This past Monday, surrounded by platters of fresh fruit, stacks of low-fat
yogurt and piles of mediocre pancakes, I took my seat at the breakfast
roundtable in Jerusalem with US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.
event, which was facilitated by Republicans Abroad Israel and its energetic
Co-Chairs, Kory Bardash and Mark Zell, was part of the candidate’s whirlwind
weekend visit to the Jewish state.
Needless to say, the media devoted
much of its coverage to parsing Romney’s remarks, dissecting various sentences
he uttered like high school science students eagerly hoping to carve up a frog.
But in their rush to invent flubs and gaffes where there were none, the
gentlemen of the press missed the biggest story of all.
For the first
time in the history of either republic, Israel was playing host to a traditional
American political fund-raiser and major policy speech in the run-up to a US
presidential election. In other words, Romney just put Israel on the US
electoral map, highlighting the country’s potential to serve as a source of
inspiration, votes and campaign dollars for American political
This is a remarkable development, one that not only testifies
to Israel’s growing importance, but which also underlines the very special
relationship that exists between the two countries.
Sure, candidates have
visited Jerusalem before, angling for the customary photo-op at the Western
Wall, their heads bowed in solemnity with a yarmulke perched precariously on
their heads. And then there is also the obligatory snapshot with a senior
Israeli leader, with both laughing jovially for the camera as though they were
discussing the latest episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians.
never before has a presidential candidate come to the Jewish state to court
voters, seek financial support and lay out a clear and detailed vision regarding
major policy challenges facing the US.
And that is precisely what Romney
HE WENT a step beyond the essential, raising Israel’s profile and
sending a clear and unequivocal message to Americans back home that they need to
stand by their closest ally in the Middle East.
As a candidate, Romney
could have made do with what others before him have done. But his conduct and
comportment while in Jerusalem demonstrated beyond doubt that he is also a
statesman, a man of inner conviction, passion and principle.
speech he gave on Sunday with the walls of Jerusalem in the background was a
tour-de-force, one that combined buoyant optimism about the bond between
Washington and Jerusalem along with hard-headed realism concerning the mutual
challenges we face.
“Our two nations are separated by more than 5,000
miles,” Romney said, “but for an American abroad, you can’t get much closer to
the ideals and convictions of my own country than you do in Israel.”
described the “enduring alliance” between the US and Israel as “more than a
strategic alliance: it is a force for good in the world.
support of Israel should make every American proud.”
Finally, he asserted
that, “our two countries are bound together.
No individual, no nation, no
world organization will pry us apart.”
These are powerful themes, and
they were delivered with ethos and emotion. Any American from Arkansas to
Wyoming who watched it would surely have come away with a much better
understanding of the US-Israel relationship.
THE NEXT morning, at the
breakfast, which was a far more intimate affair, I was hoping to get a closer
look at Romney and take the measure of the man.
To be honest, I was not
quite sure what to expect. I had read so many news stories mocking Romney as dry
and wooden that I thought perhaps they contained a kernel of truth.
should have known better.
Despite the early hour, Romney came across as
warm and gracious, with a quick wit and an entertaining sense of humor. I
exchanged a few words with him, little more than some pleasantries, but his
command of details and sharp analytical skills were on display throughout the
Those in attendance ranged from a Hassidic Jew with long sidelocks
to a real-estate entrepreneur from Connecticut. Magnates such as Sheldon
Adelson, a benefactor of Brithright-Israel, and Woody Johnson, the owner of the
New York Jets, had flown in to take part.
Romney delivered his remarks
without a teleprompter, and they were heartfelt and sincere. His warmth and
appreciation for Israel were in sharp contrast with the current occupant of the
Sure, he is not the most uplifting of public speakers. But
America doesn’t need another “orator-inchief.”
Talk may be cheap, but in
Barack Obama’s case it has proven to be more expensive than anyone could have
After seeing Romney up close and hearing his message,
I am convinced he is a true friend of Israel, who will stand by us through thick
and thin, and that his election will be a blessing not only for the Jewish
state, but for America as well.
Here’s hoping that more American Jews
will come to this realization, too.