Republican candidate indicates he'll treat America's closest Mideast ally as a friend.
On Sunday Mitt Romney took the fight for the American Jewish (and Evangelical) vote to Israel, a country most American Jews have never visited. His target—a large and convenient one—was Barack Obama’s record of behavior toward the Jewish state.
Even so, there’s no possibility that Romney will get most of the Jewish vote in November, something no Republican presidential candidate has ever done. But a Gallup poll released Friday has American Jewish support for Obama slipping from 78% in 2008 to 68% at present, and Romney—along with his concerns about shoring up his stature with the Evangelicals—hopes to woo enough Jewish voters, particularly in swing states like Florida and Ohio, to make a difference in November.
Even before arriving, Romney told Israeli media that as president he would treat Israel publicly much better than Obama has. As he said to the daily Israel Hayom:
I would treat Israel like the friend and ally it is…. And if there were places where we disagree, I would hold these disagreements in private conversations, not in public forums. I cannot imagine going to the United Nations, as Obama did, and criticizing Israel in front of the world. I believe that he should have mentioned instead the thousands of rockets that are being fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
And it was not just a matter, he went on to say, of propriety, but also of policy, and of respecting Israel’s autonomy as a country:
The president has also spoken of returning to 1967 borders—they are indefensible. And acting as a negotiator and usurping the primary role played by Israel in negotiating for its own future is not the right course for America to take.
Asked about Iran, Romney replied that he was
commit[ted] to take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear. A nuclear Iran is a threat to America and to the world….
Iran is closer to nuclearization than it was when President Obama took office. It is hard to feel that the events of the last three and a half years have strengthened America’s posture and promoted the prospects of peace.
On that score Romney was well received in Israel on Sunday by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, with whom he has a personal friendship going back to the 1970s when they both worked for the Boston Consulting Group. “I heard some of your remarks,” Netanyahu told the candidate,
and you said that the greatest danger facing the world is the ayatollah regime possessing nuclear weapons capability. Mitt, I couldn’t agree with you more, and I think it is important to do everything in our power to prevent the ayatollahs from possessing that capability. We have to be honest and say that all the diplomacy and sanctions…so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota.
No mention of Obama by name there, but again, it hardly constitutes praise for his policy.
A senior adviser to Romney, Dan Senor (coauthor of the popular book about Israel Start-up Nation), also made a media wave when he said that if Israel had to “take action on its own” to stop Iran from going nuclear, Romney would “respect that decision.” If so—and it remains to be seen—it would contrast with the Obama administration’s relentless pressure on Israel not to take action, amid reassurances about talks with Iran that are plainly a sham and sanctions on Iran that are plainly ineffectual.
After meeting with Netanyahu, Romney met with President Shimon Peres and opposition leader Shaul Mofaz. In a speech in Jerusalem in the evening, Romney again implicitly criticized Obama for picking fights with Israel, stating: “Diplomatic distance that is public and critical emboldens Israel’s adversaries.” And he also said it was “a moving experience to be in Jerusalem” and that Jerusalem is “Israel’s capital”—clearly a stark and intended contrast with White House spokesman Jay Carney’s refusal last Thursday to grant that status to the focal point of Jewish life for three thousand years.
Obama, for his part, seems concerned.
On Friday, with conspicuous timing, he signed a bill—broadly supported by both Democrats and Republicans—allocating an additional $70 million to Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system. In doing so, Obama spoke of “the outstanding cooperation that we have seen…at an unprecedented level between our two countries to underscore our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security” and of “how committed all of us are, Republicans and Democrats, as Americans, to our friends and making sure that Israel is safe and secure.”
The problem with such airy, de rigueur bromides is that they won’t hold up to scrutiny. Not when Obama’s policy on Iran is a manifest failure as the Islamic Republic strides forward unimpeded toward the bomb; not when Obama’s own spokesman cannot identify Israel’s capital; not when a series of administration figures keep branding the presence of hundreds of thousands of Israelis in the West Bank as “illegitimate”; not when the administration coddles and promotes a dangerous anti-Israeli figure like Egypt’s new president Morsi, who has called Israeli leaders “vampires” and “killers” and represents a movement aiming to destroy the Jewish state and subjugate the West.
The more Mitt Romney can bring home such truths to Jewish and other American voters, the better.
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