In efforts to reach out to Jewish voters, President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney both held conference calls with American rabbis over the High Holy Days.
In his call, Thursday, Sept. 20, Romney briefly discussed the economy, then fielded just two questions: one about Iran, the other about Medicare.
In Obama’s call with 1,200 rabbis Sept. 14, he defended his position not to set so-called “red lines” with regard to Iran’s nuclear program.
Romney is far behind in the polls when it comes to Jewish voters, despite his accusations that Obama has weakened American-Israeli relations. Seventy percent of registered Jewish voters plan to vote for Obama in the upcoming election, according to the Gallup daily tracking poll between July 1 and Sept. 10. Only 25 percent say they will be voting for Romney. Last spring, polls showed Obama up 64-25 percent against a generic GOP candidate.
Romney launched into his concerns “about the direction of America,” specifically, rising unemployment, a soaring national debt, and the “nuclearization of Iran.”
He listed his priorities, if elected, as “helping people get jobs,” getting America “on the road to a balanced budget,” and stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
The call was organized by the Romney campaign, with the support of Jewish Americans for Romney, an arm of the Romney campaign.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, of the Boca Raton Synagogue, posed the first question to Romney, asking if he would draw a “red line” for Iran, and if so, where he would draw that line.
“For me, it is unacceptable for Iran to have the capability of building a nuclear weapon, which they could use in the Middle East or elsewhere,” Romney said. “So for me, the red line is nuclear capability. We do not want them to have the capacity of building a bomb that threatens ourselves, our friends and the world.”
But Romney added that he did not want to “get into great detail” about exactly where red lines should be drawn, but that “they are defined by the Iranian capability to have not only fissile material, but bomb making capability and rocketry.”
Romney also said that he believes it is necessary for the United States to support “the voices of dissent and freedom and democracy in Iran,” and called for the indictment of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for genocide.
He added that the United States needs to “communicate we are willing to take military action if necessary,” and that it is imperative that Iran, and the rest of the world, “understand[s] that America is going to stand by its friends.”
Romney said that while economic sanctions imposed on Iran are having an impact, their implementation might have come too late.
“Sanctions are having an impact on their (Iran’s) economy,” Romney said. “Unfortunately, they took so long to be put in place that I think Iran is racing forward with their nuclear plans.”
When asked what he would do “to protect Medicare,” Romney said that he would not change it for “current seniors.” He criticized Obama for cutting Medicare funding by $716 billion to pay for “Obamacare,” and said he was “open to improving the quality of medical services.”
But, he said, Medicare in the coming years would necessarily have to change. People with higher incomes should not get as much support from Medicare as those with lower incomes, he said, and people should have a choice between Medicare and private providers.
In order to “preserve Medicare solvency forever,” young people need to understand “it will be slightly different,” he said.
Obama’s conference call was offically closed to reporters. Still, excerpts from the conversation were reported by JTA and JointMedia News Service.
The president echoed what other administration officials have been saying: America will not set deadlines or red lines for taking military action against Iran’s nuclear program.
“No leader wants to tie his hands” by setting such conditions, Obama told rabbis from across the denominational spectrum.
His statement comes after both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland made similar comments earlier the same week.
“No leader,” however, does not seem to include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently chided the United States and other countries for having an attitude of “wait, there’s still time” when it comes to Iran.
“Wait until when?” Netanyahu asked. “Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”
Additionally, Netanyahu emphasized his differences with Obama on the Iran issue by saying “leadership is tested when it keeps to its goals even when friends disagree and even when they are the best of friends.”
Since Netanyahu made his remarks, he has been criticized in some quarters for trying to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election — something past prime ministers have refrained from doing.
But Obama — again echoing the recent comments of other administration officials, including Vice President Joe Biden — told the rabbis that there is “no daylight between Israel and U.S. positions” on Iran.
There may come a time for military action against Iran, the president said, but that time will not come “until we have exhausted all options.” There remains “time and space for diplomacy” to solve the Iranian threat, he added.
(Chronicle Staff Writer Toby Tabachnick and JointMedia News Service contributed to this report.)