Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are not only competing to be president but also to be Bibi Netanyahu's best friend.
In Saturday night's debate in Des Moines, Iowa, Romney suggested the former Speaker is a "bomb thrower" and was mistaken in calling the Palestinians an "invented" people. That was inflammatory and not helpful to Israel, said the former Massachusetts governor, adding:
"Therefore, before I made a statement of that nature, I'd get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say, 'Would it help if I said this? What would you like me to do? Let's work together because we're partners.' I'm not a bomb thrower, rhetorically or literally."
Gingrich was unapologetic, standing by his remarks. "Is what I said factually true? Yes," he said, explaining:
"Somebody ought to have the courage to tell the truth: These people are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools. They have textbooks that say, 'If there are 13 Jews and nine Jews are killed, how many Jews are left?'"
Gingrich may have the stronger claim. His friendship with Netanyahu goes back to 1995 when Bibi was the opposition leader (to be elected prime minister the following year) and Gingrich the Speaker of the House. They collaborated on their opposition to the peace policies of their opponents, President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Aides to both reported the two men were in close, regular personal contact.
In an interview last week on the cable television Jewish Channel, Gingrich said, “I see myself as in many ways being pretty close to Bibi Netanyahu in thinking about the dangers of the world,” adding “Bibi’s a really tough guy, and he’s a guy who puts Israel’s security first; he also happens to be a free-market guy and someone who has made the entrepreneurial boom so successful."
A Gingrich spokesman sought to clarify the impression that the former Speaker opposed the two-state solution.
"Newt Gingrich supports a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which will necessarily include agreement between Israel and the Palestinians over the borders of a Palestinian state," said spokesman R.C. Hammond.