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.

July 2, 2012 21:26
4 minute read.
HOLY LAND. Arches National Park in Moab, Utah

HOLY LAND. Arches National Park in Moab, Utah 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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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.

I cannot 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 true believer.

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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 accommodations.

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 bombs.

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.

AS ROMNEY 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 convenience.

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 80%).

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 Israel.

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.

The writer is co-chair of Republicans Abroad Israel.

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