Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum while on a trip to Israel in 2007, The Times of Israel established Tuesday. He also visited the rocket-battered Gaza town of Sderot and surrounding area, during his 2011 trip to the country, a Romney campaign source said.
After an inquiry from The Times of Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition confirmed the Yad Vashem visit, and provided photographs. Romney toured the exhibit, and participated in a memorial ceremony.
The question of whether he had visited Israel’s Holocaust memorial arose after Monday night’s presidential debate on foreign policy, during which the issue of their visits to Israel and the region was discussed by Romney and President Barack Obama.
Romney attacked Obama for making what he called an “apology tour” of the region as president, in which “you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations. And by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel.”
Obama hit back at Romney by stating that when he visited Israel in 2008, “as a candidate, I didn’t take donors. I didn’t attend fundraisers.” Romney held a Jerusalem fundraiser during his trip to Israel this summer.
Obama continued: “I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself [of] the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.”
Asked why the Republican candidate chose not to mention his own Yad Vashem visit when the subject of the Holocaust museum was raised by Obama, sources in the Romney campaign said that they were not going to comment on what Obama had said, and that Romney’s deep commitment for and many experiences in Israel are well known.
Obama noted, in the same section of the debate, that he had also used his visit as candidate to go to Sderot, on the Gaza border. After Yad Vashem, he said, “I went down to the border town of Sderot, which had experienced missiles raining down from Hamas. And I saw families there who showed me where missiles had come down near their children’s bedrooms. And I was reminded of what that would mean if those were my kids. Which is why as president, we funded an Iron Dome program to stop those missiles. So that’s how I’ve used my travels…”
Romney made the most recent of four visits to Israel in July. He has said that his first trip if elected president would also be to Israel.
His previous trip was in January 2011, and that visit included a trip to Sderot. He met with local families to hear about life under rocket fire, visited areas badly hit by rockets, and met with local officials and security chiefs to better understand the threat from Hamas-controlled Gaza, a source in the Romney campaign said Tuesday.
Three of Romney’s four visits to Israel were policy-oriented, and the fourth was a family trip, the source added. He has been all over the country, north to south, visited the security barrier and, as a fan of Israel’s innovative economic culture, met with Israeli entrepreneurs.
Romney has talked often about his deep commitment to Israel, the source noted. He regards Israel as the closest of US allies, and it is also important to him religiously. He has relationships with Israelis, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that go back decades, the source said.