Republican presidential candidates former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney—the two frontrunners for the GOP presidential nomination—both failed to clearly state their views on aid to Israel during the Republican Jewish Coalition’s presidential candidate forum yesterday. In a recent debate, Romney and Gingrich both agreed with Texas Governor Rick Perry’s call to start all foreign aid at zero, but have not specified how recalibrating foreign aid to zero would impact Israel’s aid. JTA’s Adam Kredo reported on the reaction to Gingrich’s and Romney’s silence:
[S]ome found it surprising that aid to Israel—which comprises a central cornerstone of the U.S.-Israel relationship—was barely mentioned by the other Republicans who spoke at the RJC forum, specifically Romney and Gingrich, both of whom notably avoided the topic.
Democrats, including the National Democratic Jewish Council, quickly pounced on the candidates for failing to clarify their beliefs.
‘I am deeply disappointed that Governor Romney refused to state whether he supports the [Memorandum of Understanding] between the US and Israel in his address this morning to the Republican Jewish Coalition,’ Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. ‘If Governor Romney isn’t willing to support Israel’s military and foreign aid package before an audience of pro-Israel, Republican Jews many of us believe he simply doesn’t support it!’
NJDC President and CEO David Harris said that he’s ‘frankly astonished’ that the candidates stayed silent on U.S. assistance. ‘I was fully expecting them to flip flop on this issue in front of this audience, making our job at least at little bit harder. But on this central issue of the American pro-Israel agenda they utterly failed the test and the silence was defining.’
Added a Democratic Hill staffer who agreed to speak only on background: ‘It’s clear that Romney and Gingrich made the strategic decision to not mention the foreign aid package to Israel. For a serious presidential candidate to come out in any address to the Jewish community—especially to RJC’s top supporters—and not give the strongest level of support for Israel’s aid is mind-boggling.’
A source close to the Obama campaign lashed out specifically at Romney for his failure to address the issue.
‘This was a perfect opportunity for Mitt Romney to disavowal his support for zeroing foreign aid to Israel,’ said the campaign source. ‘Instead he stayed silent.’
At least one Republican attendee also found it odd that the candidates failed to address a topic that has long topped the pro-Israel community’s agenda….
Democrats … say that the candidates’ silence on foreign aid speaks to a larger issue—the fiscal chokehold that the Tea Party has placed on Republicans.
‘They’re catering to a constituency in the Republican primary electorate,’ said a Democratic source on the Hill. ‘Otherwise they would have talked about aid to Israel. It used to be an easy talking point for Republicans and it’s very troubling that they’re making a strategic political decision not to mention’ the issue.