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July 29, 2012

Romney in Israel, the real story

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/romney_in_israel_the_real_story_20120729/

Photo

Mitt and Ann Romney arriving in Tel Aviv, July 28. Photo by REUTERS/Jason Reed

Reason

Relax, there’s no “real story.” Romney came to Israel for many reasons, but the one ‎most important reason is as simple as this: He needed to go someplace, and Israel is as ‎good a place as any. ‎

Romney is here because that’s what presidential candidates do during the summer. ‎They go to foreign countries so that voters will get a taste of them as the potential ‎leader of the free world. They need to be seen boarding airplanes, landing in places to ‎which most Americans have never traveled, meeting foreign leaders – preferably ‎leaders whom American audiences are somewhat familiar with. And even better: ‎Foreign leaders that more Americans like than dislike. Like this guy, Benjamin, 35% ‎positive, 23% negative according to Friday’s Gallup analysis. The only group of voters ‎who don’t much like Netanyahu is the group in which Romney will not find many ‎voters – Democrats. ‎

Seriousness

Israel is a good place to visit for two more reasons: It is popular with the voters. The ‎candidate is not risking being associated with countries which most Americans do not ‎like. And Israel is also relatively safe and comfortable, while having an image of an ‎embattled country under constant siege. This means that for Romney coming here is ‎both quite easy but still carries some of the benefits a candidate would have from ‎visiting a combat zone. Unlike visiting (and botching for no apparent reason) the ‎Olympics – which everyone knows is more about pleasure than delving into serious ‎diplomatic matters – in Israel one can talk about the issues that matter in foreign ‎affairs: Iran, Arab Spring, terrorism, American power. ‎

Voters

You will hear a lot of nonsensical analysis about Romney and the Jewish vote in the ‎coming days. But as I’ve explained and demonstrated time and again, the Jewish vote ‎means very little in the Obama-Romney race. Romney did not come to Israel to collect ‎Jewish voters (and if he did, he’s in big trouble). His share of the Israeli-American ‎vote – that is, Americans who live here – will be high, as was John McCain’s share ‎four years ago. His share of the American Jewish vote – that is, Jewish voters in places ‎like Ohio and Florida – will be around 30%. Maybe a little less, possibly a little more. ‎It will be lower in New York, where the votes don’t even matter, and a little higher in ‎Florida, where they might matter but only if the race is a close as it was back in 2000. ‎In most probable scenarios, the Jewish vote will determine nothing. It cannot be the ‎reason for Romney’s Israel tour.‎

Policies

I was on the line last week for a conference call with Obama advisors, prior to ‎Romney’s trip, and they kept complaining about Romney’s lack of specific foreign ‎policy proposals. Romney – they rightly argued – is the uncommitted candidate. He ‎seems to be constantly criticizing the president while not suggesting any alternative ‎policies (and in many cases, he seems to support the current policies on the Obama ‎administration). Case in point: Iran. Last week, Romney was interviewed by Haaretz ‎‎(by the way, it’s a strange decision by the Romney team – why give the interview to a ‎newspaper that is highly supportive of Obama, is read abroad mostly by left-wingers, ‎and is not widely read in Israel?). In this interview, with columnist Ari Shavit, he had ‎this to say: ‎

Romney said that an American military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities “should ‎not be ruled out” if other preventive measures fail. He added: “I am personally ‎committed to take every step necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear ‎weapons capability.”‎

‎ ‎
So Romney doesn’t “rule out” a military strike. That’s Obama’s position. He is ‎committed to taking steps. That’s Obama’s position. He also said that “Prime Minister ‎Netanyahu always has to do what he feels is in the best interests of his own nation”. ‎That’s not quite a public commitment to support an Israeli strike on Iran. Romney’s ‎advisor, Dan Senor, made some headlines by supposedly committing the candidate to ‎backing an Israeli strike. But if one reads what Senor really said – not the headlines ‎written by newspaper editors – it doesn’t seem as impressive: If Netanyahu decides to ‎act, namely attack, Romney would “respect that decision” (but yes, this one we didn’t ‎hear from the Obama people – maybe because they are the ones that will have to deal ‎with the consequences?). ‎

The Obama team complained that if Romney believes it is time to scrap diplomacy on ‎Iran he should say so. Surely demanding him to say such thing is a trap that he would ‎not walk into – but one should acknowledge the fact that what Israel is publicly ‎getting from Romney is a lot of feel-good generalities and very few specifics.‎

Hosts

More Israelis would prefer Romney over Obama as the next US president. We see it in ‎polls, and can sense it by talking to people. Israelis are more used to Obama than they ‎were in the past, and are less anxious about him. But still, most believe that an Obama ‎second term would be easy for the Israeli government. And still, many Israelis don’t ‎think Obama is a “friendly” president, no matter how many ceremonies they see in ‎which he gives even more money to bolster Israel’s security. In 2007, 73% of Israelis ‎ranked Bush as “friendly” to Israel; in 2012, 51% of Israelis ranked Obama as ‎‎“friendly” or “very friendly”. Not terrible – but not great. And as one can imagine, ‎right-wing Israelis have more dislike for Obama, while left-wing Israelis would like ‎him reelected (and then they would like him to pick another round of fights with the ‎Netanyahu government).

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