Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney plans to tell the the Republican Jewish Coalition on Wednesday that his first foreign trip will be to Israel and vow to prevent Iranian leaders from acquiring the capability to produce a nuclear weapon.
“I will reaffirm as a vital national interest Israel’s existence as a Jewish state,” Mr. Romney will say, according to excerpts of his remarks blasted out to reporters. “I want the world to know that the bonds between Israel and the United States are unshakable. I want every country in the region that harbors aggressive designs against Israel to understand their quest is futile and that continuing it will cost them dearly.”
The remarks clash with defenders of the administration, who say that while President Obama may have gotten off on the wrong foot with Israel, he has perhaps done more for Israel than any other president at a time in which its security threats continue to grow.
With the exception of Rep. Ron Paul, Mr. Romney is scheduled to join his rivals for the GOP nomination in Washington for the RJC’s Republican Presidential Candidates forum.
The RJC snubbed Mr. Paul because they disagree with his foreign policy stances regarding Israel and Iran. The Texas congressman has called for an end to all foreign assistance, including the billions sent annually to Israel, and pushed back against those who are eager to adopt additional sanctions or pursue military action against Iran to deter it from getting a nuclear weapon.
“Why do we have this automatic commitment that we’re going to send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel?” Mr. Paul said in a recent Republican presidential debate. “I think they’re quite capable of taking care of themselves.”
Mr. Paul’s views don’t mesh with the rest of the field, which has fawned over the importance of Israel, the nation’s biggest ally in the Middle East, and criticized Mr. Obama’s approach toward the nation.
The RJC event comes days after Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said that Israel is partly to blame for its isolation in the region and must take bold diplomatic steps to fix its ties with its Arab neighbors and to resolve its historic territorial dispute with the Palestinians. It also follows the recent dust-up over the reported — and disputed — remarks of Howard Gutnam, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium.
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday that Mr. Guatnam told an audience at a Jewish conference on anti-Semitism that a “distinction should be made between traditional anti-Semitism, which should be condemned, and Muslim hatred for Jews, which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Since many observers have challenged the report, arguing that it didn’t match the remarks Mr. Gutnam delivered. They point to the official transcript of the speech as proof he was misquoted.
Still, Matthew Brooks, RJC’s executive director, recently described the reported remarks as “outrageous” and suggested they were part of a pattern in which the Obama administration tries to blame Israel “for the unrest and instability in the Middle East.”
Mr. Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — the two front-runners in the GOP presidential field — and Texas Gov. Rick Perry also pounced, arguing that is time for the ambassador to go.
Republicans are hoping to make deeper inroads within Jewish communities, following Republican Bob Turner’s defeat of Democrat Dave Weprin in the special election for the House seat held by former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner. Some political observers read the result as a referendum against the way the Obama administration has approached Israel — especially given Orthodox Jewish makeup of the congressional district.
With that as a backdrop, Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, plans to criticize Mr. Obama more in his speech Wednesday, saying that during the past three years he has “chastised our friend and ally,” hurt the Arab-Israel peace process and been “weak in the face of the existential threat of a nuclear Iran.”
“These actions have emboldened Palestinian hard-liners who now are poised to form a unity government with terrorist Hamas and feel they can bypass Israel at the bargaining table. President Obama has immeasurably set back the prospect of peace in the Middle East,” he says in his prepared remarks, while assuring the audience that he would not meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who should be “be indicted for the crime of incitement to genocide under Article III of the Genocide Convention.”
“The ayatollahs will not be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons on my watch,” he plans to say. “A nuclear-armed Iran is not only an Israel problem, it is problem for the United States and all the decent countries of the world. Our friends should never fear that we will not stand by them in an hour of need. Our enemies should never doubt our resolve.”