Analysis |

Will Paul Ryan Attract or Alienate Jewish Voters?

Mitt Romney's running mate has consistently sided with Israel on issues ranging from the Palestinian UN independence bid to the Goldstone Gaza report – but some say his policies run against Jewish values.

Natasha Mozgovaya
Natasha Mozgovaya
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Natasha Mozgovaya
Natasha Mozgovaya

In their first joint interview as running mates to CBS' "60 minutes", Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan spoke quite a bit about relations between them, about their economic vision, the vetting process and their plans to "turn America around."

Romney touched briefly on foreign affairs, mentioning Syria, Egypt and Iran: "I'm a policy guy, believe it or not," he said. "I love policy. I love solving tough problems. And we face real challenges around the world, places like Syria, Egypt, Iran. We've got real problems." However, Israel wasn't mentioned in this interview even once.

But if Romney made headlines with his overseas gaffes, Ryan doesn't seem to have any skeletons in his closet – at least when it comes to foreign policy in general, and Israel in particular. During his 14 years in Congress, he hasn’t made any adamant pro-Israel speeches like Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen or Democratic Rep. Howard Berman. But he is considered by the Jewish establishment in Washington to be "a good friend of Israel," supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace through direct talks, rejecting the Palestinian UN bid and voting in line with Israel's interests on issues such as the Gaza Goldstone report and resolutions on Iran.

In 2005, Ryan he visited Israel as part of a delegation hosted by the American Israel Education Foundation - AIPAC's educational and outreach arm. He followed the traditional route: A tour of Israel's vulnerable borders, visits to holy sites and meetings with Israeli politicians.

But despite his record, it is Ryan's budget proposal that may make it difficult for him to become the new "darling" of the U.S. Jewish community (despite making him one of the leading GOP voices on economic policy). Could that be the reason that after just two days of campaigning together, Romney and Ryan parted roads, with Romney off to campaign in Florida and Ryan flying to Iowa?

Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks said in an interview with Haaretz that he would not be too quick to "read too much into it." "We'd like to think that the Jewish community is the center of every decision that a campaign makes - but in reality it's not, there are other events," he said. "Campaigns are very fluid – (Ryan) had an opportunity to go to the Iowa state fair, and I am sure he'll be in Florida extensively in the coming weeks."

Asked about the success of the Republican Jewish Coalition's campaign to highlight testimonies of Jews voters who are disappointed with President Barack Obama, Brooks said it's too early to tell. "Let's have this conversation after the elections," he said. "Am I thrilled about the attention, being on the front page of the New York Times, in the Wall Street Journal, being picked on the major television networks because it's historic what we are doing? I am thrilled about that, but we'll find an actual impact on Election Day."

Both Obama and Ryan happen to be campaigning in Iowa this week. The rules for engagement were clearly outlined in the first speeches: Speaking in Council Bluffs, Obama called Ryan "a good man, a family man, an articulate spokesman for Governor Romney’s vision." He added, however, that "the problem is that vision is one that I fundamentally disagree with."

Jewish Democrats were less diplomatic, with the National Jewish Democratic Council publishing a list of "Ten Things Every American Jew Should Know about Paul Ryan". "Ryan has little - if any - foreign policy or national security experience, yet he pushed for cuts to the foreign aid budget that are strongly opposed by the pro-Israel community," it said. "Also indicative of his inexperience, Ryan had the chutzpah to accuse America's top generals of lying - for which he later apologized," NJDC wrote, referring to March 2012 episode when Ryan, House Budget Committee Chair, said: "I think there is a lot of budget smoke and mirrors in the Pentagon budget which is not really a true, honest and accurate budget." He later admitted he "misspoke".

The NJDC also accused Ryan of voting "at least six times against measures to strengthen Iran sanctions during the 112th Congress simply because those measures were advanced by Democrats", and invoked several other topics that are anathema to liberal Jews - Ryan being anti-choice on abortion, opposing gay marriage, voting against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (the first Congress Act signed by Obama in January 2009, which protects equal pay for women), and his Medicare reform plan ("Ryan wants to replace Medicaid with block grants which would severely impact millions of Americans - including seniors, the disabled, and the poor - who desperately need the basic guarantees offered by Medicaid").

The NJDC concluded: "Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's selection of Ryan to serve as his vice presidential candidate is the clearest indication yet that Romney does not reflect the values of most American Jews," NJDC concluded.

Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for the Atlantic magazine, thinks it's way too early to assume that foreign policy and Israel are off the plate in this race. According to Goldberg, "The Middle East has a way of forcing itself onto America, and into American politics, no matter what the politicians might prefer. Even if Israel doesn't strike Iran before November - and people here are taking seriously the noises coming out of Jerusalem these past few days - I think this issue doesn't fade away."

Meanwhile, the Democrats continued on Monday to shadow Romney's campaign with their "Middle Class under the Bus” tour in Florida. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz slammed Ryan, saying that "Florida apparently being a no-fly zone" for him. In a letter to Obama campaign supporters, Wasserman Schultz depicted Ryan in the White House as "a nightmare for the middle class."

Ryan introduces his budget recommendations in April 2012. Credit: AP



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