Romney to Israel

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GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney will travel to Israel later this summer, his campaign confirmed Monday.

On the visit, Romney will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu–a former associate of Romney’s at the Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s. (Romney and Netanyahu both worked in the financial consulting world, before launching political careers; Romney after attending Harvard Business School, while Netanyahu attended MIT.) The former Massachusetts governor will also meet with US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro (who served as chief of Jewish outreach for the Obama campaign in 2008); Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Israeli President Shimon Peres, and members of Israel’s opposition Labor party, the New York Times reported. It will be Romney’s fourth trip to Israel.

“He’s a strong friend of Israel and we’ll be happy to meet with him,” Ron Dermer, a top Netanyahu advisor, told the New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren, who first broke news of the visit. “We value strong bipartisan support for Israel and we’re sure it will only deepen that.”

Then candidate Barack Obama similarly traveled to Israel during the 2008 presidential campaign. But some Israelis and American Jewish groups have expressed disappointment Obama has not yet traveled to Israel as President.

“There is a definite perception that the Jewish vote and the pro-Israel vote are in play this election cycle,” William Daroff, Vice President for Public Policy of the Jewish Federations of North America, told Al Monitor in a statement Monday.

“By going to Israel, Governor Romney will be highlighting the fact that President Obama has not been to Israel as President, as well as emphasizing differences in how Romney says he would work with Israel generally, and Prime Minister Netanyahu specifically,” Daroff said.

“It is conventional wisdom that Obama and Netanyahu do not have the closest of personal relationships, I am sure that Romney will want to showcase his neatly 40 year friendship with the Prime Minister, going back to their days as youngsters in the finance world,” Daroff continued. “The visuals and contrasts from a Romney trip to Israel are important for his campaign’s efforts with not just the Jewish community, but also the pro-Israel evangelical Christian community.”

“This visit to Israel will provide Governor Romney with an important opportunity to see the challenges facing Israel and the region firsthand,” Jessica Rosenblum, communications for left leaning J Street, said in a statement, noting that the group has urged Obama to visit Israel as well. Romney will “have have the opportunity as well to flesh out how he intends to advance American interests in the region and the long-term strategic relationship between the United States and Israel.”

Romney already planned to travel to London to attend the 2012 Olympic Games in late July, CNN reported.

(Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks to the Republican Jewish Coalition of Florida in Boca Raton, Florida January 22, 2008. REUTERS/Joe Skipper.)