Romney, Obama spar over U.S.-Israel relations

Mitt Romney’s stumbles over the nation’s “special relationship” with Great Britain aside, it’s the American relationship with Israel that’s fueling a lot of the fire this week between the presidential campaigns.

Romney will be in Israel on Sunday to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Kadima Party Leader Shaul Mofaz, and Labor Party Leaders Shelly Yachimovich and Isaac Herzog. The Republican candidate, speaking this past Tuesday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Reno, had trashed President Obama’s treatment of Israel.

Romney at VFW (James Glover-Reuters)“President Obama is fond of lecturing Israel’s leaders. He was even caught by a microphone deriding them. He has undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was. And even at the United Nations, to the enthusiastic applause of Israel’s enemies, he spoke as if our closest ally in the Middle East was the problem,” Romney said. “The people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world. And the chorus of accusations, threats, and insults at the United Nations should never again include the voice of the President of the United States.”

Romney’s campaign also Tuesday issued a policy paper saying he would make Israel the destination of his first foreign trip as president; within 100 days of taking office, reaffirm as a vital U.S. national interest the existence of Israel as a Jewish state; work closely with Israel to maintain its strategic military edge and increase military assistance; reject any measure that would frustrate direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, while making clear to the Palestinians that the unilateral attempt to decide issues that are designated for final negotiations is unacceptable; and reduce assistance to the Palestinians if they continue to pursue United Nations recognition or form a unity government that includes Hamas.

Vice President Joe Biden shot back that same day.

“Governor Romney continues his long litany of untruths about our administration’s policies toward Israel. We’ve provided record levels of security assistance, funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system that intercepted nearly 80 percent of the rockets recently fired from Gaza, close collaboration on longer range missile defense systems, the largest joint military exercises in history, the most consistent and comprehensive exchanges ever between our top political, defense, security and intelligence officials,” Biden said. “And, contrary to Governor Romney’s outrageous accusation that the President joined in the chorus of insults levied against Israel at the United Nations, President Obama has stood up repeatedly, publicly and often alone against efforts to delegitimize Israel at the U.N. and around the world.”

Lots more, after the jump…

Today, President Obama signed the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012, a bipartisan bill reaffirming the United States’ “unwavering commitment” to Israel’s security and U.S. support for Israel’s right to self-defense.

“Others may posture and promise, but President Obama is leading by standing with Democrats, Republicans and independents and showing the world the strong U.S.-Israeli relationship – not with words, but with deeds,” U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who co-authored the bill, said in a news release.

She said the bill includes measures to strengthen economic and security cooperation between the U.S. and Israel, including extending current loan guarantees to Israel which were set to expire later this year, and authorizing an increase in the United States’ stockpile of military equipment in Israel. It also will solidifies the United States’ commitment to assisting Israel’s efforts to reach a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “that results in two states living side-by-side in peace and security,” and encourages Israel’s neighbors to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

Boxer, D-Calif., co-authored the Senate bill with U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; the House version was introduced by House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Though the U.S.-Israel relationship certainly isn’t merely a “Jewish issue,” it historically has been of significant importance to Jewish voters – and a nonpartisan, nonprofit group’s recent analysis shows those voters are still squarely in the Democrats’ corner.

The Solomon Project earlier this month released its report of national and state exit poll data on the Jewish community’s voting patterns, finding Jewish voters remain much more Democratic and much more liberal than the rest of the electorate. Though Republican presidential candidates in the 1970s and 1980s attracted as much as 31 to 37 percent of the Jewish vote, the GOP nominees have attracted only 15 to 23 percent since then. Obama got about 74 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, the report says.

Among the report’s authors was Kenneth Wald, a University of Florida political science professor who specializes in religion in politics and the U.S.-Israel relationship.

“Every presidential election we hear predictions that Jewish voters are becoming more Republican,” says Wald. “This analysis shows that, election after election, those predictions have yet to be proven true. I don’t expect the election between President Obama and Governor Romney to be any different.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.