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Israel Plays Central Role As Romney, Obama Trade Jabs

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Mitt Romney’s planned trip to Britain, Poland and Israel beginning at the end of this week has shifted the presidential campaign debate for now from jobs, the economy and the candidates’ past to how they would deal with an increasingly fluid world.

Israel particularly has figured in the debate, with proxies for each side insisting that their candidate’s policies would better secure the Jewish state and accusing the other side of politicizing the issue for gain among Jewish voters.

Advisers to Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts governor, last week outlined the agenda for the candidate’s overseas trip during a call for the media. They kept the dates vague, but Romney is known to be planning on attending the opening of the London Olympics on Friday and a fundraising dinner in Jerusalem on Sunday night.

The emphasis in the call was on Romney as statesman rather than candidate. Advisers insisted repeatedly that the trip was more of a “listening” tour and not one in which he would announce policy initiatives.

Dan Senor, a top Middle East adviser to Romney, noted that Romney’s first Israel meeting will be with Daniel Shapiro, Obama’s ambassador to Israel (and incidentally his chief surrogate to the Jewish community in the 2008 election.)

“The focus of the trip is really about learning, listening, receiving briefings from U.S., Israeli and even Palestinian officials abroad,” Senor said, “and it’s about continuing to project Governor Romney’s strong view that American needs to stand by its allies – particularly allies under siege like Israel.”

Andrea Saul, the Romney campaign spokeswoman, said that would not keep the campaign from highlighting differences with Obama – but it would be done stateside. Romney has said in the past that he defers to the policy of not criticizing American leaders while overseas. “It is solely an opportunity to listen,” she said. “The contrast will be kept in the United States.”

In its own call on Monday, the Obama campaign challenged Romney to make clear his policy differences with the president during the tour, saying that Romney has done little other than criticize the president. Robert Gibbs, the former White House spokesman, included a gibe at Romney’s planned fundraiser in Jerusalem on Sunday evening.

“The American people require something greater from their candidates than speaking to a fundraising reception,” he said.

Gibbs and others also hammered Romney’s recent comment that on Israel he would do the “opposite” of Obama.

“What are you going to tell the Israelis in terms of doing the opposite of what Barack Obama has done?” Gibbs asked.

Colin Kahl, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Obama whose charge was the Middle East, noted the increased U.S.-Israel defense cooperation under Obama’s watch, including Obama’s backing for enhanced Israeli missile defense systems and a forthcoming U.S.-Israel anti-missile exercise – the largest of its kind.

Romney should “say exactly what he would do that is different from what President Obama is doing,” Kahl said.

When it comes to Iran, he added, “The president has pledged to use all tools of American power to prevent Iran from getting a weapon.”

Few of Romney’s specific recommendations, particularly regarding Iran, differ from the president’s; both favor enhanced sanctions, increased isolation and a heightened U.S. Persian Gulf presence. However, Romney has suggested he would not pressure Israel, as the United States has, to play down a military option. And regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Romney has said he would not make public his differences with Israel, as Obama did in the first two years of his term.

The candidates highlighted their foreign policy stands this week in addresses to the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ national convention in Reno, Nev. Although the speeches did not stress Israel, tensions with Iran featured prominently.

“We’ve applied the strongest sanctions ever on Iran and North Korea – nations that cannot be allowed to threaten the world with nuclear weapons,” Obama said on Monday.

Romney in his speech the following day faulted the Obama administration for what he said were political leaks regarding its involvement in secret and successful anti-Iran operations coordinated with Israel.

“This conduct is contemptible,” he said. “It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field. And it demands a full and prompt investigation, with explanation and consequence.”

Romney also chided Obama for his tense relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, referring to a “hot mic” moment in which former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Obama commiserated on their frustrations with the Israeli leader.

“President Obama is fond of lecturing Israel’s leaders,” he said. “He was even caught by a microphone deriding them. He has undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was.”

Obama has not visited Israel as president – Romney has said it will be the first country he visits as president – and here the Obama campaign appeared defensive, with Kahl pledging a presidential visit during the second term.

“We can expect him to visit Israel in a second term should he be elected,” he said, noting that Republican presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did not visit Israel in their first terms. “Being a friend of Israel shouldn’t be judged by a travel itinerary. I don’t think this is a serious policy difference – it’s basically a distraction.”

The promise of a second-term visit drew a pushback from Republicans. “It’s politically inspired, coming as it does only days before Mitt Romney heads off to Jerusalem,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement released by the Romney campaign. “One should not play political games with U.S. foreign policy, particularly at a moment when the Middle East is a tinderbox.”

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader, in his own statement released through the Romney campaign, noted that Obama had visited other Middle East capitals and said the announcement “comes four years too late.”

Obama has visited Cairo, Egypt and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Supporters point out that his predecessor, George W. Bush, also visited Arab capitals in his first term and was as close to Israel as four miles away in Aqaba, Jordan, but did not visit until the last year of his second term.

(JTA)

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2 Responses to “Israel Plays Central Role As Romney, Obama Trade Jabs”

  1. He doesn’t have time for pleasure right now! Come on Mick, have some class and either be discreet about your vacations that most can’t afford or wait to see if you will win presidency. Poland and jerusalum will not get you in office……..

  2. <a href="http://forward.advertserve.com/servlet/click/zone?zid=3&cid=199&amp;
    People who are skeptical about President Obama's positions on Israel should consider the following:

    Obama has taken many positive actions for Israel including: rejecting the Goldstone report that criticized Israeli actions in the war in Gaza; asking Congress to approve a $205 million package to help Israel build a new anti-missile defense system; successfully advocating for Israel’s admission into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; giving a speech in the heart of the Arab world, in which he told his listeners that they need to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state; stating to the UN General Assembly clearly and unequivocally that “Israel is a sovereign state and the historic homeland of the Jewish people” and “It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the US.”.

    Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have stated many times that the U.S. has been extremely cooperative in meeting Israel’s security needs.

    Another example of Obama’s strong support for Israel is his very positive response to a frantic, middle-of-the-night call from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that helped free six Israelis who were trapped in the Israeli embassy in Cairo that was under attack by militant Egyptians. After they were freed, Netanyahu said: "I would like to express my gratitude to the President of the United States, Barack Obama. I asked for his help. This was a decisive and fateful moment. He said, “I will do everything I can.” And so he did. He used every considerable means and influence of the United States to help us. We owe him a special measure of gratitude. This attests to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States."

    On September 22, 2011, Prime Minister Netanyahu heaped additional praise on President Obama for his talk at the United Nations, in which Obama expressed opposition to U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state, and indicated that he would veto a resolution supporting that recognition in the U.N. Security Council. Netanyahu indicated that Obama deserved a “badge of honor” for that talk.

    People who think President Obama has a negative attitude toward Jews or that he is more sensitive to Muslims than Jews should consider the following: his initial chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is Jewish and the son of Israelis; his present chief of staff Jack Lew is an Orthodox Jew; one of his key advisors David Axlerod, is Jewish, and he is also a key strategist for Obama’s reelection campaign; Obama nominated a Jew, Elana Kagan, as a Supreme Court Justice (even though that left the 9-member Court with three Jews and no Protestant members; he is the first president to have Passover Seders in the White House; and Obama and his cabinet members have frequently stressed their solidarity with Jews and with Israel.

    I think it is important to stress that Israel needs a resolution of her conflict with the Palestinians in order to be able to avert renewed conflict, effectively address her economic, social, and environmental problems, and remain both a Jewish and a democratic state. Of course this will not be easy to obtain, but I believe it should be a priority, with conditions to provide security for Israel a prime consideration.

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