Steve Sheffey
Pro-Israel writer and activist

Mr. Romney goes to Israel

Mitt Romney is visiting Israel. Steve Benen noted that Romney’s “foreign policy experience has been limited to missionary work in France and stashing cash in the Cayman Islands,” so maybe the trip makes political sense.

This is Romney’s second trip to Israel in about two years. Romney said he’d “do the opposite” when it came to Israel, but Senator Obama went to Israel at about the same time in the 2008 campaign, also having previously visited Israel two years earlier.

When President Obama called for a moment of silence at the Olympics to honor the memory of the Israeli athletes murdered at Munich 40 years ago, a spokesperson for Romney said that Romney had not taken a position on the issue. But rather than do the opposite of Obama, Romney echoed the President’s position four days later.

Noted Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt called Romney’s failure to speak out on the 30th anniversary of the Munich murders, when Romney led the Salt Lake Olympic Committee, “a failure of character.” True to form, Romney has not explained his silence then, just as he has yet to speak out against or explain his role in Mormon posthumous baptism of Jews.

Following reports that Romney scheduled a fundraiser in Israel on Tisha B’Av, his campaign first denied it, then said it was canceled, and then announced that the fundraiser was intended all along to be held at 9:30pm, as a sort of break-the-fast.  Right. We all learn in Politics 101 that the best time for a fundraiser is late at night after a 25 hour fast. Aren’t you invited to major pro-Israel fundraisers every year at the conclusion of Yom Kippur?

Romney’s trip will give Romney’s cheerleaders another opportunity to remind us that President Obama has not visited Israel during his first term in office. That’s a powerful talking point for voters who know nothing about history.

Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are the only Presidents who visited Israel during their first terms in office. Remember when our Republican friends told us to vote for John Kerry in 2004 because George W. Bush did not visit Israel during his first term? Me neither. Bush did not visit Israel as President until his 7th year in office. Ronald Reagan never visited Israel in his entire life.

During his first term, in 2003, George W. Bush did manage to participate in a summit at the Port of Aqaba in Jordan, just nine miles from Israel (closer to Israel than Cairo). But Bush didn’t visit Israel. Instead, Bush said that “we have a problem with Sharon” and was visibly irritated with the then-Prime Minister. Remember how the Democrats exploited this for political gain in the 2004 election? Me neither.

Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George Bush, and Barack Obama did not visit Israel during their first terms. Do I wish they had? Of course I do. I wish that as many policy makers and potential policy makers as possible would visit Israel as often as possible. I’m glad that Romney is visiting Israel, regardless of his motives.

But if visiting Israel during the first term is a pro-Israel criterion, only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton pass the test. Good for the Republicans for looking to two Democratic Presidents as role models, but Carter and Clinton traveled to Israel during their first terms under extraordinary circumstances—Carter following the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and Clinton following the signing of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty.

No one told us to vote for Jimmy Carter because he was the first President to visit Israel during his first term in office. We in the pro-Israel community judge incumbents on their records, not their travel itineraries.

Douglas Bloomfield recently wrote that

The centerpiece of Romney’s outreach to Jewish voters and donors and to other friends of Israel is to attack Barack Obama as an unreliable supporter of the Jewish state, hurling charges that the incumbent has tossed Israel “under the bus” and vowing to do the opposite of whatever Obama has done.


THAT STRATEGY conveniently ignores Obama’s increased aid for Israel, commitments to provide previously denied top-of-the-line weapons systems, leadership in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions and efforts to block the Palestinian bid for UN recognition.

We can’t let the Romney campaign manipulate our genuine concerns about Israel for partisan gain. The US-Israel relationship is too important to be used as a political football. The problem for the Republicans is that their regressive views on social and economic issues turn off most Jewish voters. Most Republicans are pro-Israel, but so are most Democrats, which means that if Jewish voters look at where the parties and candidates truly differ, they’ll continue to vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Consequently, Romney and his Republican allies have a tremendous incentive to cast President Obama in the worst possible light regarding Israel, despite the President’s outstanding record. That might be good politics, but it’s not good for the US-Israel relationship.

We deserve better from Mr. Romney.

About the Author
Steve Sheffey was formerly the president of CityPAC, a pro-Israel political action committee based in Chicago. He is active in the Chicago Jewish and pro-Israel political communities.
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