Fresh off of telling the United Kingdom that it wasn’t ready for the Olympics during an tour of London, Romney unsubtly jabbed President Obama in Jerusalem this Sunday — as he often does on U.S. soil — for criticizing Israeli policy. Romney suggested that any public criticism of Israel in public would be off-limits in a Romney Presidency:
We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel voice their criticisms. And we certainly should not join in that criticism. Diplomatic distance in our public between our nations emboldens Israel’s adversaries.
Romney regularly attacks While Romney is right to say that Israel is a close American ally that deserves our support, that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t ever publicly criticize Israel when we believe it to be in American (or Israeli) interests. Indeed, though Romney said the United States and Israel have “been the most natural of allies” since 1948, every Republican President since then has publicly criticized Israeli policies:
George W. Bush: President Bush, who once said “it is untenable for Palestinians to live in squalor and occupation,” rebuked Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for announcing construction in the West Bank town Ma’ale Adumim, saying “the road map calls for no expansion of the settlements.”
George H.W. Bush: Like his son, Bush Sr. condemned settlement activity, saying “we do not believe there should be new settlements in the West Bank or in East Jerusalem.” He also pushed Israel to stay out of the first Gulf War.
Ronald Reagan: After Israel attacked Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, Reagan’s administration voted to condemn Israel in the U.N. Security Council. Reagan also temporarily halted security cooperation with Israel after its 1981 annexation of the Golan heights.
Gerald Ford: Ford promised a “reassessment” of US-Israel relations after failed US diplomacy with respect to an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
Richard Nixon: In a United Nations debate, George H.W. Bush (then representing Nixon at the U.N.) said, with respect to settlements, “We regret Israel’s failure to acknowledge its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as its actions which are contrary to the letter and the spirit of this convention.”
Dwight Eisenhower: The first Republican President to handle diplomacy with Israel threatened it with sanctions as a consequence of its actions in the 1956 Suez Crisis, and told Americans in a radio address that “It was a matter of keen disappointment to us that the Government of Israel, despite the United Nations action, still felt unwilling to withdraw” from territory taken in the war.
Setting aside the merits of the GOP’s historical criticism, it’s clear that past Republican presidents didn’t shirk from publicly finding fault with Israel when they felt it was necessary. Romney, then, is repudiating his party’s traditional approach to handling the US-Israeli relationship. This suggests either that previous Republican Presidents have “emboldened Israel’s enemies” or that Israel’s ties with America are strong enough to weather occasional public disagreement.
Though Romney has criticized Obama’s handling of relations between the two countries as hostile towards the Jewish state, Israeli officials beg to differ: the Obama Administration has stepped up security cooperation with Israel and put unprecedented pressure on Iran’s threatening nuclear program. It does make one wonder what Romney means when he says he would “do the opposite” of Obama on Israel.
Romney explicitly extended his comments to the settlement issue in an interview with CNN, telling Wolf Blitzer that settlements “are something that should be discussed in private by the American president and our allies.”