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On Romney’s Pro-Palestinian Allies

This says more about us than it does about him

Adam Chandler
October 19, 2012
Governor Mitt Romney(FP)
Governor Mitt Romney(FP)

When I think back on the 2008 presidential election, I often quickly return to the hysteria that surrounded then-Candidate Barack Obama’s political, religious, and social ties to the likes of Bill Ayers, Rashid Khalidi, and Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Ayers was said to be a terrorist, Khalidi was, at best, a Palestinian activist, and Wright, well…

As Candidate Obama fought two vetted and well-known political institutions in Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain, he managed to distance himself enough (and in Wright’s case, transform a scandal into a meaningful American moment) to capture the Democratic nomination and then the presidency itself. These alliances still provide fodder for those who seek to sow conspiracy at every turn. As recently as last month, the website Breitbart offered $100,000 for a video footage of a dinner honoring Khalidi, at which Obama spoke. But if President Obama’s path to reelection is trammeled by anything, it’s certainly not Reverend Wright.

Enter the news today about Governor Romney’s Arab-Americans for Romney group which, like any other affinity group, showcases the diversity of the country that Romney aspires to govern and the variety of his support. The trouble, if you can call it that, centers around some of the names on the list of supporters:

The list, which includes some prominent sitting and former members of Congress like Darrell Issa and Sen. John E. Sununu (the son of Gov. John Sununu), as well as anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist’s wife Samah. Also on the roster is George Salem, an advisor to global lobbying firm DLA Piper who has recently been involved in bitter infighting in Washington’s pro-Palestinian community, pushing for a more confrontational stance toward Israel.

Salem sits on the board of the American Task Force on Palestine, a group in Washington that is aligned with Salam Fayyad, the technocratic Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority. Salem was at the heart of a dispute last year inside the organization, in which, according to an ally’s account, he pressed for the group to support the Palestinian pursuit of statehood before the United Nations, a move Israel feared and that the United States openly opposed.

Salem didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Fayyad’s allies in the American Task Force on Palestine’s leadership were surprised to see his name on Romney’s list. “Honestly, it seems like [Romney] didn’t do his homework,” said one source on the side of the current ATFP leadership.

Pro-Israel Democrats have registered their disappointment, not because they really believe that the troubling names listed on the affinity group list signal that Governor Romney is going to enact policies that harm Israel if elected, but rather because they think that if the tables were turned and President Obama had these supporters in his ranks, there would be outrage on high.

“I’m not saying all these individuals are anti-Israel, but if this were the other way around, that’s exactly how they’d be portrayed,” said Democratic strategist Aaron Keyak, a veteran of the partisan Israel wars, of the list. “There would be a breaking [Republican Jewish Committee] release and a big bold headline on Drudge, Free Beacon, Weekly Standard, and Fox News: ‘Obama’s Anti-Israel Kitchen Cabinet. Instead — silence.”

I think they make a somewhat fair point, but I’m confident some of you will correct me. Thoughts?

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.