Republicans find new ways to make love to Zionism

Just who is in charge of American politics? Don’t tell me that Zionist lobby money has nothing to do with any of this:

Aspiring politicians in New York once made a point of visiting the three I’s: Italy, Ireland and Israel.

For the GOP’s presidential prospects in 2012, it’s all about one: Israel.

A stop in the Jewish state is becoming as critical to a would-be president’s political resume as an early trip to Iowa or New Hampshire, a sort of global two-fer. Get some early foreign policy street-cred and play a little dog-whistle politics with Christian conservatives who are deeply invested in Israel’s fate – some because they view it as critical to the Biblical vision of the end of days.

Not only that, you get to look presidential by having your picture taken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has played host to no less than three Republican contenders in recent weeks. Particularly for governors – who always face the question of whether they’re ready for the foreign policy part of the job — you can’t buy an ad that good.

“It’s not the Ames straw poll, but I do think a visit to Israel is an important stop for folks who are running for president,” said Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matthew Brooks.

“You have a lot of governors and former governors running – folks who have not necessarily had a chance to immerse themselves in these issues,” Brooks said. “So much of what our commander-in-chief will deal with in the White House is rooted in this part of the world.”

There are currently two Republican presidential prospects in Israel: Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Barbour, who’s visiting on a trip organized by the Republican Jewish Coalition, will meet with Netanyahu and speak at a policy conference on Wednesday. Huckabee met with Netanyahu last week as part of an even more extended visit.

They arrived not long after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney departed Israel as part of a weeklong foreign trip that also took him to Afghanistan last month. He, too, got face time with Netanyahu, whom he worked with decades ago at Boston Consulting Group.

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