For Romney, Israel is a film set to impress Christian voters
“You are good,” the smartly dressed organiser at Mitt Romney’s Jerusalem breakfast told guests on Monday morning as she let them in. What this meant was: you were one of the select few invited to the function; you hold an American passport; and you have paid $25,000 for your seat.
But despite these limiting criteria, his breakfast with the 47 people who entered the banqueting room at the King David Hotel, mostly American expats who have relocated to Israel, was the closest that Mr Romney came to interacting with normal Israelis.
This was in stark contrast to Barack Obama’s campaign trip in 2008 before he became President. He travelled to Sderot especially to meet locals. I remember speaking to residents who showed him rocket damage in their homes, and briefly shared their stories with him. Mr Obama also visited Yad Vashem, another site outside Mr Romney’s political sphere, and one that he omitted visiting.
The scheduling differences stem from the gulf between the ideologies and personalities of the two men and partly from changing times.
Mr Obama wanted to be seen as the man who could understand the hopes and worries of the Israeli and Palestinian publics, and who would accommodate these in the peace he hoped to advance. Mr Romney is less enthusiastic than Mr Obama was about an Israeli-Palestinian peace process and, using Israel as something akin to a film location to impress right-wing, pro-Israel Christians back home, has no desire to flag up support for one.
Conveniently for him, the Iran issue has overtaken the Palestinian issue on the main stage of Israel-American relations.
In Mr Romney’s mind-set, meeting the Israeli public, or even visiting Yad Vashem, was pretty irrelevant. As he indicated in his speeches, he knows all too well that Jews have a history of persecution which included the Holocaust, and fear that Iran will make history repeat itself. He sees Iran as an existential threat to Israel and saw no need to ask people if they want to exist.
But as for these comments of his on Iran, as well as his promise to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem, it is unclear how much he will stick to what he said if he is elected. After all, the peace proposed during Mr Obama’s 2008 trip has still not arrived.