JERUSALEM – After a verbal stumble in London that offended his British hosts, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney heads to Israel today, hoping to present himself to American voters as a candidate more in tune than President Obama with Israels concerns and needs.
Although he will likely get a warm reception from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose differences with Obama have been highly publicized, the tricky terrain of Middle East politics means that Romney – like any only White House hopeful – will have to choose his public words carefully.
In an interview published on the front page of the prominent Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Friday, Romney suggested that if elected, he would take care to maintain a unified front with Israel, a key U.S. ally.
I believe that with regards to our allies, we are always wiser to lock arms and to stand as one for the world to see, Romney said. There will be, of course, times of disagreement and disparity in our respective interests – but those we are best in keeping to ourselves, in private.
Romneys remark touched on a perception here – at the highest levels of government and among many ordinary Israelis – that the Obama administration has put too much distance between its stances and those of its strategic partner in the Middle East.
Romneys goal is to send a reassuring message to voters back home – particularly American Jews and pro-Israel Christian conservatives who have been wary of throwing their support behind him – that he will be different.
Along with meetings with Israeli leaders, Romney plans a fundraiser, the first such event held in Israel for a candidate in a U.S. presidential campaign.
At $50,000 a couple, the breakfast event at Jerusalems King David Hotel is expected to include active American Jewish supporters, some with part-time residences in Israel, as well as local backers.
Despite his cool relationship with the incumbent in the White House, Netanyahu has studiously avoided taking sides ahead of Romneys visit, refusing in recent interviews on two U.S. television networks to be drawn into any evaluation of the visiting candidate.
I will receive Mitt Romney with the same openness that I received another presidential candidate, then-Senator Barack Obama, when he came almost four years ago, almost the same time in the campaign, to Israel, Netanyahu told Fox News on Sunday this week.
He said Israel enjoys bipartisan support, both Democrats and Republicans, and we extend bipartisan hospitality to both Democrats and Republicans.