From Zion to Zion: My Utah weekend with Republicans
Mormonism sees itself as related to Judaism, identifying itself with Old Testament Zionism and founding their new Zion in Utah.
HOLY LAND. Arches National Park in Moab, Utah Photo: REUTERS
I live in Zion. And I’ve just returned from Zion – quite impressed, in fact. I
just came back home to Israel from Park City, Utah, where I attended a retreat
with Governor Mitt Romney on his home turf, with key Republican leaders and
campaign donors. Park City is the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics that Romney
is credited with saving and making a resounding success.
overstate the warmth and commitment this group has toward the welfare of the
Jewish people and the strength of America’s alliance with Israel. If ever I had
the slightest doubt about Mitt Romney’s commitment toward Israel, I came away a
Keep in mind, this was not a Jewish summit. Well
over 90 percent of the attendees were not Jews. (Interestingly, a number of the
Jewish participants were disgruntled former supporters of President Obama). Yet,
in the Mormon Land of Zion, the cultural and religious sensitivity shown to us
was remarkable. Only a handful of us were strictly observant, yet the
organizers arranged for glatt kosher food, a minyan and special Shabbat
Of course, the most important discussions concerned
policies needed to turn around the Obama economy. But surprising attention was
given to America’s relationship with Israel. Speaker after speaker castigated
Obama for his foot-dragging and feckless approach to Iran, expressing more anger
at Israel for homebuilding in Jerusalem than at Iran for building nuclear
The speakers were particularly outraged by the administration’s
serial leaking of classified information which just happens to make President
Barack Obama look heroic and quashes any Israeli steps to press the Iran issue
more forcefully. This leaking has caused the betrayal of American assets and
undermined Israeli, British and other allies’ trust in America.
himself said, Obama seems “like he’s more frightened that Israel might take
military action than he’s concerned that Iran might become nuclear.” Those of us
who saw Gov. Romney speak passionately at the 2007 Herzliya Conference on
preventing a nuclear Iran know that this is no new position of
One of the best-attended sessions was the roundtable
regarding Israel. Participants extolled Israel’s vibrant democracy, economic
strength, security resilience, and protection of the rights of women and
minorities – more than once did I hear praise for Israel as the only country in
the region where Christians are free and protected – and that Israel is the
area’s only country that America can rely on.
There was palpable anger at
Obama’s humiliating treatment of Israel’s leaders, and at the chutzpah of the
Obama administration demanding unilateral Israeli concessions even before the
beginning of any Palestinian peace negotiations, poisoning the atmosphere by
taking harder-line positions than even the Palestinians themselves (e.g.,
insisting on a settlement construction freeze) – and then complaining that
Israel should “just get back to the damn table” when the Palestinian leadership
still would not speak even indirectly with the Israelis.
As an American
living in Israel, I was accorded unexpected status. Many people made it a point
to approach me to tell me about their strong admiration for Israel, their
heartfelt commitment to its protection, and their appreciation for Israel’s
contribution to America’s security – “America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle
East” as one GOP state chairman told me.
People were impressed when I
told them that 300,000 American citizens live in Israel, and how that fosters
deeper understanding for Israel in America through friends and family. What they
couldn’t fathom was why so many American Jews still vote Democrat. I had no
really good answer, but they were happy to hear that at least Americans in
Israel – many Democrats among them – now vote overwhelmingly Republican (around
SPEAKING WITH some of Romney’s Mormon supporters, I also gained an
appreciation for a dimension of Mitt Romney not often discussed: how his Mormon
faith gives him a degree of understanding of Jews in both America and
Jews and Mormons are similar in number – both roughly 15 million
worldwide, and 6 million in America. Both belong to minority religions that have
often faced persecution and bigotry. Both have flourished under American
liberty, uniquely suited to rewarding our strong common commitments to core
values of family, education, hard work, community, service and charity. The
success of both religions has bred a mix of admiration and resentment in the
wider population. (That is something particularly true of the Jewish
State of Israel).
Mormon theology sees itself situated closely to
Judaism, famously identifying itself with Old Testament Zionism and founding
their new Zion in Utah. Both Jews and Mormons adhere to ideas of exceptionalism
and belief in their special “light unto the nations” roles, which dovetail
nicely with ideas of American Exceptionalism.
In no way am I equating the
religions – there are certainly stark theological and practical differences
between them. But Romney’s life experience as a Mormon gives him sensitivity to
– even familiarity, identification and shared perspective with – the modern
Jewish experience in the US.
Romney has an excellent, longstanding
relationship with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, having worked side by side
at Boston Consulting Group long before either was famous. Perhaps some of the
depth of that relationship comes from their ability to identify with each
other’s religious and cultural traditions.
One thing is clear from my
weekend in the Western “Zion”: that close relationship portends well for the
restoration of a close, trusting America-Israel relationship.
is co-chair of Republicans Abroad Israel.