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January 18, 2012 11:11 am

RJC: Running with Romney

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Mitt Romney. Photo: wiki commons.

Mitt Romney has pledged he would reaffirm Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. “I want the world to know that the bonds between Israel and the United States are unshakable,” Romney said at the Republican Jewish Coalition Forum. “I want every country in the region that harbors aggressive designs against Israel to understand that their ambition is futile and that pursuing it will cost them dearly.”

Despite the virtually unified attack launched on stage by his four opponents and on the airwaves by anti Romney PAC’s, Mitt Romney stood tall among his Republican rivals following the South Carolina debate. Days before the state’s primary, Romney was clearly the “guy to get.”  He, on the other hand, seemed to be running against President Obama rather than the other four remaining candidates – former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Romney came to the debate with a (possible) first place in the 2012 Iowa caucus and a strong New Hampshire primary victory.  3,000 Republicans came to the Convention Center in Myrtle Beach South Carolina Monday to watch the Republican presidential candidates’ debate.  The audience cheered, they jeered, gave an unprecedented standing ovation (for Newt Gingrich) and generally made it’s opinions clear.

Romney already holds considerable advantages in South Carolina.  It is in Florida, the next primary state, that his position with Jews who vote will be seriously vetted.  In the South Carolina, the Middle East and Israel had little mention – a situation likely to change in Florida.

In the days immediately preceding the South Carolina debate, former Gov. Mitt Romney spoke at a rally at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla.  He assured that largely Jewish audience that his support for US “allies like Israel” would “be unwavering.” His criticisms of President Obama’s actions were sharp. “This president has found it pretty sensible to be critical of our friends.” said Romney.  “It is unacceptable to be critical of our friends…we will stand with our friends.”

When Republican candidates speak to American voters who happen to be Jewish, and make promises to protect and support Israel, many in the Arab world are not happy. Arab media has heaped harsh criticism on what they term the “Israel Lobby,” often mirroring classic anti-Semitic blood libels (think “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”) Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney has made his position vis a vis Israel simple and clear: During his Manchester, New Hampshire victory speech, ‘I will insist on a military so powerful no one would ever think of challenging it. He (President Obama) criticizes our friends like Israel; I will always stand with our friends.”

Romney states that he will follow Israel’s lead rather than force American direction.  About Bibi Netanyahu he says “We worked together at Boston Consulting Group. And the last thing Bibi Netanyahu needs to have is not just a person who’s a historian, but somebody who is also running for president of the United States, stand up and say things that create extraordinary tumult in- in his neighborhood.”

Says Romney “And (when) I’m president of the United States, I will exercise sobriety, care, stability,” he continued. “Before I made a statement… I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say, ‘Would it help if I said this? What would you like me to do? Let’s work together, because we’re partners.’ I’m not a bomb thrower, rhetorically or literally.”

“The United States of America should not jump ahead of Bibi Netanyahu and say something that makes it more difficult for him to do his job,” he said. “My view is this: We stand with the Israeli people. We link arms with them. If we disagree with them, like this president has time and time again, we don’t do it in public like he’s done it, we do it in private. And we let the Israeli leadership describe what they believe the right course is going forward.”

At the Republican Jewish Committee meetings in December, the former Governor restated his promise to travel to Israel on his first presidential foreign trip, “I will reaffirm as a vital national interest Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. I want the world to know that the bonds between Israel and the United States are unshakable. I want every country in the region that harbors aggressive designs against Israel to understand that their ambition is futile and that pursuing it will cost them dearly.”

Does Romney’s Mormon faith influence his positions?

He is a church leader who, by doctrine, considers himself to be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (“Israel”).  Mormons claim Manasseh and Ephraim as their ancestors.  The official position of the LDS Church is that those who accept Mormonism are of the tribe of Joseph.

The Book of Mormon, states that its purpose is “the convincing of the Jew and the Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.” However, it contains a specific condemnation of anti-Semitism:

“Yea, and ye need not any longer hiss, nor spurn, nor make game of the Jews, nor of any remnant of the house of Israel; for behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto them, and he will do unto them according to that which he hath sworn.”3 Nephi 29:8

The Church of the Latter Day Saints – LDS – says it fosters peaceful coexistence with the Jewish people – Israelites who simply never lost the knowledge that they are Israelites. The Church is phyla-Semitic by doctrine, and the Jewish people are generally held in high esteem; they are looked upon as a covenant people of God.  Mormons are generally but not exclusively, pro-Israel. Mormons, (as well as many Jews) favor peaceful coexistence between Jewish and non-Jewish (Muslim and/or Christian) Arabs, who the LDS Church considers to be children of Abraham.  Although The Book of Mormon admonishes those who identify with Judaism to repent and accept Jesus Chris, it also emphasizes that the Jewish people remain the Lord’s chosen with whom he has made a covenant.

Both Jews and Mormons define themselves as “chosen” to fulfill G-d’s prophesies and both communities’ have a history of suffering for their faith.  According to one political midrash, David Ben-Gurion, is reported to have told future LDS President Ezra Taft Benson “There are no people in the world who understand Jews like the Mormons do.”

In Texas, Romney has active support from such Jewish leaders as Fred Zeitman, and his son, Jay, backers since 2006.  The elder Zeitman is an active Republican Party leader and has served as chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Zeitman “believe(s) that (Romney’s) the man who can beat Barack Obama.”  Interviewed with his father, Jay called the Romney campaign a “well-oiled machine.”

“Romney’s campaign is representative of how he’ll run this country. His people are dedicated; they believe in him and his policies,” said Jay Zeitman who is working on young professional engagement for the Romney campaign. “There’s a huge opportunity for Republicans and for Mitt Romney, the nominee, to capitalize on the American Jewish vote.

Romney’s Jewish support has been estimated at 34%, (according to Pollster Fred Rosner) higher than that achieved by Ronald Regan (30%).  Further, the Republican Jewish Coalition’s growth over the past decade – numbering some 45,000 paid members – indicates stronger Jewish presence in the GOP. “We now have a seat at the table, which we never did before,” said Fred Zeitman.

When Romney accused President Obama of “throwing Israel under the bus” when the president demanded that Israel accept the1967 lines, with land swaps, as a starting point for negotiations, and said he was “not being tough enough on Iran” he found many receptive ears in the Jewish community.

If those words and his campaign presentations continue to ring true, Romney is on his way to winning four straight primaries including the January 31a Florida event where the Jewish vote should have a significant effect.  Jacques Berlinerblau, a professor of Jewish civilization and an expert in religion and politics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. told the Jewish week that “Of the entire field, Romney has the greatest upside among Jewish voters,” said “Of the remaining Republican field, he is the one Jews feel most comfortable with – he’s kind of heimish.”

Romney had a head start with Jewish voters, based on his work four years ago.  Relationships he initiated with Jewish Republicans in 2008 are providing him with a strong base for 2012.  Fred Zeidman, says “If you take a look at every major Jewish fundraiser, we’ve all been with Romney since day one, and we’re doing more and more to expose him to the Jewish community,” he said. “Just look at the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition — we’re all there.”

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