The Romney campaign's recently announced "Arab-Americans for Romney" includes some of the Republican Party’s staunchest advocates for the Palestinian cause, some of whom have worked directly against positions shared by the intensely pro-Israel Republican Party and President Barack Obama.
The list, which includes some prominent sitting and former members of Congress like Darrell Issa and Sen. John E. Sununu (the son of Gov. John Sununu), as well as anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist's wife Samah. Also on the roster is George Salem, an advisor to global lobbying firm DLA Piper who has recently been involved in bitter infighting in Washington’s pro-Palestinian community, pushing for a more confrontational stance toward Israel.
Salem sits on the board of the American Task Force on Palestine, a group in Washington that is aligned with Salam Fayyad, the technocratic Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority. Salem was at the heart of a dispute last year inside the organization, in which, according to an ally’s account, he pressed for the group to support the Palestinian pursuit of statehood before the United Nations, a move Israel feared and that the United States openly opposed.
Salem didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Fayyad’s allies in the American Task Force on Palestinine’s leadership were surprised to see his name on Romney’s list. "Honestly, it seems like [Romney] didn’t do his homework,” said one source on the side of the current ATFP leadership.
Only one member of Arab-Americans for Romney’s 15-person leadership, Macomb County Republican Party vice chairman Nick Hawatmeh, responded to an inquiry about Romney’s appeal to supporters of a Palestinian State.
"It was laid out pretty clear in [Romney's] last foreign policy speech what he intends to do — a two-state solution, and work with a democratic Palestine and our ally Israel," Hawatmeh said. "I think that's a good solution, I agree with that, and that satisfies me."
Pro-Israel Democrats, however, complained to BuzzFeed Thursday that Romney was paying no political price for associating him with Israel critics at a time when Obama has been pounded constantly on alleged breaches of faith with the Jewish State.
"I’m not saying all these individuals are anti-Israel, but if this were the other way around, that’s exactly how they’d be portrayed," said Democratic strategist Aaron Keyak, a veteran of the partisan Israel wars, of the list. "There would be a breaking [Republican Jewish Committee] release and a big bold headline on Drudge, Free Beacon, Weekly Standard, and Fox News: 'Obama's Anti-Israel Kitchen Cabinet. Instead — silence."
The list, which was announced on Friday, has garnered little attention outside of foreign policy circles.
"There's nothing wrong fundamentally with having an Arab-American group," said David Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council. "But I’m sure the Obama folks would be pilloried if they put out any affinity group led by individuals who were deeply opposed in principle to Iran sanctions, for example," he said, referring to Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian and ally of Rep. Ron Paul who voted against the sanctions.
"To say that there’s a double standard here is putting it mildly," Harris said.
Other pro-Israel activists were agitated but declined to be quoted criticizing Romney.
"The fact that the Romney folks have an anti-Israel activist like George Salem and a guy like like Grover Norquist, who has been widely criticized, including by Republican members of congress, for long standing ties to terrorists and supporters of terrorists groups, affiliated with their campaign is pretty troubling,” said one official with a Jewish organization. "If this were the Obama campaign, you can only imagine the howls of outrage that we would be hearing from Conservatives — and rightly so.”
Salem’s role produced particular complaints, in part because of his role in connecting President George W. Bush with Arab American leaders who were later pushed well out of the political mainstream. Salem has served as a lawyer for the Holy Land Foundation, a group with ties to Hamas, which President Bush shut down in 2001, and has been the target of at-times intense intra-party criticism since then.
Some of the Republican Party’s fiercest pro-Israel voices, including Romney aide Dan Senor, Republican Jewish Committee Chairman Matt Brooks, Emergency Committee for Israel executive director Noah Pollak, and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol were uncharacteristically silent in response to questions about the coalition.
But Michael Goldfarb, who helped found the Emergency Committee for Israel and chairs the Center for American Freedom, which publishes the Free Beacon, said Romney’s stated positions and his closer advisers inoculate him on the question.
“I don't think it's going to be an issue,” he said. “Romney's surrounded by a really pro-Israel team, he's genuinely passionate about the issue, and Obama — he seems genuinely passionate about finding new ways to poke pro-Israel voters in the eye.”
“It's not like Romney got the Hamas endorsement,” Goldfarb said, referring to a Hamas official’s warm words for Obama at one point in 2008.
Correction: This article originally quoted Nick Hawatmeh as saying Romney supports a six-state solution — he actually said he supports a two-state solution.
Rosie Gray is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. Gray reports on politics and foreign policy.
Contact Rosie Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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