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Contentions

Did Romney Exploit a Jewish Holiday?

For those who wish the Republican presidential candidate ill, there is really nothing he can do to avoid criticism. Case in point was Mitt Romney’s visit yesterday to Jerusalem. At the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg accuses him of being “vulgar” for showing up at the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av. Predictably, Peter Beinart goes even further in the Daily Beast and accuses Romney of “misusing Judaism” to bolster his campaign.

Both are dead wrong. Nothing Romney did was in poor taste or in any way showed disrespect for Jewish sensibilities. In fact, the truth was quite the opposite. Their real problem with Romney is that what he said in Israel illustrated President Obama’s shortcomings. Romney rightly expressed a more realistic assessment of the Iranian nuclear threat than the Obama administration as well as reaffirmed his commitment to reverse the president’s policy in which the U.S. has distanced itself from Israel (at least in those years in which he is not running for re-election).

Goldberg’s post has an inflammatory headline, “Temple Mount Tackiness,” which seems to imply that Romney went up to the site of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which is now occupied by mosques. Any visit to the Temple Mount is fraught with symbolism and controversy (think Ariel Sharon’s 2000 stroll there which was falsely represented as the second intifada). Though the place is truly the most sacred spot in Judaism, Jews are forbidden to pray there lest Muslims think they are plotting to blow up or move the mosques. But Romney did not go up there. He merely joined the throngs praying at the Wall on the anniversary of the Temples’ destruction.

Goldberg seems to think it is wrong for a candidate to go there for a photo op on that day. Had Romney and his entourage barged in and disrupted prayer services, Goldberg might have had a point. But he did not. There was no service going on there at the time, just the usual milling crowds of tourists and the faithful who can be found there on any day. Romney’s behavior was exemplary. To speak of vulgarity is absurd and says more about Goldberg’s crush on Barack Obama than it does about Romney.

More to the point, the symbolism of an American politician going to the Wall on the day that Jews remember the tragedies that have befallen them throughout history is particularly apt. Given the existential threats that still face Israel, the reaffirmation of the U.S. alliance seems to be exactly the sort of thing Jews ought to welcome.

But, of course, that reaffirmation is exactly what troubles Beinart.

Beinart is offended by Romney’s belief the United States ought not to show any public daylight between its positions and Israel. Doing so, as President Obama has done, damages the already dim hopes for peace because such actions encourage the Palestinians to become even more intransigent. Obama’s pressure on Israel has led the Palestinians to believe they don’t have to negotiate with the Jewish state because they think the U.S. will hand them Israeli concessions on a silver platter without them having to give an inch.

But, of course, Beinart doesn’t want any politicians, be they Democrats or Republicans, to show the kind of heartfelt support that Romney expressed. He wants the U.S. to run roughshod over the democratic will of the Israeli people in order to further his unrealistic vision of peace with a Palestinian people who have little interest in such a scheme.

Beinart backs up this point of view, but assuming the pose of a scholar of Judaism and Jewish history is the conceit of his laughably inept book about saving Zionism.

From his perspective, the comments of Romney and Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tisha B’Av in which they noted the need to ensure that the Jews are saved from future catastrophes, are “bad Judaism.” Beinart is right to note that one of the keynotes of the observance of the ninth of Av is introspection in which Jews should learn to avoid the mindless hatred that tradition tells us caused the fall of the Temples. A cynic would note that if anyone is in need of lessons on “introspection and humility” it might be an author who presumes to preach to Israelis while demonstrating little understanding of their concerns. But leaving Beinart’s shortcomings aside, that is not the only perspective on the holiday. It is certainly not the only thing those tasked with dealing with the geo-strategic realities of the Middle East should be thinking about.

It is all well and good to say, as Beinart does, that we all have a little bit of evil within us. But according to him, this insight should lead Israelis not to obsess about the fact that much of the Muslim and Arab world still wishes to wipe them out. Even worse, he thinks that on the day that Jews contemplate the crimes and atrocities committed against them during the last three millennia, they should worry more about the sensibilities of those who are still plotting such evil. Indeed, he thinks the mere fact that Romney failed to mention the Palestinians in a speech devoted to the U.S.-Israel alliance and the need to stop Iran from making good on its genocidal threats “denied the humanity” of the Palestinians.

The most charitable thing that can be said about such an analysis is that Beinart is about as much of an expert on Judaism as he is representative of American Jewish opinion. President Obama’s election year Jewish charm offensive shows he understands the overwhelming majority of American Jews reject Beinart’s view that Israel must be saved from itself or that selective boycotts and brutal pressure should be employed to bring it to its knees so as to facilitate his vision of its future. Tisha B’Av is an apt day for Jews and all people of good will to remember the stakes in the Middle East conflict and of the need to ensure that Jerusalem never again falls to those who would destroy the Jewish people.



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