

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Tom Feran

Republican Jewish Coalition says Obama refuses to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel's capital

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up