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U.S. Republican presidential hopeful former House Speaker Newt Gingrich addresses the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC in this October 7, 2011 file photo. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Republican presidential hopeful former House Speaker Newt Gingrich addresses the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC in this October 7, 2011 file photo. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Analysis

Gingrich's vow on Israel might come back to bite him Add to ...

Newt Gingrich might have checked with Joe Clark first.

The Republican presidential hopeful and – according to some polls – the current front-runner in the race to oust Barack Obama from the White House vows his first act in the Oval Office will be to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“In a Gingrich administration, on the opening day, there will be an executive order about two hours after the inaugural address. We will send the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as of that day,” he said.

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Mr. Clark, a former Canadian prime minister, made a similarly bold campaign promise in 1979 seeking support – as is Mr. Gingrich – from the relatively small but politically very active bloc of Jewish voters. Once in office and faced with the political realities, Mr. Clark quickly ditched the pledge and Canada’s embassy remains in Tel Aviv.

(Jerusalem’s status remains in dispute despite Israel’s annexation of the eastern half of the city that it invaded and captured from Jordan in the 1967 war. Both Israel and the as-yet non-existent state of Palestine claim the city as their capital. Most foreign governments keep their embassies in Tel Aviv.)

Out-promising each other and dumping on Mr. Obama over his supposed lack of support for Israel was a central theme as Republican candidates sought to impress the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington on Wednesday.

Mitt Romney hammered Mr. Obama for being “timid and weak” in confronting Iran and failing to visit Israel during his three years in office. He omitted any mention that Ronald Reagan, the exemplar or modern Republican presidents, didn’t bother to visit Israel during eight years in office. Mr. Romney, a Mormon, struggling to establish his right-wing credentials among America’s evangelical Christians where support for Israel is very strong, vowed to make his first trip abroad to the Jewish state.

Campaign promises designed to curry favour with particular interest groups often go undelivered. Mr. Gingrich’s vow that his first executive order will be to move America’s embassy echoes one made by Mr. Obama whose first executive order – signed with much fanfare and broadcast nationwide – was to close Guantanamo Bay.

Years later, Guantanamo is still open; Mr. Obama never utters the notorious name of America’s offshore prison and is actually considering some draconian measures – such as indefinite detention for citizens suspected of terrorism – which even the Bush administration didn’t try.

On Wednesday, other Republican candidates also offered sweeping promises as they sought Jewish American voter support. Michelle Bachmann also vowed to move the embassy and claimed she had lined up a private donor willing to pay to shift the ambassador’s residence.

Texas Governor Rick Perry tried to unwind a previous pledge to slash foreign aid. “You ought to start off at zero and say, explain to me why I should give you a penny,” Mr. Perry had said a few weeks ago.

Israel, which gets more than $3-billion in annual U.S. foreign aid, more than twice as much as the next largest recipient, Egypt, would be exempt for the ‘start-at-zero’ plan, Mr. Perry said. Money for Israel wasn’t aid, it was strategic defensive spending, he added.

Just as Mr. Clark and Mr. Obama (and the voters that elected them) discovered, campaign vows sometimes come back to haunt those in power.

Follow on Twitter: @PaulKoring

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