WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney criticized President Barack Obama for his stance on Israel on Thursday, telling a Florida crowd that if elected he would “stand with our friends.”
“This president has found it pretty sensible to be critical of our friends,” Romney told a Palm Beach County crowd that included many Jewish voters.
“He went to the United Nations and criticized Israel for building settlements. He had nothing to say about Hamas’ 20,000 rockets into Israel,” Romney said. “We will stand with our friends.”
Obama has insisted his administration has done more than any other to protect Israel and called his commitment “unshakeable.”
The Democratic president won nearly eight of every 10 Jewish voters in 2008 but a slip would jeopardize his 2012 re-election drive in battleground states like Florida and Pennsylvania, where Jews are an important swing bloc.
Romney’s message, delivered ahead of Florida’s January 31 primary, resonated with Sholom Ciment, a rabbi from Boca Raton, another wealthy Florida enclave.
“I appreciate the fact that he just made a pledge to stand proudly by Israel today. The past years, Israel has not been treated as the trusted ally of stature that it is,” said Ciment, who plans to vote for Romney.
Harlan Janowitz, a Jewish voter and home healthcare worker from West Palm Beach, said he supports Obama and predicted he would win in November if the economy improves a bit, if U.S. troops continue to come home and “if nothing blows up in Israel and the Middle East.”
“The pro-Israel cause here has worried about Obama,” Janowitz said.
But he predicted Jewish Democrats would rally around Obama as the election neared and as they weighed the prospects of a conservative Republican in charge of Supreme Court appointments, and of Republican proposals to change Social Security and Medicare.
“More Jewish Democrats will move into the fold. They do not want an ultra-conservative Supreme Court,” Janowitz said.
Despite Palm Beach County’s relative affluence, voters there strongly support and use Social Security and Medicare, he said.
“They all take their Medicare, the millionaires in Palm Beach,” he said.
A Quinnipiac University poll on Wednesday showed that if Romney were to win the GOP presidential nomination, he could be in a very close race in Florida against Obama.
The poll said the former Massachusetts governor had the support of 46 percent of registered voters against Obama’s 43 percent.
Editing by Tom Brown and Xavier Briand