Reporting from Jerusalem
In Israel, campaign contributions buy you access to Mitt Romney, a kosher breakfast and, apparently, a fast-tracked pass to one of the world’s holiest sites.
The Republican presidential candidate interrupted a day of official meetings to make a surprise trip today to the Western Wall, one of the most significant Jewish religious sites in the world. And he brought along some of his top donors, who were invited by the campaign to join Romney on his 30-hour trip to Jerusalem.
Romney viewed the Wall on Tisha B’Av, a Jewish day of mourning that commemorates the destruction of the first and second Jewish temples. The symbolism was not lost on his campaign, which has said they picked the day to highlight Romney’s understanding of the modern-day threat facing Israel from Iran.
(In a foreign policy speech today, Romney is voicing what a campaign adviser calls his “respect” for Israel’s right to strike Iran if Tehran poses a nuclear threat. )
As Romney made his way down to the wall, donors were escorted around the site by finance director Spencer Zwick and Romney’s brother, Scott.
Flanked by two rabbis and wearing a black yarmulke, Romney made his way down to the wall amid applause and shouts from a gathered crowd. He was surrounded by hundreds of onlookers. He made no public remarks.
“This is the campaign for American Jews,” Channah Nebi said in Hebrew, as she peered over the divide separating men and women to watch Romney.
New York lawyer Phil Rosen, a campaign fundraising bundler, was permitted past the machine-gun carrying Israeli soldiers protecting a security perimeter, to embrace Romney. Like any tourists in a foreign land, the two took a quick snap-shot to remember the moment.
After viewing a prayer book with the rabbis, Romney stepped towards the ancient wall, bowed his head and, as is the tradition, placed a prayer in a crevice. He did not give remarks.
Tomorrow, around 50 top donors — largely from the U.S. – will join the candidate for a kosher breakfast and question-and-answer session in the luxurious King David hotel. Casino magnet Sheldon Adelson will attend, as will Eli Simmons.
The event was initially closed to reporters, making it impossible for voters back at home to know what Romney was telling the donors. After objections, aides agreed to open his remarks — though not the question and answer session — to a small group of press.