Having publicly pledged to uphold “a solemn duty and moral imperative” to protect Israel, Mitt Romney spent his final hours in Jerusalem courting wealthy donors before heading to Poland in the final leg of a three-nation tour designed to bolster the Republican presidential candidate’s foreign policy credentials.
Nearly 50 donors lined up to meet Romney at a $50,000-a-plate breakfast at the luxurious King David Hotel. Each got to spend a couple of minutes shmoozing with him and each had a picture taken. The guests were then treated to the standard hotel breakfast and heard speeches from Romney, his wife Ann, his son Josh and billionaire Jewish casino owner Sheldon Adelson.
“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” the Republican presidential candidate told the donors.
The economic disparity between the Israelis and the Palestinians is actually much greater. Israel had a per capita gross domestic product of about $31,000 in 2011, while the West Bank and Gaza had a per capita GDP of just over $1,500, according to the World Bank.
Romney, seated next to Adelson at the head of the table, said he had read books and relied on his own business experience to understand why the difference is so great.
“And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of ‘at least culture’ and a few other things,” Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the “hand of providence.”
The breakfast with top donors — including Adelson, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and hedge fund manager Paul Singer — concluded Romney’s visit to Israel, the second stop in a three-nation tour.
According to Republicans Abroad-Israel co-chair Marc Zell, the event managed to raise “a seven-digit sum.”
Zell told Army Radio that in addition to addressing Israel’s economy, Romney spoke about his affection for the country and the warm ties between Israel and the US.
The group’s second co-chair Kory Bardash, told The Times of Israel that Adelson called Romney the best candidate for Israel and the economy.
“Israel is heart and soul of Jewish people and we need a president who understands that,” Adelson said.
Ann Romney told guests that she was very excited to be in Israel and was especially moved by her visit to the City of David, an archaeological site in Jerusalem.
Standing on Israeli soil for the first time as the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, Romney on Sunday declared Jerusalem to be the capital of the Jewish state and said the United States has promised never to “look away from our passion and commitment to Israel.”
Romney’s campaign says his trip abroad, which began in England last week, is aimed at improving the former Massachusetts governor’s foreign policy experience through a series of meetings with foreign leaders. The candidate has largely avoided direct criticism of US President Barack Obama while on foreign soil.
The Jerusalem fundraiser marks at least the second finance event during his tour. The first, in London, attracted about 250 people to a $2,500 per person fundraiser.
Both presidential candidates have aggressively courted American donors living abroad, a practice that is legal and has been used for decades.
Several donors were among those gathered in Jerusalem for Romney’s speech on Sunday.
Romney’s declaration that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital was in keeping with claims made by Israeli governments for decades, even though the United States, like other nations, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv. He did not say if he would order the embassy moved if he won the White House, but strongly suggested so in a CNN interview.
His remarks on the subject during his speech drew a standing ovation from his audience, which included Adelson, the American businessman who has promised to donate more than $100 million to help defeat Obama.
Adelson was among several donors who flew to Israel for a day of sightseeing with Romney in addition to private meetings with top Israeli officials.
A group of donors also met with a top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one donor said on the condition of anonymity. After the meeting, the donors toured other historical sites in Jerusalem.
Romney met with Netanyahu and other leaders before the speech. He also visited the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, where he was mobbed by worshipers. In addition, Romney met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
In his remarks, Romney steered clear of overt criticism of Obama, even though he said the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran “has only become worse” in the past five years.
In an unspoken rebuttal to Obama and other critics, Romney said, “It is sometimes said that those who are the most committed to stopping the Iranian regime from securing nuclear weapons are reckless and provocative and inviting war.
“The opposite is true. We are the true peacemakers,” he said.
Romney flew to the Middle East from Britain, where he caused a stir by questioning whether officials there were fully prepared for the Olympic Games.
Romney headed to Poland on Monday, where he was to visit the site of the first shots fired in World War II and pay tribute to the country’s anti-communist movement.
Romney was to meet with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in Gdansk before heading to the Westerplatte memorial, where a German battleship shelled a Polish military outpost in 1939.
Romney also plans to see former Polish president Lech Walesa and visit the famed shipyard where the electrician began an anti-government movement in the 1970s.
Romney is expected to receive a warm reception in the conservative, Catholic country. Last year, when President Barack Obama traveled to Poland, the local press reported that Walesa had refused to meet with Obama.
Four years ago, Obama visited Israel as a presidential candidate, part of a five-nation trip meant to establish his own foreign policy credentials.
A goal of Romney’s overseas trip is to demonstrate his confidence on the world stage, but his stop in Israel also was designed to appeal to evangelical voters at home and to cut into Obama’s support among Jewish voters and donors. A Gallup survey of Jewish voters released Friday showed Obama with a 68-25 edge over Romney.
Romney and other Republicans have said Obama is insufficiently supportive of Israel, noting statements the president has made about settlements and his handling of evident Iranian attempts to develop nuclear weapons.
In a March speech before a pro-Israel lobby in Washington, Obama warned of “loose talk of war” that serves only to drive up oil prices. “Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in and sustain the broad international coalition we have built,” he said at the time.