Romney's staff picked the 150 guests carefully. Religious American immigrants dominated the crowd; secular Jews and native-born Israelis were few and far between. Those present included Jewish-American millionaires, settler leaders like the former chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements Israel Harel, and former Netanyahu aides such as Dore Gold, Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Yoaz Hendel.
The best places at the center of the first row were given, as expected, to Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. The casino magnate and owners of the Yisrael Hayom newspaper is considered one of the strongest supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The $100 million that Adelson pledged to donate to Romney in order to get Obama out of the White House is the oil in the wheels of Romney's election campaign.
Romney gave his speech in Jerusalem's Mishkenot Sha'ananim at sunset, with the walls of Jerusalem's Old City behind him. Jerusalem's Mayor, Nir Barkat, who greeted Romney, was involved no less than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in helping Romney's staff organize the event.
Over the past several days, senior Republicans have also attacked the White House for its refusal to say that Jerusalem is Israel's capital. Romney, too, attacked Obama on this point, a sensitive one for many American Jews. "It is a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel," he said.
But it's easy to say such things as a candidate. Like others before him, Romney may well adopt a different tone if and when he is elected.
Romney read his speech from two teleprompters that were placed opposite the stage, but compared to Obama, Romney seemed gray and uncharismatic. Even from this hand-picked, extremely friendly audience, he wasn't able to extract thunderous applause.
The speech itself sounded as if it could have been written by Netanyahu's bureau. So it's no surprise that when the two met later for dinner, Netanyahu thanked him for his "support for Israel and Jerusalem."
In general, Netanyahu embraced Romney as no Israeli prime minister has ever before embraced a candidate running against an incumbent U.S. president: Aside from their working meeting in the morning, Netanyahu also hosted Romney and his wife and sons for dinner at his official residence.
Romney's entire visit to Israel was born in the Prime Minister's Office. According to Tablet Magazine, those who cooked up the visit over breakfasts at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem a month ago were Romney's adviser Dan Senor and Netanyahu's adviser, Ron Dermer, who himself hails from a Republican family in Miami.
The two clandestinely planned the visit in order to preempt Barak Obama visiting Israel before the Republican candidate. Senor and Dermer decided to give the scoop on the visit to the New York Times.
Romney opened with Netanyahu's favorite subject commenting on the rise of the Jewish people after the Holocaust, continuing with Israel and the United States' common values, mentioning the 40th anniversary of the murder of the 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, talked about the terrorist attack at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem a decade ago, which took the life of Israeli and American students, as well as, lauding Israeli innovation and its thriving economy. Apparently, in his in-flight briefing, Romney wasn't briefed on Israel's social protest.
Despite this, during his whole day of meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Peres, and Opposition Leader Mofaz, he didn't commit himself to on attack on Iran's nuclear program if elected to the presidency. The most his advisor Senor was willing to say was that if Israel attacked Iran, Romney would respect that decision.
This didn't stop Romney from implying that Obama is being naive about Iran's nuclear program. "When Iran's leaders deny the Holocaust or speak of wiping this nation off the map, only the naive ¬ or worse ¬ will dismiss it as an excess of rhetoric," he said. "Make no mistake: The ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defenses. They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way. My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away ... We have seen the horrors of history. We will not stand by. We will not watch them play out again."
Nevertheless, at no point during his visit did Romney promise that if elected, he would attack Iran's nuclear facilities. The most he would say about military action against Iran recalled Obama's position: "In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. We recognize Israel's right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you."
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney promised to honor the U.S. rules of the game by not attacking President Barack Obama while out of the country, and he indeed never mentioned Obama by name. But it was impossible to mistake the target of his criticisms: The incumbent president, he implied in his speech in Jerusalem last night, has bolstered Israel's enemies.
"Standing by Israel does not mean with military and intelligence cooperation alone," he said in his address at Mishkenot Sha'ananim. "We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel voice their criticisms. And we certainly should not join in that criticism. Diplomatic distance in public between our nations emboldens Israel's adversaries."
Those words were clearly aimed at the repeated public confrontations between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the building In the settlements and the freeze in settlement expansion.
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