Speaking to an often-cheering group of about 400 people in Jerusalem, Governor Mitt Romney gave a speech less notable for what he said than for the fact that the audience believed he was sincere in saying it.
At a beautiful outdoor setting with the Old City in the background, Romney declared his strong support for Israel, using phrases often heard from American presidents. He also proclaimed his view that Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital. The difference between the two presidential candidates, of course, is that those Israelis listening to both of them are less inclined to think that when President Barack Obama said similar things to AIPAC meetings he was describing what he thinks and intends to do.
Clearly, Romney was restrained by the American principle that partisan politics stops at the water’s edge, the view that no politician should criticize a president or U.S. government while abroad. Thus, Obama’s name—or even his specific policies—was never explicitly mentioned.
What Romney did do, however, was to scatter among the assertions of U.S. support for Israel’s security and a strong belief in a U.S.-Israel alliance some subtle references that many viewers and much of the mass media are likely to miss. Here are the key ones, which give some hints about Romney’s future campaign and possibly his presidency:
–Not allergic to Israel’s center-right. Romney quoted former Prime Minister Menahem Begin twice and referred to “my friend, Bibi Netanyahu.” Obama wouldn’t have cited either man and is known to loathe Netanyahu. Romney and Netanyahu have known each other for years. The Begin quotes were significant: that Israel will never again let its independence be destroyed (a reference perhaps to Israel’s need not to be completely subservient to America’s current president) and that if people say they want to destroy you then believe them (an explicit reference to Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons).
On the other hand, however, Romney should have quoted Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, or someone else to balance things off. Romney should not mirror Obama’s approach of choosing one sector of Israeli politics to cultivate. And since there is a broad Israeli national consensus on “foreign policy” this would not be at all hard to do.
–“The reality of hate.” This phrase used by Romney struck me as very significant. It occurred in the context of speaking about how many Arab and Muslim forces feel about Israel. It shows that he is aware that the desire to destroy and injure Israel goes beyond pragmatic considerations and is not something people will be talked out of trying to do. It is enormously important for an American president to understand that there are those in the Middle East who hate the United States and Israel and that it is impossible to appease or befriend them.