Mitt Romney was not in Israel for even two days and his visit gave birth to its own media ecosystem. Of course, this was a very important moment for Romney, who was trying to make the argument that he is better poised to lead the United States through the morass of Middle East politics with its alliances, entanglements, and seemingly inevitable future conflicts. I’m sure many will argue that he reached the audience he intended to reach.
Nevertheless, the amount of media amplification is important to note because it draws into focus some of the issues that we’ll be seeing again between now and November. Some of the highlights:
Romney’s visit to Western Wall on Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning:
The visit was called a “vulgar” photo-op by Jeffrey Goldberg, who mixed it up with Jennifer Rubin on Twitter about the symbolism of the visit. Rubin wrote this today:
That Romney would visit the site of the Second Temple’s destruction on the commemoration of its destruction, like going to Normandy cemeteries on D-Day, is a sign of great sensitivity. (Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu underlined this point by inviting him to break the fast on the mourning day at Bibi’s home.)
This is a nice sentiment—one that will endear him to plenty of people—although it seems important to note Romney’s initial plan for breakfast was to hold a $50K-per-plate fundraiser on the evening after Tisha B’Av, a plan that was eventually pushed back because of objections from religious leaders.
According to the Jerusalem Post, 47 people (including the owner of the New York Jets, Woody Johnson) attended that fundraiser today, the first-ever presidential fundraiser in Israel, which netted Romney over $1 million. As some noted, that million-plus was raised on the same day that the Israeli Knesset passed sweeping austerity measures.
Romney backtracks on a statement made by adviser Dan Senor regarding an Israeli strike on Iran:
Yesterday, Dan Senor—the subject of a fantastic recent Tablet profile by Allison Hoffman—said that Romney “would respect” a unilateral strike on Iran by Israel. From Talking Points Memo:
After several [h]ours of confusion as to what this means, the Romney campaign slightly walked back Senor’s original comment with this statement, clarifying that it did not necessarily mean using military force to aid Israel in this case:
‘Gov. Romney believes we should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is his fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded.’
According to Amir Mizroch, this isn’t good:
Romney either didn’t know what Dan Senor was going to say on his behalf [which is bad] and Senor is not coordinating his positions with his boss, or Romney did know, let it happen, and then got spooked [which is also very bad].
Romney passionately avers that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel:
In his policy statement on Sunday, Romney reaffirmed that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, prompting this Breitbart love-shower:
Today, Mitt Romney drew a clear contrast between himself and the Obama administration on the State of Israel. Standing before a backdrop of Jerusalem’s Old City on Judaism’s Ninth of Av—the day designated for mourning the destruction of the First and Second Temples—Romney didn’t flinch from embracing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, even as the Obama administration continued to refuse even that simple statement.
That “simple statement” bubbled up in a press conference last week during which White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated (under duress) that the United States policy of naming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital hadn’t changed. Many seized upon this moment as showing daylight between the Obama Administration and Israel.
On the Twitter machine, Robert Danin said this:
Chill people. Bush 43 pledged in 2000 to move US embassy to Jlem. 8 yrs later it was still in Tel Aviv. Obama in 2008 called Jlem capital…
Saeb Erekat, the former Palestinian negotiator, called the Romney statement “unacceptable”:
“At the end of the day, the U.S. has interests in this region, it has embassies in 57 Arab and Muslim countries,” Erekat told The Associated Press. “I don’t think they will sacrifice everything for such statements, mere disturbing statements that will strengthen extremists in the region.”
On the topic of the Palestinians, while Romney met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, he did not meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. For those keeping track, Romney also didn’t say the word “Palestinian” once during his policy speech on Sunday. This has more to do with election-year posturing than anything else; during Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to Israel, the topic of Israeli-Palestinian was also relegated to the second tier behind the issues of Iran and the Arab Spring. But Romney did no favors for Fayyad, whom we’d like to see succeed. Hamas jumped all over him for meeting with Romney following his statement on Jerusalem.
A more tangible slight at the Palestinians happened at the Romney fundraiser today where he said the following, which is being widely denounced by Palestinian leaders and pundits alike. From the AP:
“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 told about 40 wealthy donors who ate breakfast at the luxurious King David Hotel.
Romney said some economic histories have theorized that “culture makes all the difference.”
“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.” He said similar disparity exists between neighboring countries, like Mexico and the United States.
A final point of intrigue:
At the 11th hour, Romney canceled a meeting with Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich that had been on his agenda for months, prompting some to say it was because of pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office. Yachimovich had been the Leader of the Opposition until Shaul Mofaz left Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition earlier this month, so while Romney really had no obligation to meet with her, the sudden conditions under which he canceled drew a lot of attention in Israel. Regardless of his intentions, Romney’s failure to keep the meeting or give a solid reason for breaking it is now being used by Yachimovich and others to score political points–which is something you don’t want to happen when your politicians go abroad.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.