WASHINGTON – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has significantly upped the ante for the Jewish vote with a planned trip to Israel, but US President Barack Obama is showing no signs of following suit.
A White House official told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday that “President Obama is not expected to make any more foreign travel before the election” in November.
The Romney campaign confirmed Monday that the former Massachusetts governor would soon be making a visit. While no dates have been given, it is likely that he will stop in Israel as part of a previously scheduled trip to London for the Olympic Games, which he is attending because of his role leading the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.
The Post first reported in May that Republican sources said Romney was planning to visit the Jewish state and meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who worked with Romney in the United States when both were starting out their business careers.
The trip, which is expected to last for two days and include visits to Israeli landmarks such as the Western Wall and Yad Vashem as well as some less traditional stopping points, will also feature meetings with President Shimon Peres, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and Labor opposition MKs.
Jonny Daniels, an Israeli Republican political consultant who spoke to the Post in May about the visit, said that he expects Peres to raise the subject of Jonathan Pollard, the ailing former US Navy analyst serving a life sentence for passing secrets to Israel.
Peres made an appeal on Pollard’s behalf during a recent White House visit with Obama, and Daniels pointed to growing political pressure from the Orthodox community – the Jewish voting group most likely to consider backing a Republican – for clemency towards Pollard.
“He and his team are going to have to work very hard at working out just the right statement on Pollard,” Daniels said.
However the presumptive GOP nominee handles that issue, though, Daniels predicted a significant boost for Romney’s profile by visiting Israel.
“It’s a huge thing that he’s coming here. I think he puts significant pressure on Obama by coming here,” he said.
“There is a definite perception that the Jewish vote and the pro-Israel vote are in play this election cycle,” said William Daroff, Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America. “By going to Israel, [former] governor Romney will be highlighting the fact that President Obama has not been to Israel as president, as well as emphasizing differences in how Romney says he would work with Israel generally, and Prime Minister Netanyahu specifically.”
Daroff, who used to work at the Republican Jewish Coalition but now has a non-partisan position, added that “The visuals and contrasts from a Romney trip to Israel are important for his campaign’s efforts with not just the Jewish community, but also the pro-Israel Evangelical Christian community.”
Obama visited Israel as a presidential candidate in 2008, as did his opponent in that race, John McCain, but has not returned while in office.
Steve Rabinowitz, a Jewish Democratic strategist informally advising the Obama campaign, pointed out that George W. Bush did not visit until his second term and that Ronald Reagan never did.
“As much as Republicans are fantasizing again – as they do unsuccessfully every four years at this time – about peeling off a few Jewish votes, I’m afraid they will come up short yet again this November,” Rabinowitz said, of a demographic that traditionally overwhelmingly backs the Democratic party. “President Obama is as popular – or more – among American Jews as he was a year ago at this time and as he was during the last election at this time.”
In response to the upcoming trip, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt referred to Romney’s recent assertion that he would “do the opposite” of what the president has when it comes to Israel.
“He must specify how – does that mean he would reverse President Obama’s policies of sending Israel the largest security assistance packages in history? Does it mean he would let Israel stand alone at the United Nations, or that he would stop funding the Iron Dome system? Does it mean he would abandon the coalition working together to confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions?” The Romney campaign refused several requests for comment from the Post Tuesday, but senior aide Dan Senor appeared on MSNBC Tuesday morning to tout his candidate’s upcoming trip to Israel.
“It is at the center of the storm. It is right there on the frontlines of some of the biggest challenges America is dealing with in the world today geopolitically, namely Iran,” Senor said.
“Governor Romney feels strongly that Israel’s fears and the threats to Israel are America’s fears and threats to America. The imagery of locking arms with this ally, this island in a sea of chaos, is a pretty powerful one.”
This will be his second trip to Israel in the past two years.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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