Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrived in Israel yesterday for some pre-election diplomatic talks and fund-raising for his election campaign, and his wonderful speech to the Jerusalem Foundation has delighted one side of the political spectrum while enraging the other.
You can read the full text of his speech here. He hit all the right notes with regards to Israeli sovereignty, Jewish history, the significance of Jerusalem and its status as Israel’s capital. He also stressed the importance of close ties between the US and Israel.
While listening to the speech I was struck by Romney’s language, and couldn’t help comparing it with Obama’s unfortunate Cairo speech in 2009.
I was pleased to find myself in good company, since Daniel Pipes analyses Romney’s Remarkable Speech and makes the same comparison to Obama’s speech: (h/t Dad).
Mitt Romney, the all-but-official Republican presidential nominee, delivered a stem-winder of a speech to the Jerusalem Foundation yesterday, packing emotional support with frank policy statements. The contrast with Obama could hardly be more dramatic. Indeed, one could go through the speech and note the many refutations of Obama. For example, the opening comment that “To step foot into Israel is to step foot into a nation that began with an ancient promise made in this land” directly contrasts with Obama’s crabbed statement in Cairo about “the aspiration for a Jewish homeland [being] rooted in a tragic history.”
Also, in contrast to the nonsensical Obama administration stance on Jerusalem being Israel’s capital — sneaking into change captions that mistakenly identified it as that and going through verbal gymnastics to avoid calling it that — Romney came out and plainly called Jerusalem “the capital of Israel.”
But of the whole speech, it is the final words that most struck me: “May God bless America, and may He bless and protect the Nation of Israel.” When last did a politician ask the Lord to protect another country and not his own?
Read the whole thing. I’m sure you will find it as uplifting as I did.
Professor Barry Rubin writes that Romney’s speech was more important for how he said it than for the words he actually spoke.
Speaking to an often-cheering group of about 400 people in Jerusalem, Governor Mitt Romney gave a speech less notable for what he said than for the fact that the audience believed he was sincere in saying it.
Clearly, Romney was restrained by the American principle that partisan politics stops at the water’s edge, that no politician should criticize a president or U.S. government while abroad. Thus, Obama’s name—or even his specific policies—was never explicitly mentioned.
What Romney did do, however, was to scatter among the assertions of U.S. support for Israel’s security and a strong belief in a U.S.-Israel alliance some subtle references that many viewers and much of the mass media are likely to miss. Here are the key ones, which give some hints about Romney’s future campaign and possibly his presidency:
–Not allergic to Israel’s center-right. Romney quoted former Prime Minister Menahem Begin twice and referred to “my friend, Bibi Netanyahu.” Obama wouldn’t have cited either man and is known to loathe Netanyahu.
On the other hand, however, Romney should have quoted Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, or someone else to balance things off. Romney should not mirror Obama’s approach of choosing one sector of Israeli politics to cultivate. And since there is a broad Israeli national consensus on “foreign policy” this would not be at all hard to do.
–“The reality of hate.” This phrase used by Romney struck me as very significant. It occurred in the context of speaking about how many Arab and Muslim forces feel about Israel. It shows that he is aware that the desire to destroy and injure Israel goes beyond pragmatic considerations and is not something people will be talked out of trying to do. It is enormously important for an American president to understand that there are those in the Middle East who hate the United States and Israel and that it is impossible to appease or befriend them.
–He also said that Israel “faces enemies that deny past crimes against the Jewish people and intend to commit new ones.” This was a reference to Iran but also reflects his understanding about the depth of the conflict and the incredible difficulty of resolving it, a contrast to Obama’s at-least-initial stance.
–A real comprehension of terrorism, not mitigated by attempts at “balance” or rationalization. Romney referred both to the Munich Olympics attack—significant given the ongoing Olympics and his own experience running the Games—and the tenth anniversary of a bombing at Hebrew University that, he noted, killed both Israeli and American students.
–Of tremendous importance was Romney’s hint that the weakness of the Obama administration has encouraged extremists to become more aggressive and Iran to be bolder. He never said this directly but mentioned “the ayatollahs in Tehran testing our moral defenses” to see if the West would abandon Israel. Perhaps the speech’s most important line was this one:
“We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel, voice their criticisms. And we certainly should not join in that criticism.”
This is a critique of Obama’s argument that he would persuade the Arabs to end the conflict by distancing the United States from Israel.
What was especially interesting was Romney’s list of five factors that brought together the United States and Israel: democracy, the rule of law, a belief in universal rights granted by our Creator (a reference to the Declaration of Independence and a subtle rebuke to Obama’s frequent omission of that divine attribution), free enterprise, and freedom of expression.
Jeffrey Goldberg claims it was “vulgar” for Romney to visit the Western Wall on the Jewish holiday commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples. I call political bullshit on Goldberg for trying to score a cheap political point himself, and so does Carl at Israel Matzav.
The Israeli press had mixed feelings about Romney’s visit on Tisha Be’Av. Boaz Bismuth in Yisrael Hayom thought it was an entirely appropriate day to visit:
Tisha B’Av was the most appropriate time to sound the alarm on the dangers posed by the ayatollahs’ regime, as far as Romney was concerned. At his meeting with the prime minister on Sunday, he explained that “the tragedies of wanton killing are not only things of the past.” Over in Washington President Obama would find it difficult not to accept our assessment that the world today — the Middle East included — has not become a better place since his visit almost four years ago.
Conversely, David Ha’Ivri in Ynet thought Romney had good intentions but bad timing.
On this day, the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, the Jewish people mark the anniversary of the destruction of our holy Temple in Jerusalem – the greatest symbol of Jewish national sovereignty in the land in the long history of Israel. This is the saddest day in our yearly cycle. We fast from before sundown the day before, until after sundown of the day itself. We go shoeless and do not bathe; we don’t even wash our hands or brush our teeth for some 25 hours. On this day, we sit on the floors of our synagogues and read the book of Lamentations.
This is not a day for us to host honored guests. In accordance with our tradition, we don’t even greet one another. How could our national leaders show such an important guest around without disregarding the laws and customs of our most intimate day of public mourning? But on the other hand, they do not want to be disrespectful to such a guest and turn him away.
I am very disappointed in those responsible for the timing of this visit. I do not expect Romney himself to learn all the manners and customs of the Jewish people, but I do expect one who sets out to repair relations with Israel to be a little more considerate.
Think of this distinguished visitor coming to the Kotel for a photo op, all shining clean and smiling – while walking by Jews sitting on the ground in mourning for our Temple that once towered over that very spot.
It is about as close as an insult to our dignity as could be conceived. It is something like coming to someone’s mother’s funeral and asking for cake, and then posting your picture all over the internet eating the cake, and commenting how much you love your host and promising to put in a good word for him if he has a problem with his neighbors.
I disagree. I thought Romney handled the unexpected glitch of Tisha Be’Av with grace and dignity.
As for the Palestinians, they were outraged as usual, with the Chief Negotiator (what does he ever negotiate?) calling Romney’s comments on Jerusalem “unacceptable”.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Monday that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s assertion that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital is “absolutely unacceptable.”
Erekat said Romney’s comments are “disturbing,” reward “occupation and aggression” and go against long-standing US policy.
Another comment by Romney, this time concerning the Israeli and Palestinian economies, also enraged the Palestinian Authority. ”As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” the Republican presidential candidate said.
“It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation,” Erekat said.
“His comments were grossly mischaracterized,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said later. The campaign contends that Romney’s comparison of other neighboring countries with income disparities, including the US and Mexico, shows his comments were broader than just the comparison between Israel and Palestine.
Romney told donors that he had read books and relied on his business experience to understand why the economic difference is so great.
“And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the “hand of providence.”
I’m sure we’re all looking forward to a refreshing change of atmosphere if and when Mitt Romney is elected the next President.