With a setting Jerusalem sun casting shadows on the Tower of David and the walls
of the Old City as his background, US Republican presidential hopeful Mitt
Romney got what he wanted Sunday before he even delivered a word of his speech –
valuable Holy City campaign footage.
Romney is, of course, running for
president. He is visiting Israel now because he is running for president.
Everything he says now about Israel, Iran and the Middle East, as well as
everything US President Barack Obama says and does now about Israel, Iran and
the Middle East, must be seen within that prism.
In other words, take it
all with a grain of salt: Both what Romney is saying, and what Obama is saying
and doing. This does not mean that they do not mean what they say or do, only
that it all must be put in the wider context of the campaign.
comments about needing to stop Iran’s “nuclear folly,” and his senior advisers’
remark on the plane to Israel from England that Romney would back an Israeli
strike against Iran, must be taken in the same vein as reports – denied up and
down by the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday – that US National Security
Adviser Tom Donilon recently briefed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on
Obama’s contingency plans for an attack on Iran.
The AP story Saturday
saying the CIA viewed Israel as a “spy threat” must be seen through this prism
as well. It was no coincidence that someone leaked this type of information to
AP the same day Romney arrived in Israel and would deliver a speech the next day
saying the two countries should always be inextricably close.
it was no coincidence that Obama signed a law enhancing USIsrael security cooperation to the tune of $70 million
in additional funds on Friday, just a day before Romney arrived; or that
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited two weeks ago for the first time in
nearly two years; or that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is due to arrive on
It is all politics. Moreover, it is all legitimate
Israel is an important issue for a significant segment of the
US public – Jews and Evangelical Christians. It is therefore more than
legitimate for candidates to want to prove their bona fides on an issue
important to wide swaths of the electorate. This is not pandering to the
Jews; it is election campaigning.
By the way, all those wringing their
hands about how unseemly it is for Romney to come here now – so obviously wooing
voters – should think back four years when candidate Obama and his rival John
McCain both came to Israel in July 2008. Romney used the Old City walls
as a backdrop to his professions of empathy and sympathy for Israel on Sunday;
Obama used a pile of fallen rockets in Sderot.
Netanyahu’s meeting with
Romney was no more a blatant intervention into US politics than Obama’s meeting
and photographed handshake with then-prime minister Ehud Olmert.
candidates – Romney now, Obama then – went for the photo-op at the Western
It is US election season and, as such, Israel is a prop in the
campaign – kind of like a diner in Iowa or a truck-stop in Florida. Every
serious candidate makes the stop, though some do it more artfully than
One asks, for instance, why it was necessary for Romney to come
precisely on Tisha Be’av. Could he not have flown from England to Poland, the
next stop on his three-country journey, and then to Israel – coming here on
Monday, not Saturday evening, just as the fast began? Also, his last minute
cancellation of a meeting with Labor leader Shelly Yechimovich was not handled
all too adroitly.
But that is just background noise, a momentary
distraction, something that will be forgotten in hours. What will be remembered,
or at least what the Romney campaign hopes will be remembered, will be that
picture of him looking presidential against the setting of the Old City walls,
with the Tower of David to the north, and Dormition Abbey to the
Welcome to Israel, an important back lot – once again – for the US