O Jerusalem, Jerusalem: Romney, Israel and the future of peace

Charles Dharapak AP Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney places a prayer note as he visits the … Continued

Charles Dharapak


Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney places a prayer note as he visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Sunday, July 29, 2012.

Jesus of Nazareth wept as he looked at Jerusalem, lamenting over the city and its history of conflict. (Luke 13:34)

Jerusalem, a profoundly holy city to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, has continued to be at the center of conflicts in the region, though ‘the failure on Jerusalem’ is a far too simplistic assessment of why peace efforts have been unproductive so far. Indeed, a cottage industry has grown up around why peace efforts have not succeeded, as Dennis Ross’ book “The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace”documents.

Nevertheless, many would agree that the status of Jerusalem in any future peace efforts is a very important and very delicate matter. Yet, on a 36-hour visit, GOP candidate Mitt Romney simply referred to Jerusalem as “the capital of Israel,”, despite the fact that the United States, like other nations, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.

This statement was matter-of-fact and not a “gaffe.” But it was very revealing. On the whole, Romney tour so far has actually demonstrated a lot of consistency in terms of showcasing Romney’s approach to foreign policy.

Romney’s “gaffes” in London received a lot of press both in England and the U.S., as he appeared to lecture the British on preparedness for the games. But, I do not believe Romney was intending to be rude. I think these comments show the kind of foreign policy he would conduct; a “CEO” fixes the world approach. The British got a performance review from the former CEO of Bain Capital.

But here’s the thing about the Middle East: no American entrepreneurial “fix it” approach is going to work. Without recognition of the complex religious and geopolitical histories and contradictions of the religion, Americans will only make things worse.

In fact, Romney did make things worse, even on this 36-hour visit. At a donor dinner, Romney praised Israeli business acumen and “culture,” and unfavorably compared the productivity of Palestinian-controlled areas, ignoring the fact that overall control of the regions rests with Israel in terms of access. Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, immediately expressed outrage

With these business comparisons at the fundraiser, Mr. Romney also claimed a “spiritual connection” to the land of Israel. He noted that he could see “the hand of providence in establishing this place and making it a holy city.”

Yes, indeed. Jerusalem is holy, and it is holy to three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Jerusalem has been sacred to Judaism since the 10th century, B.C.; it is regarded as the location of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Genesis 22:2), and Jerusalem is central to Jewish religious consciousness. Jerusalem is sacred to Christians as the location of some of the most significant moments in the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. In medieval times, Christians thought Jerusalem was the center of the world, calling it “the navel of the world” (Latin: umbilicus mundi). Jerusalem is also considered a sacred site in Sunni Islamic tradition, along with Mecca and Medina. Jerusalem is sacred to Muslims not only because previous prophets were associated with the city, but also because Islamic tradition holds that the prophet Muhammad visited the city on a nocturnal journey.

Romney’s declarations about Jerusalem did not seem to account for this; his flat assertion of the “capital” of Israel, moreover, fails into the “CEO” approach to foreign policy. It’s a little like why Walgreens has become so successful by moving all their stores to corner locations. If location is a problem, then fix the location.

I believe we are seeing Romney’s approach to foreign policy being taken out for a test drive on this trip, from “gaffes” about British preparedness for the Olympic Games to the “capital” of Israel remark, the overarching paradigm for Romney abroad is America as the world’s CEO.

This analysis is not necessarily contradicted by Romney’s description of his “spiritual connection” to Israel. This can very well be what he feels, but I also heard that statement as an attempt to connect to American evangelicals. Having a “spiritual connection” to Israel is, in part, why American evangelicals are so strongly drawn to Israel, and why they give a lot of money to help build settlements in the West Bank. Other evangelicals, such as Glen Stassen and David Gushee, have objected to this approach as a “destructive direction” for the future of peace.

There is no “solving” the religious differences over Jerusalem, or indeed over this region of the world. There is no path to peace that does not go through these many layers and contradictions. The CEO model does not capture that.

Religious difference can be part of the path to peace, however, and the holiness of Jerusalem to Judaism, Christianity and Islam can be a way to achieve a spiritual as well as a political accommodation on Jerusalem in a genuine peace process. Marc Gopin presents this idea so effectively in his classic work, “Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East.”

Gopin points out that what actually works in regard to resolving conflict is working through significant difference: “It is a fundamental belief, call it a principle of faith, of those who practice peacemaking or conflict resolution that humans can better resolve conflict with aid from others, as well as with the help of various processes of self-awareness and healing.”

Collaboration, self-awareness and healing are the skills need to make peace; these are skills that are not part of the ‘Mr. Fix it’ model of American entrepreneurship, especially when applied to foreign policy.

Romney undertook this trip abroad to show us his approach to foreign policy. I believe he has.

View Photo Gallery: After stopping in London to visit with British leaders and attend the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympics, the Republican presidential candidate continues his week-long overseas trip by going to Israel. He will conclude his journey with a stop in Poland.

Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), the Rev. Susan Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.


Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • naksuthin

    I went over to Fox news to get their take on Romney’s comments.
    They aren’t even covering the Romney visit to Israel.
    That’s how bad it is for Romney

  • WmarkW

    No one knows what to do about Jerusalem.
    The fact that Romney doesn’t either, is not a disqualification for the job.

  • DavidJ9

    I guess he doesn’t think America needs oil.

    We’ve had two oil boycotts as a result of the offense that OPEC (read Saud family) has taken. The candidate is clueless.

  • persiflage

    What a shyster – the CEOs of the corporate world are supporting Rmoney 4 to 1. That ought to be a wakeup call for everyone, even Joe the Plumber…..but it ain’t.

    Romney is all but provoking Israel to bomb Iran …….. with his blessing. It’s pretty clear that diplomacy is not Mitt’s strong suit. The only thing this monstrous ego on two legs cares about is being president ……. period. The fallout from another war in the Mideast means exactly nothing to this political automaton with big ambitions.

    And Dick (9 lives) Cheney has the cojones to call Obama the ‘weakest president in modern times’. These guys will bring the house down – shaky as it still is after 8 years of Bush. That and a failed economic policy that goes back to Ronald Reagan.

  • HeywoodJabuzov

    So what if Romney has gone to Israel? Nancy Pelosi says that Obama has been there “Over and Over”.

    And so what if Romney has said that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and Obama has never dared to utter those words?

    Obama would only anger the militant Arabs if he ever said such a thing. And that’s just the way it is, there are some things a President who wants to be elected has to say to make some people like him, and there are other things he can’t say or else other people won’t him.

    And when Obama was trying to get elected the first time, He went to Israel and acted like he supported them. We need a man like that as President.Someone who will say and do what it takes!

  • HeywoodJabuzov

    “I guess he doesn’t think America needs oil.

    We’ve had two oil boycotts as a result of the offense that OPEC (read Saud family) has taken. The candidate is clueless”

    So we need to ingratiate ourselves to the oil-producing nations by snubbing Isrtael as Obama has done?

    Romney wants to utilize our own resources instead. Obama has already blown it with the Candian pipeline and now the Chinese will have that oil.

    Talk about clueless, we’ve just been through 4 years of clueless. clueless on the economy, clueless on jobs, and clueless on energy in particular. The man says just build eletric cars because all you have do do with those things is plug them in a wall somewhere!

    So then where does the dufus think the electricity is going to come from? Obama is the poster child for cluelessness and we need a grown-up for president.

  • quiensabe

    Susan, if you studied your Bible you would know that God’s Holy City descended over Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv.

  • xexon

    The main purpose of this trip was to harvest Jewish voters in the US and to get Romney paraded in front of his zionist masters. Sorry, but they’ve owned the past several presidents. Obama included.

    As for Jerusalem, whoever wants this piece of real estate is welcome to it. You’ll never see the New Jerusalem if you desire the old one…

    Choose carefully.


  • allinthistogether

    Heywood: Regarding your point “So we need to ingratiate ourselves to the oil-producing nations by snubbing Isrtael as Obama has done?” :

    It seems that all you are proposing is that the US should ingratiate itself with Israel rather than oil-producing nations? Why should we be so beholding to Israel, other than that they continue to do our colonizing for us? Romney seems to think like a colonialist, maybe an economic colonialist (CEO?) Otherwise, how can he excuse the segregation and deprivation of water and food that Israel continues to inflict on Palestine. The Palestinians are not innocent in this conflict, but Israel’s current policies have made them by far the worse of the two offenders.

    Romney’s statement that Israel’s culture is better is very similar to saying that the culture of southern U.S. plantation owner’s was better than that of the slaves’ or the Native Americans’ – without regard to the fact that the colonists destroyed the cultures of both the slaves and the natives in order to exploit those people’s for the colonists’ benefit..

  • motherof3

    “Mitt Romney simply referred to Jerusalem as “the capital of Israel,”, despite the fact that the United States, like other nations, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.”

    What a stupid statement by the reporter. So the United States dictates to Israel where her capital is? An embassy’s location does not determine the capital. The capital of Israel is Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for 3000 years. Before that, the capital was Shiloh, not Tel Aviv or any other city. Jerusalem has never been the capital of any country since 3000 years ago.

    Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Anyone who doesn’t like it can go pound sand. That goes for the United States too.

  • motherof3

    “No one knows what to do about Jerusalem.”

    Actually, there are some who do know what to do.

  • norog

    “Mitt Romney simply referred to Jerusalem as “the capital of Israel,”, despite the fact that the United States, like other nations, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.”


    If Mexico had its only embassy in Los Angeles….would that make the US capital Los Angeles???

    THE CAPITAL OF ISRAEL IS JERUSALEM …BECAUSE THE ISRAELI’s SAY IT IS…Case Closed…what ever the rest of the world says (to placate the arabs) doesn’t mean jack —-!!!

    Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel/Jewish Palestine for over 3500 years!!!!

  • Jonny99

    Section 2 of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which was passed by Congress and signed by Bill Clinton, states:

    (1) Each sovereign nation, under international law and custom, may designate its own capital.
    (2) Since 1950, the city of Jerusalem has been the capital of the State of Israel.

    So, apparently ROMNEY is the one who is correct here in terms of following U.S. policy.

  • persiflage

    ‘On the whole, Romney tour so far has actually demonstrated a lot of consistency in terms of showcasing Romney’s approach to foreign policy.’

    I’m not sure that he has any kind of handle on foreign policy at all. Basically, no one cared about Romney’s trip to Israel, although it may have resonated with rightwing evangelicals that have a peculiar fantasy about Israel’s role in the mythical end times that seem to preoccupy much of their thinking. Jews in general must find this aspect of Christian fundamentalism particularly unsavory.

    His implied willingness to facilitate an Israeli assault on Iran, may win added support from a group that has been distinctly cool to his candidacy so far. There’s no question such a confrontation would bring armageddon just a little bit closer.

  • farouet

    There may be all sorts of noble strides possible in the Middle East if “peace” were everybody’s principle object, as Ms Thistlewaite and so many others seem to assume. But in the minds of most of the players in that region, and in the minds of their various supporters abroad, peace is a sideshow. What’s far more important to them is winning some geo-political game of thrones, and that in turn is driven largely by three great religious delusions.

  • Issy9881

    Isn’t Jerusalem also a devout holy place of Christians?.

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