Romney, Perry offer Dems an opportunity on Israel

In Saturday night’s debate for Republican presidential candidates, several leading candidates, including Mitt Romney, endorsed a controversial policy: starting the foreign aid budget of every country at zero. Whether the candidates thought this through or not, the policy would include Israel, which relies heavily on U.S. aid.

This created an opportunity for Democrats, which they seized on yesterday.

President Obama’s friends are trying to keep the spotlight on Republican presidential candidates’ suggestion during last weekend’s debate that foreign aid to all countries — including Israel — should start at zero.

In a call with reporters late Monday afternoon, [Robert] Wexler, a former Florida congressman who is aiding the campaign’s Jewish voter outreach efforts, said the Republican candidates Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were “troubling” and suggested that the candidates would undermine the U.S-Israel relationship.

“What I find most troubling about the policy position that Perry, Romney and Gingrich all took with great enthusiasm is that no one on the stage seemed to be aware of or honor the 2007 memorandum of understanding that was reached between the United States and Israel — the result being that America agreed to provide $30 billion of military aid to Israel over the following decade,” said Wexler.

Romney’s campaign keeps pushing the line that the former governor was only talking about one country — Pakistan — but his comment at the debate is clearly at odds with the explanation: “[O]ne of the things we have to do with our foreign aid commitments, the ongoing foreign aid commitments, I agree with Governor Perry. You start everything at zero.”

This story gained some traction over the last couple of days in West Palm Beach, home to a large Jewish population, and in Jewish media like the Forward.

Republicans had to realize this was coming. They’ve spent years desperately trying to drive a wedge between President Obama and Jewish voters, even manufacturing an outrage when the president agreed with the Netanyahu line on ’67 borders with agreed-upon land swaps.

Given this history, when Romney & Co. indirectly endorsed an end to U.S. financial support for Israel, is it any wonder the DNC decided to take advantage?

Don’t be surprised if this issue comes up again next year if Romney (or Perry for the matter) is the Republican nominee. The Obama campaign would welcome the opportunity to tell Jewish voters, “Romney has vowed to eliminate all aid to Israel, and force our Israeli allies to sing for their supper,” and the message will have the added benefit of being true.