By Julian Pecquet - 07/27/12 03:01 PM EDT
President Obama signed pro-Israel legislation into law Friday just before Mitt Romney's trip to that country.
Both campaigns are trying to score points with Jewish voters back home and have worked to tout their stances on Israel.
The bill Obama signed, which reaffirms U.S. strategic and military ties with Israel, cleared Congress 10 days ago, giving the president ample time to sign it. Instead he chose the eve of Romney's highly anticipated trip.
"In many ways what this legislation does is bring together all of the outstanding cooperation that we have seen really at an unprecedented level between our two countries," Obama said during the signing ceremony, which was attended by the current and former chairmen of the board of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobbying group, Lee Rosenberg and Howard Friedman, as well as Richard Stone, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The bill's sponsors, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), were also present.
The president went on to describe America's "unshakeable commitment to Israel" and said it should show "how committed all of us are - Republicans and Democrats - as Americans, to our friends." The bill cleared the House by voice vote last week, after passing the Senate unanimously in June.
The uncontroversial United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act restates the U.S. commitment to supply Israel with arms to defend itself, pledges to fight anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations, and calls on the United States to produce an "Iron Dome" defense system for Israel to intercept short-range missiles and to study how the United States could speed the sale of F-35 fighter planes to Israel. Obama added that the administration has committed an additional $70 million to the Iron Dome program.
The bill signing comes as the Obama campaign has been pushing back against Republican attacks that Obama has been a weak ally of Israel, failing to visit the country in his first term and criticizing the country's ongoing construction of settlements in the Palestinian territories. Romney is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an old friend, as well as President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad during his visit, which will also include a speech.
“I would treat Israel like the friend and ally it is,” Romney told Israel Hayom, the country's largest-circulation daily newspaper, in an interview that led the paper's site Friday. “We share not only common interests, but also common values. And if there were places where we disagree, I would hold these disagreements in private conversations, not in public forums. I cannot imagine going to the United Nations, as Obama did, and criticizing Israel in front of the world. I believe that he should have mentioned instead the thousands of rockets that are being fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
“The president has also spoken of returning to 1967 borders — they are indefensible. And acting as a negotiator and usurping the primary role played by Israel in negotiating for its own future is not the right course for America to take.”
Democrats counter that the Obama administration halted the Palestinians' unilateral bid for statehood at the U.N. And they argue that Romney has not offered any substantial policy differences with Obama on how to deal with Iran's alleged nuclear weapons research, beyond tougher talk.
Obama, for his part, has dealt with Iran without “bluster,” said Rachel Kleinfeld, CEO of the liberal Truman National Security Project, in a conference call ahead of the bill signing.
“What it did was show the world that it wasn't the U.S. that was being intransigent, it was the Iranians,” she said. “And that let China and Russia join us on our side [in supporting sanctions at the U.N.]. Now, if you look at what's happening in Syria right now, getting Russia and China to join us is a really big deal.”
She said Romney's trip, which will include a fundraiser with rich donors at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem that will include an appearance by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, is about “politics and it's about fundraising.”
“This is largely about optics for the press,” she said, “and hitting those constituencies that he's trying to gain some votes from.”
This post was updated at 12:10 p.m. with comments from President Obama.