Comments have been circulating, accusing Mitt Romney of ‘disrespect’ and poor choice in selecting Tisha Be’Av, a day of national Jewish mourning over the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, for his photo-op tour of the Jewish State. Frankly, I personally can’t think of a better day for him to visit.
There are longstanding norms against a presidential contender criticizing a sitting president while abroad, but Romney was free to put forward his own positions on foreign policy, which he has done both directly and indirectly through surrogates, diplomatic innuendo and overt symbolism.
Among the most pivotal criticisms of President Obama’s Israel policy is his emphasizing of the Arab narrative regarding the Jewish connection to the Holy Land, which they claim began following the Holocaust.
“America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known…..It is based upon….the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied. Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust,” said Obama in Cairo in 2009. The next stop on his itinerary was concentration camp, Buchenwald, not Israel.
Mitt Romney however, opened his remarks in Israel by saying, “To step foot into Israel is to step foot into a nation that began with an ancient promise made in this land.” He continued, “It’s remarkable to consider how much adversity, over so great a span of time, is recalled by just one day on the calendar.”
The difference is subtle but clear, Obama’s recollection of Jewish history is focused on the Holocaust and perhaps the relatively recent persecution of European Jewry. Romney’s recognition of Tisha Be’Av’s historical context as an ancient day in the Jewish calendar that remembers millennia of Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem, and aspiration for the city’s rebuilding, is integral.
By choosing to make the 9th of Av the center point of his trip to Israel, Romney has fundamentally contrasted himself with Obama by underlining the Jewish narrative which states that, the Jewish claim to Jerusalem and Israel predates the Holocaust by thousands of years.
Additionally the hullabaloo over Romney’s Jerusalem fundraiser breakfast that was initially thought to be scheduled on Tisha Be’Av itself was a golden gift egg to the Jewish people.
The day of all days in the Jewish calendar that embodies the historic Jewish claim to Jerusalem and Israel has never received so much mainstream media attention. I don’t recall in my lifetime seeing headlines on CNN, The Huffington Post, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and many other major outlets around the world mentioning the holiday.
Romney’s speech to the Jerusalem Foundation was also riddled with other intrinsic contrasts between himself and President Obama on attitudes toward Israel. Including by not limited to:
- His confirmation of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel. “It is a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel,” he said. The Obama administration has consistently rejected this position.
- He affirmed the basis of the United States’ special relationship with Israel as one based on both interests and shared values, saying, “I believe that the enduring alliance between the State of Israel and the United States of America is more than a strategic alliance: it is a force for good in the world.” The White House today appears to be focused on an interest based equation.
- Romney expressed respect for Israel’s independence as a sovereign nation, answerable in its government’s decisions only to its citizens. “We recognize Israel’s right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you,” said the former Governor.
- In an unprecedented move, he expressed support for Israel’s struggle in the new age battleground of ideas. “And standing by Israel does not mean with military and intelligence cooperation alone. We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel, voice their criticisms,” said Romney.
Overall, the trip highlighted fundamental contrasts between what a Romney administration would mean for Israel versus what Israelis are faced with today. His advisers who guided the path he has taken should be commended.
Now it is up to America to choose.