Democrats are bracing for the political impact of a likely visit by Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney to the State of Israel, which would highlight the fact that President Barack Obama has not visited Israel once during his term in office. Romney, who has visited Israel several times and enjoys a long-standing personal relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, may attract pro-Israel Democrats who are disappointed in Obama’s often hostile approach to America’s closest ally.
Obama has visited the Middle East several times, including a much-hyped visit to Cairo in June 2009, where he addressed the Muslim world as a whole. His first telephone call to a foreign leader went to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Obama clearly saw himself as the president who would solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by sheer force of will. However, his chosen method–public confrontation with Israel–only alienated Israelis while hardening Palestinian demands.
As Obama struggles to sell his record to pro-Israel voters–particularly Jewish voters, who may have an impact in the swing state of Florida–The Hill reports that leading Democrats know he has an uphill climb. For example, even if Obama schedules an overdue visit to Israel, the election-year timing will only add to suspicions that Obama’s professed love for Israel is merely political and not personal. Here’s one Democrat struggling to explain Obama’s absence:
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) agreed Obama should visit. “Anytime Barack Obama would go to Israel would be a good time,” she said. “Before [the election] or after, but he definitely ought to go.”
Schakowsky took a long pause when asked if Obama should have visited already.
“I don’t know — I don’t want to second-guess the administration on the timing of such a trip,” she said. “Clearly they’re an important ally and he’s made that clear in every single way in being supportive of Israel.”
A Romney visit to Israel would be a slam-dunk, in that it would not only remind pro-Israel voters of his deep affinity for the Jewish state, but would also grant him an opportunity to highlight contrasts with President Obama. Anecdotally, Romney is often cited as “the one Republican” that pro-Israel Democrats would consider voting for–and many, no doubt, are doing so. That’s why Republicans are excited about a potential Romney visit to the Holy Land–and why Democrats are quietly bracing for impact.