Off Camera in Jerusalem, Romney Made a Historic First, Affecting His Hosts

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Surrounded by platters of fresh fruit, stacks of low-fat yogurt and piles of mediocre pancakes, I took my seat Monday at the breakfast roundtable in Jerusalem with presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

The event, which was facilitated by Republicans Abroad Israel and its energetic Co-Chairs, Kory Bardash and Mark Zell, was part of the candidate’s whirlwind weekend visit to the Jewish state.

Needless to say, the press devoted much of its coverage to parsing Romney’s remarks, dissecting various sentences he uttered like high school science students eagerly hoping to carve up a frog. But in their rush to invent flubs and gaffes where there were none, the gentlemen of the press missed the biggest story of all.

For the first time in the history of either republic, Israel was playing host to a traditional American political fund-raiser and major policy speech in the run-up to a U.S. presidential election. In other words, Governor Romney just put Israel on the U.S. electoral map, highlighting the country’s potential to serve as a source of inspiration, votes and campaign dollars for American political candidates.

This is a remarkable development, one that not only testifies to Israel’s growing importance, but which also underlines the very special relationship that exists between the two countries.

Sure, candidates have visited Jerusalem before, angling for the customary photo-op at the Western Wall, bowed in solemnity with a yarmulke perched precariously on their heads. Then there is also the obligatory snapshot with a senior Israeli leader, with both laughing jovially for the camera as though they were discussing the latest episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians.

But never before has a presidential candidate come to the Jewish state to court voters, seek financial support and lay out a clear and detailed vision regarding major policy challenges facing the US.

And that is precisely what Mr. Romney did.

HE WENT a step beyond the essential, raising Israel’s profile and sending a clear and unequivocal message to Americans back home that they need to stand by their closest ally in the Middle East.

As a candidate, Mr. Romney could have made do with what others before him have done. But his conduct and comportment while in Jerusalem demonstrated beyond doubt that he is also a statesman, a man of inner conviction, passion, and principle.

Indeed, the speech he gave on Sunday with the walls of Jerusalem in the background was a tour-de-force, one that combined buoyant optimism about the bond between Washington and Jerusalem along with hard-headed realism concerning the mutual challenges we face.

“Our two nations are separated by more than 5,000 miles,” Romney said, “but for an American abroad, you can’t get much closer to the ideals and convictions of my own country than you do in Israel.”

He described the “enduring alliance” between the United States and Israel as “more than a strategic alliance: it is a force for good in the world. America’s support of Israel should make every American proud.”

Finally, he asserted that, “our two countries are bound together. No individual, no nation, no world organization will pry us apart.”

These are powerful themes, and they were delivered with ethos and emotion. Any American from Arkansas to Wyoming who watched it would surely have come away with a much better understanding of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The next morning, at the breakfast, which was a far more intimate affair, I was hoping to get a closer look at Mr. Romney and take the measure of the man. I was not quite sure what to expect. I had read so many news stories mocking Mr. Romney as dry and wooden that I thought perhaps they contained a kernel of truth.

I should have known better.

Despite the early hour, Mr. Romney came across as warm and gracious, with a quick wit and an entertaining sense of humor. I exchanged a few words with him, little more than some pleasantries, but his command of details and sharp analytical skills were on display throughout the event.

Those in attendance ranged from a Hassidic Jew with long side-locks to a real-estate entrepreneur from Connecticut. Magnates such as Sheldon Adelson, a benefactor of Brithright-Israel, and Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets, had flown in to take part.

Mr. Romney delivered his remarks without a teleprompter, and they were heartfelt and sincere. His warmth and appreciation for Israel were in sharp contrast with the current occupant of the White House.

Sure, he is not the most uplifting of public speakers. But America doesn’t need another “orator-in-chief.”

Talk may be cheap, but in Barack Obama’s case it has proven to be more expensive than anyone could have possibly imagined.

After seeing Mr. Romney up close and hearing his message, I am convinced he is a true friend of Israel, who will stand by us through thick and thin, and that his election will be a blessing not only for the Jewish state, but for America as well.

Here’s hoping that more American Jews will come to this realization, too.

This column first appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

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