Mitt Romney signals strong ties to Israel, Poland

Published: Monday, July 30 2012 2:11 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivers a speech in Jerusalem, Sunday, July 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Charles Dharapak, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Republican hopefuls battled over the legacy of Ronald Reagan this spring, and even Barack Obama has even sought the mantle of the GOP hero, openly admiring his "transformational" presidency.

The battle over Reagan's legacy may never be won, but on Tuesday Mitt Romney obtained the endorsement of another Reagan-era hero of nearly equal legendary status with Reagan and UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

That would be Lech Walesa, the former Polish president and freedom fighter who led the Polish solidarity movement in the 1981 confrontation with Communism, a moment many historians see as the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union.

Romney was in Poland on the third leg of his European tour of key U.S. allies.

Speaking through a translator, Walesa said, "“I wish you to be successful because this success is needed to the United States, of course, but to Europe and the rest of the world, too. Gov Romney, get your success — be successful,” ABC reported.

Earler in the day, Romney stirred up controversy at a fund-raiser, where he paid tribute to the economic dynamism of Israel, attributing it to cultural factors and comparing it unfavorably to the neighboring Palestinian Authority.

"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," Romney told donors, according to an AP report.

The presumptive GOP nominee attributed that vitality to the "power of at least culture and a few other things," noting similar economic gaps between Mexico and the United States.

Romney's comments drew immediate fire from Palestinians, with Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, calling his comment a "racist statement."

On Sunday, Romney gave an impassioned speech in Jerusalem, which he acknowledged at Israel's capital, in direct contrast to the White House press secretary who refused to name Israel's capital when directly questioned last week.

‘‘Make no mistake, the ayatollahs in Iran are testing our moral defenses," Romney said. "They want to know who will object and who will look the other way,’’ he said. ‘‘We will not look away nor will our country ever look away from our passion and commitment to Israel.’’

Lurking behind every step in Israel was the 78 percent of the Jewish-American vote that Obama received in 2008 and Romney's hopes of making inroads there, given Obama's often rocky relationship with Israel.

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