A Tale of Two Trips

— by Elizabeth Leibowitz

Perhaps the most interesting moment in Monday’s presidential debate was one of President Obama’s best lines of the night:

…when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn’t take donors, I didn’t attend fundraisers, I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.” He continued, saying, “I went down to the border towns of Sderot … I saw families there who showed me where missiles had come down near their children’s bedrooms, and I was reminded of … what that would mean if those were my kids, which is why, as president, we funded an Iron Dome program to stop those missiles.

Now, let me begin by saying that I know Romney visited Yad Vashem in 2007 and traveled to Sderot in 2011. But when the details of the two men’s trips to Israel as presidential candidates are contrasted and evaluated for who was more “presidential,” only one individual fits the bill.

President Obama visited Israel during his 2008 presidential campaign and met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, President Shimon Peres, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and – unlike Governor Mitt Romney – with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. He traveled to Sderot, where he talked with families who faced the daily fear of Palestinian rocket fire. He visited Yad Vashem, where he laid a wreath on a tomb that contains ashes from Nazi extermination camps. Obama’s trip to Israel greatly affected his actions once in office, prompting him to provide record aid to Israel, restore the country’s Qualitative Military Edge, fund the Iron Dome missile defense system, and more.

Governor Romney had quite a different trip as a candidate. He did meet with Peres, Netanyahu, and various other Israeli leaders — though he opted to cancel his meeting with the Labor Party’s Shelly Yachimovich. He chose to only meet with Fayyad, selecting to return to Jerusalem on the eve of Tisha B’Av to focus on his speech as well as his $50,000-a-plate fundraiser. Standing in front of his supporters, Romney spoke broadly about his stances on the Middle East, all the while dishing out subtle jabs at the President and breaking the “politics stop at the water’s edge” protocol. The next day, he managed to stretch U.S.-Palestinian relations even further when he chalked up the difference between Israeli and Palestinian economies to “culture.” During Romney’s August 2012 trip as a candidate, there was no trip to Sderot, no visit to Yad Vashem, and no conversations with average Israelis about their hopes for the future. Instead, his trip to Israel served a political purpose.

There is only one candidate in the 2012 race whose trip to Israel was presidential and whose actions afterward were presidential-President Barack Obama.

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