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Mitt Romney's friendship with Bibi Netanyahu raises eybrows

Published: Tuesday, April 10 2012 9:26 a.m. MDT

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012.

Bernat Armangue, Associated Press

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Mitt Romney's friendship with Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister of Israel, began 36 years ago when both were business consultants in Boston, the New York Times reported in a widely noted piece on Sunday.

"That shared experience decades ago led to a warm friendship, little known to outsiders, that is now rich with political intrigue. Mr. Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, is making the case for military action against Iran as Mr. Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, is attacking the Obama administration for not supporting Mr. Netanyahu more robustly," the Times reported.

Romney's close alignment to Israel was clearly signaled in debates, including one on Jan. 26, when he said, "I believe America must say — and the best way to have peace in the Middle East is not for us to vacillate and to appease, but is to say, we stand with our friend Israel. We are committed to a Jewish state in Israel. We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally, Israel."

On the left-wing Daily Kos blog, an anonymous blogger goes into detail about how Romney's public pronouncements over the past several years have closely tracked Netanyahu's positions. The writer concluded, "And for President Romney's America, that could make conflict with Iran much more likely and an Israeli peace agreement with the Palestinians virtually impossible."

The close tie between the two men was also signaled in a December debate, the Times reported, when Romney objected to some harsh rhetoric from Newt Gingrich about the Middle East. According to the article, "In a telling exchange during a debate in December, Mr. Romney criticized Mr. Gingrich for making a disparaging remark about Palestinians, declaring: 'Before I made a statement of that nature, I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say: "Would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do?"'"

Jonathan Tobin at Commentary, a conservative Jewish magazine, was less worried about the link. "Given that President Obama spent the first three years of his presidency picking fights with Netanyahu that did nothing to enhance America’s strategic position or the Middle East peace process," Tobin wrote, "wouldn’t Romney’s ability to communicate without rancor with the Israeli be an advantage rather than a cause of suspicion?"

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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