Sunday, April 8, 2012

why "Jews Pick Mitt" #2 - The 36 year old Mitt-Bibi friendship that could influence history.

MICHAEL BARBARO in the MYT introduces Mitt Romney to the Jewish Community, by looking at the decades-long relationship between the presumptive Republican nominee and the popular Prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. While Israel is not a partisan issue and the PM made no reference to the upcoming election, the US-Israel relationship will be strengthened, by telling the story of two men with a unknown pretty significant relationship.
"In 1976, the lives of Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu intersected, briefly but indelibly, in the 16th-floor offices of the Boston Consulting Group, where both had been recruited as corporate advisers. At the most formative time of their careers, they sized each other up during the firm’s weekly brainstorming sessions, absorbing the same profoundly analytical view of the world.

That shared experience decades ago led to a warm friendship, little known to outsiders, that is now rich with political intrigue. Mr. Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, is making the case for military action against Iran as Mr. Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, is attacking the Obama administration for not supporting Mr. Netanyahu more robustly.

The relationship between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Romney — nurtured over meals in Boston, New York and Jerusalem, strengthened by a network of mutual friends and heightened by their conservative ideologies — has resulted in an unusually frank exchange of advice and insights on topics like politics, economics and the Middle East.

When Mr. Romney was the governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Netanyahu offered him firsthand pointers on how to shrink the size of government. When Mr. Netanyahu wanted to encourage pension funds to divest from businesses tied to Iran, Mr. Romney counseled him on which American officials to meet with. And when Mr. Romney first ran for president, Mr. Netanyahu presciently asked him whether he thought Newt Gingrich would ever jump into the race.

Only a few weeks ago, on Super Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu delivered a personal briefing by telephone to Mr. Romney about the situation in Iran.

“We can almost speak in shorthand,” Mr. Romney said in an interview. “We share common experiences and have a perspective and underpinning which is similar.”

Mr. Netanyahu attributed their “easy communication” to what he called “B.C.G.’s intellectually rigorous boot camp.”

“So despite our very different backgrounds,” he said through an aide, “my sense is that we employ similar methods in analyzing problems and coming up with solutions for them.”

The ties between Mr. Romney and Mr. Netanyahu stand out because there is little precedent for two politicians of their stature to have such a history together that predates their entry into government. And that history could well influence decision-making at a time when the United States may face crucial questions about whether to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities or support Israel in such an action.

Mr. Romney has suggested that he would not make any significant policy decisions about Israel without consulting Mr. Netanyahu — In a telling exchange during a debate in December, Mr. Romney criticized Mr. Gingrich for making a disparaging remark about Palestinians, declaring: “Before I made a statement of that nature, I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say: ‘Would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do?’ “

Mr. Netanyahu insists that he is neutral in the presidential election, but he has at best a fraught relationship with President Obama. For years, the prime minister has skillfully mobilized many Jewish groups and Congressional Republicans to pressure the Obama administration into taking a more confrontational approach against Iran.

“To the extent that their personal relationship would give Netanyahu entree to the Romney White House in a way that he doesn’t now have to the Obama White House,” Martin Indyk said, “the prime minister would certainly consider that to be a significant advantage.”

Although they never worked closely on a project together, Mr. Romney and Mr. Netanyahu, competitive by nature, left deep impressions on each other, which appear to have only grown.

Mr. Romney, never known for his lack of self-confidence, still recalls the sense of envy he felt watching Mr. Netanyahu effortlessly hold court during the firm’s Monday morning meetings, when consultants presented their work and fielded questions from their colleagues. The sessions were renowned for their sometimes grueling interrogations.

“He was a strong personality with a distinct point of view,” Mr. Romney said. “I aspired to the same kind of perspective.”

Over dinner years later, aides said, Mr. Netanyahu would reveal the depth of his own scorekeeping, when he quipped, with mostly playful chagrin, that Mr. Romney had been “Henderson’s favorite.”

“His star,” the prime minister said of Mr. Romney’s time at Boston Consulting, “had already risen.”

Mr. Romney worked at the company from 1975 to 1977; Mr. Netanyahu was involved from 1976 to 1978. But a month after Mr. Netanyahu arrived, he returned to Israel to start an antiterrorism foundation in memory of his brother, an officer killed while leading the hostage rescue force at Entebbe, Uganda. An aide said he sporadically returned to the company over the rest of that two-year period.

Mr. Romney later decamped to Bain & Company, a rival of Boston Consulting. They did, however, maintain a significant link: at Bain, Mr. Romney worked closely with Fleur Cates, Mr. Netanyahu’s second wife. (Ms. Cates and Mr. Netanyahu divorced in the mid-1980s, but she remains in touch with Mr. Romney.)

The men reconnected shortly after 2003 when Mr. Romney became the governor of Massachusetts. Mr. Netanyahu paid him a visit, eager to swap tales of government life.

Mr. Netanyahu, who had recently stepped down as Israel’s finance minister, regaled Mr. Romney with stories of how, in the tradition of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, he had challenged unionized workers over control of their pensions, reduced taxes and privatized formerly government-run industries, reducing the role of government in private enterprise.

He encouraged Mr. Romney to look for ways to do the same. As Mr. Romney recalled, Mr. Netanyahu told him of a favorite memory from basic training about a soldier trying to race his comrades with a fat man atop his shoulders. Naturally, he loses.

“Government,” Mr. Romney recalled him saying, “is the guy on your shoulders.”

As governor, Mr. Romney said, he frequently repeated the story to the heads of various agencies, reminding them that their job as regulators was to “catch the bad guys, but also to encourage the good guys and to make business more successful in our state.”

A few years later, Mr. Romney had dinner with Mr. Netanyahu at a private home in the Jewish quarter of the Old City, in central Jerusalem, where the two spent hours discussing the American and Israeli economies. When Mr. Netanyahu informed Mr. Romney of a personal campaign to persuade American pension funds to divest from businesses tied to Iran, Mr. Romney offered up his Rolodex.

Before he left Israel, Mr. Romney set up several meetings with government officials in the United States for his old colleague. “I immediately saw the wisdom of his thinking,” Mr. Romney said.

Back in Massachusetts, Mr. Romney sent out letters to legislators requesting that the public pension funds they controlled sell off investments from corporations doing business with Iran.

Even as Mr. Netanyahu, a keen and eager student of American politics, has tried to avoid any hint of favoritism in the presidential election, friends say he has paid especially close attention to Mr. Romney’s political fortunes in this campaign season.

And the prime minister keeps open lines of communication to the candidate. When it was Mr. Gingrich’s turn to leap to the top of the polls, Mr. Netanyahu was startled in January by an article exploring why Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino executive and outspoken supporter of Israel, was devoting millions of dollars to back Mr. Gingrich. It described Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Adelson as close friends.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office quickly relayed a message to a senior Romney adviser, Dan Senor: the prime minister had played no role in Mr. Adelson’s decision to bankroll a Romney rival."

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