Romney Faces Perils and Opportunities in Israel

The holiday on Saturday evening to Sunday evening commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Temples of Jerusalem, is somewhat out of tone with campaign events, but provides a compelling backdrop for Mr. Romney’s message about the threats facing Israel. And while some thought he should mine the occasion on Sunday to give a speech at the Western Wall, a crowd magnet during the fast, he instead plans to speak at a conference center overlooking the Old City and probably visit the wall after the fast ends.

But the campaign’s high-dollar fund-raiser, originally considered for dinner Sunday, morphed after criticism into a Monday breakfast.

Such complications are apt examples of the challenges politicians face whenever American and Israeli politics intersect.

For Mr. Romney, the trip is a critical opportunity to show statesmanship, especially after a less-than-perfect London trip, and to highlight his relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, whom he frequently describes as an “old friend.” But the perils include appearing critical of a sitting president from foreign soil.

For Mr. Netanyahu, a right-leaning leader whose relationship with President Obama has been rocky at best, the visit is a chance to ratchet up the pressure on the administration over the Iranian nuclear threat, but he must be careful not to be seen as partisan or meddling.

The diplomatic dance will have two dips: a work meeting at the prime minister’s office on Sunday morning, and a meal that evening with their wives. Analysts will be monitoring not only what is said — and what is not said — but every wink, nod and backslap that could feed the existing narrative of a bond between the two men.

“The choreography of a thing like this is complicated,” said Robert Shrum, a veteran Democratic political consultant in the United States who has also run campaigns in Israel. “You’ve got to look like you know what you’re talking about, you’ve got to convey your positive message, and you’ve got to avoid all the land mines — there are Israeli domestic land mines, and there are land mines back here.”

Summer pilgrimages to Jerusalem by aspiring commanders in chief are standard fare — Mr. Obama came here almost exactly four years ago — but the inclusion of a fund-raiser is more unusual. Organizers say there will be 20 to 30 people at the $50,000-per-couple event at the posh King David Hotel, including American citizens who live part time or full time here, and some American Jews, led by the billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who are flying over for the visit.

Among those expected are Sander Gerber, a hedge fund financier and former Democrat who was a significant fund-raiser for President George W. Bush in 2004; Cheryl Halpern of Livingston, N.J., a former chairwoman of the Republican Jewish Coalition and vocal backer of Israel; and J. Philip Rosen, a partner in the New York law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges who owns a home here and gives frequently to Republican candidates.

Besides the prime minister, Mr. Romney is scheduled to meet with President Shimon Peres; Shaul Mofaz, the leader of the opposition in Parliament; and Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority — all typical stops on such a tour.

But the visit, Mr. Romney’s fourth to Israel, comes amid a flurry of activity by the Obama administration. On Friday, Mr. Obama said he was releasing an additional $70 million in military aid for Israel, to help expand production of a short-range rocket defense system. And he signed a bill expanding military and civilian cooperation with Israel.

High-ranking Obama hands are also passing through: John O. Brennan, the counterterrorism adviser, spent Wednesday in Jerusalem, and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is scheduled to arrive Tuesday.

Officials inside the campaign said Mr. Romney, who has pledged to “do the opposite” of Mr. Obama on all things Israel, would not critique the administration’s policies while here, as he did this week in a fiery speech in Reno, Nev., at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. Instead, he plans to speak broadly about the “shared threats, challenges and opportunities” that Israel and the United States face.

“The Tisha B’av holiday is about remembrance,” noted Dan Senor, the Romney adviser who is the architect of the trip. “In reflecting on and remembering the tragedies that the Jewish people and Israel went through, we’re reminded of the challenges and the threats that Israel faces today.”
Beyond the question of attacking Mr. Obama from abroad, the minefields for Mr. Romney include wading into volatile Middle East issues in real time, like the deterioration in Syria, or the terrorist attack on a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. This led to internal debate within the Romney camp about whether to even stop in Israel, the last destination added to a weeklong swing from London to Poland. NYT