WASHINGTON – When Mitt Romney declared his intention to run for president
United States on Thursday, he devoted just three sentences in his 20-minute
address to Israel. But they were enough to indicate that the Republicans see the
Jewish state as a major line of attack in the 2012 campaign: They were three of
only nine sentences total devoted to foreign policy.
On Friday, former
White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel devoted an entire oped in The Washington
Post to his former boss’s support for Israel. That was more than enough to
indicate that the Democrats are concerned that the GOP tactic might yield
dividends.RELATED:Rahm Emanuel: Obama doesn't mean return to 1967 linesRomney: Obama treating Israel with suspicion, distrust
The vast majority of the remarks delivered by Romney, the
former governor of Massachusetts who is widely seen as the frontrunner for the
Republican nomination, were focused on the economy and fears of American decline
that are likely to dominate the elections.
His speech was blueprint for
the ways in which he plans to go after US President Barack Obama, and was thus
particularly telling for the international subjects he chose to include –
criticism for Obama’s tour to “apologize” to the world; setting a timetable on
an Afghanistan withdrawal; being too timid in his response to the Arab Spring;
Criticizing Obama for hesitating to back dissidents leading
the Arab revolts, Romney said, “He speaks with firmness and clarity, however,
when it comes to Israel, he seems firmly and clearly determined to undermine our
longtime friend and ally. He’s treating Israel the same way so many European
countries have: with suspicion, distrust and an assumption that Israel is
somehow at fault.”
Israel was the foreign policy issue to which Romney
gave the longest and fullest treatment, which would not have been the case if he
didn’t see it as a place to score points.
Given that he was speaking to a
loyal crowd in rural New Hampshire, it would seem that he doesn’t only think
these sentiments could help win over Jewish voters but Republicans writ large,
and perhaps particularly the evangelical constituency he is eager to
And he wasn’t the only one to take this approach.
weekend gathering of GOP presidential hopefuls – declared and considering –
Israel was again on the agenda.
At the Faith and Freedom Coalition
gathering in Washington Friday, Minnesota Rep.
Michele Bachmann, who many
expect to soon announce her candidacy, spoke of supporting Israel, as she also
did two weeks ago at a reception at the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee’s annual conference.
The Democrats, meanwhile, have been
actively trying to stem the flow of any loss of political support after Obama’s
recent controversial comments that the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land
swaps should form the basis of a Palestinian state.
Newly elected head of
the Democratic National Committee and strong pro-Israel voice Debbie Wasserman
Schultz, a representative from Florida, has been speaking out about Obama’s
backing for the Jewish state. And Danielle Borrin, who does Jewish outreach for
the Obama administration, circulated the link to a new White House website
section “designed to answer any questions about President Obama’s commitment to
advancing Israel’s security and supporting peace.”
The most high-profile
push-back, however, came from Emanuel, who made a rare appearance on the
editorial pages of The Washington Post
to write about his former boss’s support
“As I listened to the president’s speech on the Middle East, I
heard him reaffirm his strong commitment to Israel’s safety, security and
prosperity,” Emanuel wrote of the address that included the reference to the
1967 lines. “He said the US relationship with Israel is unshakable. He said that
the conflict cannot be resolved through unilateral actions or a UN vote
establishing a Palestinian state but only through negotiations between the
Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, also directly responded to the
1967 lines brouhaha.
“The president stated a concept that has been the
basis of every serious attempt at resolution since the negotiations President
Bill Clinton held at Camp David in 2000. He reminded us that every president and
many Israeli elected leaders have recognized that the borders are one starting
point for negotiations, not the end point,” he noted, stressing that, “That
statement does not mean a return to 1967 borders. No workable solution envisions
While Jewish leaders have in the past gone to great lengths to
stress the nature of bipartisan support for Israel, and have often made the case
that party bickering over the issue could be dangerous, it seems unlikely to be
left out of the conversation over 2012. And that conversation could soon turn
into a very loud argument indeed.