With the soft light of twilight from the setting sun caressing the Tower of David and the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem in the background, U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made reference to freedom of expression in Israel. Those seeking harsh criticism of Israel, he noted, need not look abroad. Israel's own media is happy to oblige.
Romney's "captive audience," the vast majority of whom were American citizens who, according to Haaretz, were carefully hand-picked, nodded in agreement. To put it mildly, they too don't like those who slander Israel. Like most Americans, naive as they may be, they look for what's good and positive and optimistic in Israel. Most of all, however, they believe in the justice of the Israeli cause and in the future of their old-new homeland. That's the profile of most of these people, including those who were not hand-picked.
The audience derived great satisfaction from Romney's generous praise of Israel. Finally, a high-ranking figure has emphasized the beauty of Israel without reservation, and has demonstrated his knowledge of the history of the Jewish people. (Even the Israeli president and prime minister don't talk about Israel in such glowing terms. ) And yes, it was actually because the audience members knew that this was a campaign speech directed at the American public that they took such delight.
When a presidential candidate addresses the voters at such a critical stage in the election campaign with such an enthusiastically Zionist speech, it is clear he believes that this stance is accepted by the majority of the American electorate. Because if that were not the case, he would have spoken differently, in a more "balanced" manner. In fact, it was Romney's praise of this country, more than his policy statements (such as saying that containment of a nuclear option is not an option ), that spurred the audience to give him repeated standing ovations. The crowd was brought to its feet even though most of the people in attendance were drained by the heat and a rare spell of Jerusalem summer humidity on the eve of the long Tisha B'Av fast.
And even though they immigrated to Israel from the land of limitless opportunities, and even though they deal - as every Israeli does - with the negative and sometimes ugly and impossible side of Israel, they are proud of the country, for better and for worse. They are fulfilling a dream of generations and are optimistic about the future. A woman sitting next to me asked why Israeli leaders don't express such uplifting thoughts. Why, she asked, is it only American presidents or candidates for president that dare say "God bless Israel" along with "God bless America?
The Israeli media does not like Mitt Romney. Even worse, however, it denigrates him. Senior reporters, particularly those who had been stationed in the United States, step into line with their colleagues, taking their cues from the American media, and favor President Obama; and both freely enumerate Romney's shortcomings. They say he's conservative, unsophisticated, fundamentalist (for saying, for example, that for him, "Jerusalem and Israel are places of divine significance" ), and he's a Republican.
And his greatest failing of all: he is incurably pro-Israel. He threatens Iran as if he were Benjamin Netanyahu and, report journalists accusingly, he makes irresponsible promises to Israel that will only encourage its aggression. The media also managed to disparage the audience that gathered in Romney's honor as conservative, simplistic, supportive of Netanyahu, and religious.
I'm convinced that these simpletons, who don't constantly speak ill of the country, represent the real Israel. They know with whom they are dealing. Despite all the problems, some nearly insoluble, and whoever their leaders may be, most of the people are proud of their country, believe in the justice of its cause and its future, and believe that its bad side - about which they hear constantly - is far outweighed by the good.
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