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He’s positioning himself as a better friend to Israel than President Obama. But Mitt Romney has some baggage, too, which some supporters of Israel claim has to be vetted.

Buzzfeed reports that the Romney campaign’s recently formed “Arab-Americans for Romney” include staunch supporters for a Palestinian state. And that some of them have been pushing for a more confrontational approach toward Israel. Click here to read the Buzzfeed article.


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WASHINGTON – During a major foreign policy speech in Virginia today, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said he would back a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.

The candidate who told supporters earlier this year that Palestinians have “no interest whatsoever” in establishing peace with Israel, declared today that as president, he “will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel.”

“On this vital issue, the president has failed, and what should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the United Nations. In this old conflict, as in every challenge we face in the Middle East, only a new President will bring the chance to begin anew.”

Romney has attacked President Obama repeatedly during the campaign for calling on Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, a proposal that has no legs with the current Israeli regime.

The speech, which Romney delivered on the campus of the Virginia Military Institute, comes roughly one week before his next debate against Obama, which will cover some foreign policy issues.




The first Obama-Romney debate is over, and has been followed by predictable torrents of over-dissection and over-analysis. So, why add more?

Because reactions in Israel may be surprisingly instructive in projecting the likely impact of this debate on the coming election. Americans in Israel, as well as native-Israelis, make for an interesting group with which to measure the effect of the debate, especially on the impression made by Governor Romney.

That is, paradoxically, precisely because Israel-based viewers are lessengaged in details of this campaign than voters in America. They are, therefore, arguably a better reflection of the less-engaged and still-undecided voters in America than the hardened political junkies whose impressions of the candidates were formed long ago. As a result, the reactions of viewers here likely reflect the impressions formed primarily by the debate performances, as opposed to pre-existing impressions.

This is not to suggest that Israel-based viewers are disengaged; on the contrary, Israelis are famously omnivorous consumers of news. But viewers and voters in Israel are not as widely exposed to the presidential campaign as those in America, where the campaign is omnipresent. In fact, in spite of his visit to Israel this summer, Mitt Romney is still not well-known to the Israeli public: coverage of the man and his campaign has been doubly-filtered–first, by American media editing, and then by Israeli media largely reporting second-hand on what they see from American news. In addition, the Israeli public is, thankfully, not inundated with commercials and billboards from the respective campaigns and independent political action committees. (It seems we in Israel will have that pleasure this coming February.)

Last night, viewers finally got to see a lot of Romney for themselves, unfiltered by any other media. My highly unscientific survey of reactions from Israeli viewers indicates that the vast majority of those viewers were pleasantly surprised.

So much political spin had previously caricatured Romney as a stiff, uncaring, plastic, gaffe-prone, extremist, out-of-touch, scary, patrician robber-baron–and the Israeli press uncritically endorsed that spin for the most part. But last night, viewers saw the man spin-free, and saw with their own eyes a man of confidence, intelligence, substance, moderation, precision, enthusiasm, grace, understanding, and a command of issues that outshone that of President Obama. He came across as a good executive. He seemed…well, presidential.

And if Romney seemed presidential to so many in Israel who were not previously immersed in this campaign, there’s a good chance that he made the same kind of impression on less-immersed, undecided voters in America.

I know enough not to make too much of one debate out of a series of three. This is hardly the first time that a challenger has surprised or outshone the incumbent President in a first debate. And President Obama is certainly a skilled performer who is unlikely to appear as deflated or unprepared as he seemed last night, when it looked like he was just mailing it in. After all, even Walter Mondale outperformed President Reagan in their first 1984 debate, only to have Reagan return to form and go on to win 49 states.

But this feels different. This was a remarkably substantive, freewheeling debate, not just 60-second sound-bites and talking points. Romney was in command from start to finish. Even if Obama had an off night, Romney, with this one performance, erased the image that had been cultivated by the media. All the king’s newscasters and all the king’s late-night comedians cannot easily put that caricature together again–at least not one that will have the much credibility with voters.

It has been said of the undecided American voters that “they want to fire Obama, but aren’t sure they want to hire Romney.” And while American voters in Israel really want to fire Obama, many had not yet gotten used to the idea of hiring Romney–keep in mind, about half the Americans in Israel are (well, were) Democrats. Last night went a long away toward changing that. Romney’s performance should make those on the fence–in Israel and America–quite comfortable with the thought of hiring him as President.

Abe Katsman is an American attorney and political commentator living in Jerusalem. He serves as Counsel to Republicans Abroad Israel.



At first, it was just a trickle, a misguided throw-away line here and there, easily ignored.  Then it started picking up momentum, showing up in one Israeli commentary after another.  And now, it is conventional wisdom in the Israeli press and public that the U.S. election is already over, that polls show President Obama’s reelection is inevitable, and that Republican Mitt Romney might as well throw in the towel now.

Of course, this is nonsense.  It is based on the most superficial reading of the most superficial polls.  In fact, as described below, while poll results are all over the map, the most historically accurate pollsters consider the race tied.

This is hardly the first time the Israeli media herd has stampeded in the wrong direction based on flawed analysis.  This time, everyone seems to be on board with the “only a miracle can save Romney” theme — this while U.S. economic numbers decline, the Middle East is on fire and al Qaeda flags have been flown from area U.S. embassies, and we have yet to have even the first of the Presidential debates.  (In fairness to the Israelis, it should be noted that much of the American media are, to varying degrees, on the same bandwagon, and are only now beginning to question to what degree the polls are skewed.)

But when even my own mathematician brother succumbs to this misreading of the race, it is time to explain what the polls do and do not say.

First, not all polls are created equal.  There are all kinds of methodological differences among polling organizations in terms of targeted response rates, when voters are called (just how many Romney-voting small-business owners are home to answer a pollster’s weeknight call between 5:00 and 7:00 pm?), whether pollsters use live interviewers or computer calling, whether only landlines are called or also cellphones, how to weigh the non-response rate, and whether calls with no answer are called back.  Statisticians argue endlessly about which methods should yield the most accurate results.

While various statistical methods may be sound, all polling analysis depends on the quality of assumptions and data inputted.  Garbage in, garbage out: skewed data inputs lead to skewed poll results, no matter how brilliant any particular statistical methodology.   Decisions regarding those inputs are as much art as science.

And no assumption is as controversial or as influential on presidential polling results as “partisan weighting,” i.e., adjusting samples according to estimated party affiliation and turnout.  The theory makes intuitive sense: if history and current trends indicate that, for example, 5% more of those voting are likely to be Republican, (“R+5”), the poll sample should be weighted accordingly, even if more Democrats are initially polled than Republicans.

How much weighting is appropriate?  That is the crux of recent debates.

In the 2004 election in which George W. Bush defeated john Kerry, Democrats and Republicans turned out in roughly even numbers; but in 2008, the electorate consisted of 8% more Democrats than Republicans. Should a pollster adjust the results of his sample using the 2008 election as a model, which will strongly favor Obama, or the 2004 model, which will not?

The dirty secret of polling-as-news stories is that results are essentially pre-determined by the weighting model used.  It should hardly come as news that a poll with 10% more Democrats sampled than Republicans will favor the Democratic candidate, or vice versa.

Even if we start at the 2008 D+8 figure, does anyone seriously believe that Democratic turnout will be the same for the reelection of a divisive incumbent in a stagnant economy with high unemployment as it was for the historical election of the first black President running on “hope and change” against a particularly weak candidate?

In fact, since 2008 the Democrats’ party identification advantage has not only eroded and disappeared, but has turned into a Republican advantage: the 2008 D+8 number identification from 2008 had already become R+1.3 by the 2010 midterm elections, which Obama himself described as “a shellacking” of the Democrats.  And since then?  Has anything in particular changed so dramatically as to move the needle in Obama’s direction?  Apparently not, as the Republican advantage has only grown, and now stands at R+4.3%.

So, in an R+4.3 country, who in his right mind would take seriously a poll which skews current samples to D+8 or D+11, especially in states where that presumes a greater Democratic advantage than even 2008 would predict?

That is the question every news organization should be asking before reporting such polls. Yet, the Israeli press dutifully reports such poll results: just last week, it was big news in the Israeli media when The New York Times and CBS News published their own polls showing Obama up by 9 to 12 points in the important swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.  Buried in the story, however, was the pro-Democrat weighting—as much as D+11.  Is this really news—that a D+11 poll has Obama ahead by 11%?

In 2008, Obama won Florida by under 3%, and Ohio by under 5%. In other words, Florida and Ohio were less Democratic than the then-D+8 nation as a whole.  As party affiliation has swung strongly in the Republican direction—and as Obama’s image has been badly tarnished in both state’s sizable Democrat-leaning Jewish communities—perhaps a bit of skepticism is in order before breathlessly reporting the New York Times/CBS numbers claiming double-digit leads for Obama.

Republicans consistently vote with their party at a greater rate than do Democrats.  For 40 years, Republican candidates have won a remarkably consistent 84% (+/- 3%) of the votes of Republicans, while Democrats hover around 78% voter retention rates.  Thus, under-weighting a Republican polling sample is apt to directly lower Republican poll results.

Another red flag is that many of the reported polls showing Obama way out front are polls of “adults” or “registered voters”; but the metric that matters and has always shown the most accuracy is that of “likely voters.”  And those polls show a much tighter race.

Lastly, the polling organization rated most accurate since 2004 (Rasmussen) shows the race to currently be a statistical tie, at 47%-47%.

We have a long way to go before declaring this election over.

Abe Katsman is an American attorney living in Jerusalem.  He serves as Counsel to Republicans Abroad Israel.




President Obama speaks with Benjamin Netanyahu

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney held lengthy phone calls with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In both cases it was reported that each pledged support for Israel to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Obama had earlier been criticized for not meeting with Netanyahu during the  prime minister’s trip to the US to attend the UN General Assembly.



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Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney weighed in on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech before the UN Tuesday, saying that the Iranian President’s incendiary rhetoric against the U.S. and Israel highlights why the U.S. cannot allow the country to develop nuclear weapon capabilities.

“His threat to eliminate Israel and the disdain he expressed for the free world add to a long list of belligerent and disgusting statements,” Romney said in a statement released by the campaign. “The United States must lead with resolve to ensure that the Iranian regime never obtains the means to realize its genocidal designs.”

Both President Obama and Romney have stated that Iran must not develop a nuclear bomb, calling the possibility a red-line for military intervention. However, Romney has accused Obama of taking too soft a stance on Iran, thus leaving the country emboldened after four years.

The administration has noted that they have put comprehensive sanctions in place limiting the current regime’s economic activity.




While I expect that at least 75% of my fellow Jews will vote for the president (as we did in ’08 by 78%), I also know that numbers of well-educated Jews, Jews with a social conscience and a history of personal and professional expansiveness, will vote for Mr. Romney because, while they do not particularly like the man, they believe that the president’s re-election bodes ill for Israel.

I could not disagree more.

Now, I am a Zionist. I believe that, given the history, the Jewish state, an intellectually, financially, and militarily robust Israel, is absolutely essential for my family and for Jews world-wide. I have no doubt that, were Israel not to exist, my life, my family’s, and Jews’ lives all over, would not be worth a plugged nickel. A destroyed or seriously marginalized Israel would immediately announce an Open Season on Jews everywhere. The right wing parties in Europe and in Latin America — mind you, the latter welcomed the Eichmanns of this world after the Second War, after all — and the militias here would without doubt read the new situation in ways lethal to Jews.

My people have as much a right to live and thrive as any.

A former student of mine, a rabbi, a very thoughtful guy, several weeks back told me he doesn’t like Mr. Romney but will vote for the man because he’s convinced that the face the president has offered to Israel is a dangerous one.

I thought about this for a while before responding. Yet I knew, of course, that I did not ever see the president, as to Israel, as he does. I think the president sees a strong Israel as the essential American asset that it is and has been in the Near East, southern Europe, and in North Africa, even in the years prior to statehood in ’48. And I say this, of course, knowing some Jews do not hold with my sense of Mr. Obama’s commitment to Israel.

I want to share here precisely why I’d find the election of Mr. Romney a peril to Israel. And again, I’ll say that none of this is about, can be about, one incident. It’s about Mr. Romney’s entire, almost dismissive approach to the issues as he articulated it at that Boca fundraiser. I found it carelessly, dismissively chilling. Watching Mr. Romney’s discussion on that tape of the Near East, I was able to name what inside me moved me as a Zionist to trust the former governor far less than I do Mr. Obama.

This is what I wrote to my former student.

Having listened several times now to Mr. Romney’s talk to that donor group at Boca, including his answers to queries on Israel, it occurs to me that his stated view is quite dangerous. Mr. Romney said, astonishingly, that it’s simply no use engaging Israel and its enemies in ongoing talks or any real kind of back-and-forth, that it’s just better to “kick the ball down the field”. This punt isn’t really a position; it’s resignation.

As ”policy,” that’d be far more disastrous to Israel than the point-counterpoint, sometimes fractious nature of the relationship between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama. This is because the primary message that Mr. Romney’s words hold for terrorist organizations and Iran is that a Romney win will signal a developing and then a thoroughgoing vacuum and that, a laying off of deep American involvement, is precisely what Hamas, Hezbolla, and Iran would find a gift, an enormous gift.

The only counter I could see to that would be to believe that Mr. Romney would and very shortly back Israel 100%, in effect join Israel in all-out pre-emptive assault on Iran, a war in which Israel would have to defend all its borders and its airspace at once, and I don’t know of anyone or read anyone who, on serious reflection, believes that would be good for Israel or for the US, Europe, (or for world Jewry).

I ended saying that I’d welcome his take on my sense of the effect(s) of Mr. Romney’s attitude/potential election, and I expect our exchange will continue well after the election. I welcome your take as well.

Jonathan Wolfman blogs at


It’s a position that many Israelis adhere to.

They, the Israelis, have been pushing for a two-state solution. The Palestinians keep finding reasons to reject it.

Now Mitt Romney may have gone further than any other major party presidential candidate has ever gone before. Asserting that the Palestinians aren’t interested in a peace with Israel. Giving a glimpse into what a Romney administration’s Middle East policy might look like.


WATCH: Romney talks tough on Iran and Syria

Mitt Romney says it is “unacceptable” for Iran to have nuclear weapons. And says that in a Romney administration, military action would be considered to prevent it.

His comments came in an interview with CBS News.

Romney also says military intervention in Syria to prevent its chemical weapons falling into the hands of terrorists would be considered if he occupied the White House.