Sometimes a backdrop tells much about the story of a play.
presumptive US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited here
earlier this week, the photo opportunity he wanted – and that will serve him now
throughout his campaign – was a picture of himself against the backdrop of
Jerusalem’s Tower of David and the Old City Walls.
When US Defense
Secretary Leon Panetta holds a press conference Wednesday with Defense Minister
Ehud Barak, it is expected to be against the backdrop of an Iron Dome counter
rocket defense battery in the South.
The different locations for the
premier photo-ops say much about the audience the men are
Romney, contrary to conventional wisdom, did not come to
Israel earlier this week courting the Jewish vote.
He knows that the Jews
voted overwhelmingly for US President Barack Obama in the last elections, and
will probably – though not as heavily – vote overwhelmingly for him this
No, he was largely courting the evangelical Christians – many
of whom have questions about him because of his Mormon faith – and the not
insubstantial segment of the American public for whom Israel is a core, gut,
important issue. He was placing distance between himself – who he wants people
to believe stands with America’s longtime allies – and Obama, who has been
perceived as abandoning them.
For that audience, the recognizable Old
City walls in the Holy City are the perfect backdrop.
political scientist Walter Russell Mead wrote in his blog this week on the
American Interest website: “By stressing the strength of his emotional and
political commitment to Israel, Governor Romney hopes to strengthen his claim to
be running as the red-blooded, truly American candidate against what the GOP
devoutly hopes voters will see as the cosmopolitan, Europe-loving,
Israel-criticizing, Noam Chomsky reading, French-thinking socialist now living at
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
While it sounds odd, Mead wrote, “Israel is as
American as apple pie. By showing how much he loves Israel, Governor Romney is
telling millions of voters that he is a solid and loyal American.”
many voters, he said, the perception that Obama is cool toward Israel
“strengthens their suspicion that he is somehow cool toward traditional American
values and that he is skeptical of the US assuming some kind of transformational
Mead continued: “For Governor Romney’s campaign, then,
visiting Israel and stressing his support for Israel (and the support of many
Israelis for him) is a way of solidifying the governor’s support among
Republican evangelicals, but also of reaching out to a broader community of
voters for whom the ‘miraculous’ establishment of Israel serves as a powerful
sign of God’s continuing work in history.”
In other words, it is not
about the Jews. If the trip won over some Jewish voters, that is a bonus – but
that was not the purpose.
It is also not about the
And this is why Romney is probably not losing much sleep
over having been widely perceived by the Palestinians as having insulted them
during his visit by not going to Ramallah, by saying Jerusalem is Israel’s
capital and by touting the Israeli culture – in contrast to that of the
Palestinian Authority – which gave birth to a dynamic economy.
Romney was pursuing with this visit are not going to be overly concerned if
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat or United Arab List- Ta’al MK Ahmed Tibi felt
slighted or insulted.
Panetta’s audience, however, is
The Obama campaign is not going after the evangelicals. No,
the Obama campaign is going after the Jews.
The Obama campaign is well
aware that a shift of a few percentage points of the Jewish vote in Florida,
Pennsylvania, Ohio and even Nevada – key swing states – could make the
difference in a close election. And what Panetta will radiate when standing near
an Iron Dome battery is, “We – the Obama Administration – are not full of empty
words, we take action.
We provide Iron Dome batteries that help secure
Israel and save lives.”
The message toward Jews coming from the campaign
for months has been to forget about “atmospherics;” forget about difficulties in
the relationship between Netanyahu and Obama; forget about perceived slights and
diplomatic daylight at times between the two countries.
No, what matters,
the administration is saying, is that under Obama – as Defense Minister Ehud
Barak said in a CNN interview Monday – there has never been a closer security
relationship between the two countries.
Nothing will slam that point home
to American Jews more than the US secretary of defense, alongside the Israeli
defense minister, at a US-funded Iron Dome counter missile defense
The campaigns are reaching out to different audiences, and the
different backdrops chosen in Israel for Romney and Panetta make that abundantly