Mitt Romney flew to Poland on Monday for the last leg of his foreign tour. And he had some extra campaign cash in his pockets. The GOP presidential hopeful held a fund-raising breakfast in Jerusalem where he reportedly pulled in about a million bucks. Couples paid $50,000 each to attend the event.
Romney spent the weekend in Israel. He got an enthusiastic welcome from the Israeli government. But for some Israelis, it was a little too enthusiastic.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted his old friend Mitt Romney on Sunday. They made a brief (and rare – Romney’s Holy Land tour was tightly controlled) appearance in front of the cameras, and the two men went straight to the subject of Iran’s nuclear activities.
In a comment that could be seen as pointed criticism of the Obama administration’s efforts, Netanyahu said sanctions and diplomacy have not slowed down the Iranian program one iota. The prime minister had high praise however, for views on Iran expressed by Mitt Romney.
“I heard some of your remarks a few days ago,” Netanyahu said. “You said, ‘the greatest danger facing the world is of the Ayatollah regime possessing nuclear weapons capability.’ Mitt, I couldn’t agree with you more.”
The two men agree on a lot, it turns out. When Romney gave a speech yesterday in Jerusalem, the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz said the voice might have been Romney’s but the words could have been written by the prime minister’s office. As Barak Ravid puts it:
In general, Netanyahu embraced Romney as no Israeli prime minister has ever before embraced a candidate running against an incumbent U.S. president: Aside from their working meeting in the morning, Netanyahu also hosted Romney and his wife and sons for dinner at his official residence.
Yossi Sarid agrees with this assessment. Sarid is a former Israeli cabinet member and former leader of the liberal Meretz Party. He says Netanyahu’s embrace of candidate Mitt Romney crossed a dangerous line. It amounted to a robust political endorsement to an American presidential candidate, Sarid says.
“I regret the fact that Mitt Romney appeared on the Israeli stage as the next president of the United States. And I don’t think it’s fair as far as Obama is concerned. I believe it will function as a boomerang, regardless of the results of the elections,” Sarid said.
Sarid said Israel needs all the friends it can get – especially in Washington. And any government here in the Jewish State, the thinking goes, should not be putting the US-Israel alliance at risk by betting on one political candidate or another.
But Shmuel Rosner of the Jewish Journal says that is reading too much into Romney’s visit. It is hardly secret, Rosner said, that Netanyahu has had his disagreements with Barack Obama.
“I don’t think Netanyahu intended to endorse Mitt Romney,” Rosner said during an interview at his office in Jerusalem. “I think that no matter what Netanyahu says or does, most people would assume that he wants Romney to become president.”
The Israeli public would prefer to see Romney in the White House as well, Rosner added. Even if Romney’s speech yesterday showed – on substance – that the GOP candidate’s foreign policy positions are essentially in lock-step with President Obama’s.
“Most of the things Romney said yesterday, Obama can also say. That Romney considers Israel to be an ally, that he promises to support Israel’s security, to always side with Israel, these are all things that Obama can also say.”
“But for some reason,” Rosner said. “There are listeners who would believe Romney more than they believe Obama.”
Still, Rosner said Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel was not about winning over Israelis. It was about projecting the image of a candidate dealing with serious foreign policy issues in a complicated part of the world. And it was about playing to the Republican base back home, especially Christian Evangelicals, Rosner said.
The truth is, Rosner pointed out, Romney’s conversation with Netanyahu about Iran might have some significance in the longer term if the candidate wins the election. But in the short term, it’s the Obama administration that will be having the most important conversation with the Israeli prime minister. Defense secretary Leon Panetta is visiting Israel this week and expected to meet with Netanyahu to talk about, you guessed it, what to do about Iran’s nuclear activities.
But Romney might have been equally as interested in winning over wealthy Jewish American donors. He spoke to about 40 of them at Monday’s fund-raising breakfast. Reporters were barred from the event. But Romney made some news anyway. He was quoted by the AP saying the disparity between Israel’s per capita GDP and that of the Palestinians living under the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank was about a difference in culture. Romney also seemed to suggest that divine intervention had role to play in the income gap.