Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney arrived in Israel on Saturday night. Arriving on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, the day on which Jews fast and commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and other historical calamities, Romney’s visit was imbued with much symbolism.
Before meeting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday morning, Romney visited the Western Wall, the last remaining outer wall of the Temple complex. There, he placed a note in between the stone cracks, according to the well-known tradition. Accompanied by the rabbi of the Kotel, Romney prayed and expressed sadness at the Temple’s destruction. “I feel the pain of the destruction undergone by the Jewish people – the special nation as it was in the past – and I pray and hope for peace for the nation of Israel and the entire world." His wife Ann even chose to fast on the 9th of Av.
Prime Minister Netanyahu along with his wife Sarah, hosted Mitt and Ann at their official residence. Netanyahu gave Mitt a warm embrace befitting an old friend and thanked him for his clear stance against Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. During his meeting with Netanyahu, Romney said, "We have a relationship between our nations which spans many years, and at the same time, is one based not just upon mutual interests, but also shared values. Your perspectives with regards to Iran and its effort to become a nuclear-capable nation are ones which I take with great seriousness and look forward to chatting with you about further actions that we can take to dissuade Iran from their nuclear folly."
Netanyahu replied, "Governor Romney, Mitt, it's a pleasure to welcome you here. I have to say that I heard some of your remarks a few days ago — you said that the greatest danger facing the world is of the Ayatollah regime possessing nuclear weapons capability. Mitt, I couldn't agree with you more, and I think it's important to do everything in our power to prevent the ayatollahs from possessing the capability. We have to be honest and say that all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota. And that's why I believe that we need a strong and credible military threat, coupled with the sanctions, to have a chance to change that situation."
Following the meeting, Romney delivered a major foreign policy address from Jerusalem’s Mishknenot Sheananim neighbourhood. In this speech, Romney tried to distinguish himself from president Obama regarding his relationship with Israel. He opened his speech by saying that “to set foot into Israel is to set foot into a nation that began with an ancient promise made in this land.” Referring the Jewish people’s ancient biblical connections to the Land of Israel, he sought to contrast himself with Obama’s claims in Cairo that the State of Israel stems from the Holocaust. Obama was heavily criticized in Israel following his Cairo speech for seemingly ignoring the millennia of Jewish history in the Land of Israel.
To thunderous applause, Romney recognized matter-of-factly that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. While Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since independence, most foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv. In this respect also, Romney also set himself apart from Obama who refuses to even admit that Israel has a capital. Romney’s remarks came a few days after White House spokesperson Jay Carney evaded a question asked by a reporter over which city the United States considers Israel’s capital.
Romney praised the shared values that united Israel and the United States, such as democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights and dignity. Rejecting any so-called daylight that Obama has aimed to between the US and Israel, Romney said: “Our two nations are separated by more than 5,000 miles. But for an American abroad, you can’t get much closer to the ideals and convictions of my own country than you do in Israel. We’re part of the great fellowship of democracies. We speak the same language of freedom and justice, and the right of every person to live in peace. We serve the same cause and provoke the same hatreds in the same enemies of civilization.”
On Iran, Romney took a strong position, arguing that the US has a “solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions.” Speaking to international passivity or complicity in the genocide of European Jewry in the 1940s, Romney vowed that the US would not let the Iran’s ayatollahs attain nuclear weapons. “When Iran’s leaders deny the Holocaust or speak of wiping this nation off the map, only the naïve — or worse — will dismiss it as an excess of rhetoric. Make no mistake: the ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defenses. They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way.” Romney stated that preventing Iran’s nuclearization would be his primary security policy.
Romney demonstrated a good grasp of Israel’s security predicament, something which critics of Obama have claimed the president does not fully appreciate. He spoke of the civil war in Syria and of Hezbollah’s domination of Lebanon. He also sounded a note of caution over the election of Islamist Mursi as president of Egypt, mentioning the new terrorist threat emanating from the Sinai and saying that the “international community must use its considerable influence to ensure that the new government honors the peace agreement with Israel that was signed by the government of Anwar Sadat.” In an ever changing region, “America’s vocal and demonstrated commitment to the defense of Israel is even more critical.”
After his speech, Romney met with Israeli president Shimon Peres and then returned to Netanyahu’s residence to break the fast with him and his family. Romney left Israel on Monday morning for Poland.
Activists for imprisoned Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard held a loud and visible demonstration in front of the King David Hotel, where Romney held a meeting for supporters. They held large signs of American officials who support Pollard’s release and called for his freedom. Many in Israel have expressed dismay at Obama’s complete refusal to deal with the issue despite Pollard having received a punishment disproportionately harsher than those who spied for American enemies. Adi Ginzburg, the head of the Committee for Jonathan Pollard, said that their goal was to “use the opportunity of Romney’s visit to highlight the numerous calls for top American officials, from both parties, calling for Pollard’s release. After 27 years, it is clear that there has been a fundamental miscarriage of justice and it is time for this sad episode to come to an end.”