Yesterday I got to share a few words with Mitt Romney. Five to be exact. As he walked by me at his public event in Jerusalem to which I was pleased to attend I said, “Welcome to Israel.” Without missing a beat or breaking his stride he replied, “Thank you.” It seems he was genuinely happy to be here.
While waiting for Romney to arrive, I chatted with others around me. One suggested in an almost messianic tone that we had to elect Romney and listed strategies to do so. Another debated interrupting Romney’s remarks to appeal for Jonathan Pollard’s release from prison, and the end of US policy against expanding Jewish communities built over the “Green Line” following the 1967 Six Day War.
At the beginning of his long awaited remarks, Romney set the tone by standing with Israel, paying tribute to the 11 Israeli athletes murdered in Munich 40 years ago, which the IOC refused to do, and drew a connection to American and Israeli students murdered in a terrorist attack just miles away ten years ago.
Gov. Romney linked these more recent events to the observance of Tisha B’Av, observed yesterday, on which we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which would have been visible from where Romney spoke had it stood today.
Romney’s speech was filled with all the right things for a pro Israel audience, Jews and Christians, and Americans of all backgrounds.
He made a clear and unequivocal case why it’s in America’s best interest to stand with Israel. “By history and by conviction, our two countries are bound together. No individual, no nation, no world organization, will pry us apart. And as long as we stay together and stand together, there is no threat we cannot overcome and very little that we cannot achieve.”
Ultimately, Romney gave one of the best indications as to how his administration will differ from that of Obama by noting “It is a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.” This was particularly noteworthy in a week during which the White House could not acknowledge the same.
Romney’s affirming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, is significant on two levels. First, those who deny our historical and religious connection and rights to Jerusalem are dishonest and disingenuous. Second, nothing Romney said precludes Palestinian aspirations, it’s just that the Palestinian aspirations tend to preclude Israel’s. His statement and affirmation should be a wake up call that the Palestinians have to negotiate and cannot sit in the sidelines putting up obstacle after obstacle to prevent a peaceful resolution of the conflict, blaming Israel at every turn for all their problems.
Unlike Obama, whose 2009 Cairo speech certainly put things in front of the Arab and Moslem world that may not have been comfortable, Romney’s speech in Jerusalem was important because he did not base Israel’s right to exist on the Holocaust or other tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people, but based it, and the unshakable American alliance, on the historic and incontrovertible fact that the Jewish people are tied to the land of Israel for thousands of years, with the Bible as the proof text. To Romney Israel is a “nation that began with an ancient promise made in this land.”
By comparison, Obama’s justification of Israel is rooted in the Holocaust and draws parallels between Jewish suffering then, and Arab suffering since. “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied… the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust…Denying that…is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful…it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people…have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they’ve endured the pain of dislocation, many wait in refugee camps… for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations…that come with occupation.”
One of Obama’s faults is that by promoting a Palestinian, Arab or Moslem narrative that denies any Jewish connection to Jerusalem and Israel, they deny not just Jewish history but the very underpinnings of Christianity.
Addressing Iran, Israel’s primary and, indeed, existential threat, Romney noted that “My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away; and neither will my country. As Prime Minister Begin put it, in vivid and haunting words, “if an enemy of [the Jewish] people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him.”
We have seen the horrors of history. We will not stand by. We will not watch them play out again…We recognize Israel’s right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you.”
It was also not lost on anyone that Romney quoted Prime Minister Begin, one of Israel’s most staunch defenders, putting himself squarely in the camp of those who would do whatever is needed to defend Israel’s very existence, whether bombing a nuclear reactor in Iraq (1981) or in Iran (2012-2013?).
Toward the end of his remarks, Romney made a clear and unambiguous statement that “Whenever the security of Israel is most in doubt, America’s commitment to Israel must be most secure.”
This is in stark contrast to the incredible expressions of support articulated by President Obama in the past few years, only to have his staff issue “clarifications” as soon as the next day, explaining what he meant so as not to offend Arab or Moslem sentiments. It’s particularly glaring that these were done in front of America’s oldest pro-Israel advocacy group, a slap in the face to those before whom he says one thing one day and takes it back the next day.
Romney concluded, “I believe that the enduring alliance between the State of Israel and the United States of America is more than a strategic alliance: it is a force for good in the world. America’s support of Israel should make every American proud.”
After his remarks I turned to the people next to me for whom Jonathan Pollard and “settlements” were the main issues. They were disappointed that Romney mentioned neither. I asked on which side of the issue they felt he stood as compared to Obama who has made his positions on both quite clear, and whether they felt a second Obama administration would be any different. They agreed that a second Obama term would be worse on these issues. So I asked how they could do anything other than vote for Romney. They answered knowingly, with a silent nod.
I look at things from a much more complex perspective. Israel and its future are one central issue indeed. I live here and am raising my children here. We are building a Jewish future on the foundation of our forefathers, both in recent generations and Biblical times. An Iranian nuclear weapon is a terrifying thought. However, as an American, I also see the bigger picture, as it relates to Israel and the Middle East, and the US in general.
To me, Obama has had his chance and has failed. I say this with no pride, only sadness and regret. He has pushed Israel and the Arabs further from peace than closer to realizing that dream. On this alone, he cannot be trusted to have a second term be any better. Conversely, Romney said all the right things and its intuitive to believe that a man of his background is not merely saying these to win votes, but that he’s saying what he believes.
How he realizes these in his presidency is not clear and there are just more than 90 days before we get to decide who will be our next president. But based on everything I heard, based on everything I know, and based on living in Israel and praying for peace, I know that Romney is the best chance we have to see any kind of progress, and an assurance of America standing squarely with Israel.