Romney In Israel: How High To Jump?

Jul 30 2012 @ 12:54pm

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Haaretz's Barak Ravid goes over the speech:

The speech itself sounded as if it could have been written by Netanyahu's bureau. So it's no surprise that when the two met later for dinner, Netanyahu thanked him for his "support for Israel and Jerusalem." In general, Netanyahu embraced Romney as no Israeli prime minister has ever before embraced a candidate running against an incumbent U.S. president: Aside from their working meeting in the morning, Netanyahu also hosted Romney and his wife and sons for dinner at his official residence.

The crowd told you everything you need to know:

Religious American immigrants dominated the crowd; secular Jews and native-born Israelis were few and far between. Those present included Jewish-American millionaires, settler leaders like the former chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements Israel Harel, and former Netanyahu aides such as Dore Gold, Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Yoaz Hendel.

Settlers and religious fanatics: it's striking how the entire foreign policy position of the GOP in the Middle East has essentially been out-sourced to the Likud. The reasons for that, one senses, are multiple. The most powerful way that Romney can win over the religious right, given his past wobbliness on such issues as abortion and gay equality, is to back the Likud and its associated religious parties in their twin goals: permanent occupation of the West Bank and a war against Iran. That's what the Christianists passionately believe in. Moreover, adopting wholesale the Israeli position – that Iran cannot enrich uranium even for peaceful and inspected purposes – is tantamount to declaring war, either by Israel or the US. In office, how will Romney not back Netanyahu in whatever he wants? And not because he has made an assessment of the realities of America's interests in the region, but because any daylight between Romney and Netanyahu would produce a revolt among the pro-settler, end-times Christianist right that now runs the GOP. 

Notice how often Romney cited "providence" for Israel's establishment and prosperity. Notice how for Romney, there is no more glowing characteristic of a nation than its economic wealth (a sign of its holiness). Note how the democratic revolutions in the Arab world, wished-for by Bush, encouraged by Obama, are now dark forces for Romney, because they might elevate Islamism in the Middle East in the short or medium term, and if you are Israel (but not necessarily America) that must be countered immediately.

I honestly don't know whether Romney in office would follow the logic of this long campaign – he spoke platitudes about "a two-state solution" which his chief funder, billionaire fanatic Sheldon Adelson, has contempt for. But I do think his cartoonishly neocon posture in the Middle East is a huge liability and makes a return to Bush-Cheney global polarization more likely. Then there's the tone-deaf issue:

Mitt Romney told Jewish donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians, outraging Palestinian leaders who suggested his comments were racist and out of touch with the realities of the Middle East…

"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," said Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people," Erekat added. "He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority."

More pro-Israel than many Israelis; and too jejune to know you keep these sentiments quiet. Frum applauds the speech and says it helps Obama, because Romney was acting "as 'bad cop' to the administration's 'good cop,' intensifying pressure on the Iranian regime to do a deal now—before the next administration offers yet tougher terms." Oookaay. What strikes me as more significant is that Romney is the first presidential candidate not to endorse a two-state solution along 1967 lines with land-swaps. That's a huge victory for the Israeli far right.

Shifting focus, Goldblog calls the timing of Romney's photo-op at the Western Wall "vulgar". Beinart elaborates:

In his Jerusalem speech, Romney went on to insist that "we cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel voice their criticisms. And we certainly should not join in that criticism." But Tisha B’Av [the fast day that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples] is all about the importance of criticizing Jewish behavior; that’s why, on the Sabbath before it, we read a portion of the Torah in which Moses rebukes the Jewish people before they enter the land of Israel. Obviously, some criticism truly is destructive and unfair. But to use Tisha B’Av to suggest that the country that most clearly wishes Israel well—the United States—should never publicly disagree with Israel’s actions isn’t just bad foreign policy. It’s bad Judaism.

Relatedly, Juan Cole lists the "Top Ten Most Distasteful things about Romney Trip to Israel." One obvious one:

It is distasteful the Romney will not commit to a two-state solution within 1967 borders or demand Israel cease illegal squatting on and unilateral annexation of Palestinian land. If he is going to this Middle East hot spot, why doesn’t he visit a Palestinian refugee camp so as to understand the nub of the dispute, instead of hobnobbing with the uber-rich in Jerusalem.

Because understanding the nub of the dispute would mean empathizing with Muslim Arabs and getting outside his comfort zone. Romney, alas, can barely empathize with his own dog.

(Photo: US gaming tycoon Sheldon Adelson arrives to hear Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivers foreign policy remarks on July 29, 2012 in Jerusalem, Israel. Romney is in Israel as part of a three-nation foreign diplomatic tour which also includes visits to Poland and Great Britain. By Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images.)