July 17, 2024
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Republican Jewish Coalition Hosts Contentious GOP Candidates Debate

Israel’s security, its relationship with the United States, the BDS movement, a real sense that a Hillary Clinton administration would be nothing more than an extension of the Barack Obama presidency, and the threat of the growth of radical Islam were among the leading issues discussed by 14 of the 15 GOP presidential candidates who attended the Republican Jewish Coalition’s (RJC) Presidential Candidates’ Forum on December 3 in Washington, D.C.

Candidates Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, to date heading the GOP polls, were very much present at the event. Its only no-show was Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

It was no secret at the event that all the candidates, with the exception of Trump, were seeking the support of Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson. The Sands Hotel and Casino owner contributed $55 million to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2012 failed presidential bid.

Besides the poll leaders, those in attendance included New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

It was Cruz, the first speaker of the day, who talked of the threat of “radical Islamic terrorism.” He then attacked Secretary of State John Kerry for his suggestion that Israel risked becoming an apartheid state. Rubio, who, like many of his opponents, defined Judea and Samara as part of Israel, also noted that there are those in Washington who “wish America would abandon Israel to its multitude of eager enemies.”

He then attacked the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton for their abandonment of Israel. Cruz received a standing ovation when he said that “any university that supports the BDS movement” will lose its federal funding under his administration.

Trump arrived hours after the Associated Press quoted him saying that Israel might need to make serious concessions in any potential peace deal with the Palestinians. He didn’t clarify what he meant during his speech. He also received boos when he said he hadn’t decided if the U.S. should move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He would later say that the Jews in the audience wouldn’t support him, because they like being asked for money, and he’s the only candidate not looking for financial support. “I would love your support, but I don’t want your money,” he said.

For the most part, Trump acted like a member of the family from whom the audience could accept a self-deprecating Jewish joke. “Do you just like me because my daughter happens to be Jewish?” he opened, adding that since her Orthodox conversion and marriage to West Orange, NJ, native Jared Kushner, a scion of the family that established the Kushner Yeshiva system, he can’t reach Ivanka (sometimes called Yael) on Saturdays.

All of the candidates agreed that the Iran nuclear deal should be re-negotiated. Trump described the deal as “the single worst thing that ever happened to Israel.”

They were also all in accord that anti-Semitism needs to be addressed, especially as it is manifested in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Predictably, they were all in agreement that Clinton would make a “dreadful president.”

Rubio cited the administration’s flaccid response to the spate of Palestinian terror against Israel and the European Union’s approval requiring labeling of products that come from areas the EU considers “Israeli-occupied territories.”

There were policy differences cited by the candidates themselves. Cruz favors toppling ISIS but leaving Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Alawite regime in power; Rubio wants both ousted.

“If we are to defeat our enemies, we need to be clear-eyed that toppling a government and allowing radical Islamic terrorists to take over a nation is not benefiting our national security interests,” said Mr. Cruz.

Mr. Rubio disagreed that a terrorist takeover is the only possible outcome, arguing that as long as Mr. Assad remains in power in Syria, “you’re going to have in place someone who creates the conditions for the next ISIS to emerge.”

It seemed that the non-sugar-coated comments kept the conference buzzing.

Ari Fleischer, who served as White House press secretary for President George W. Bush and is now a board member of the RJC, said he did not believe Mr. Trump really wanted to speak to Mr. Netanyahu before answering the question on dividing Jerusalem or relocating the embassy. “His refusal to be specific was offensive, and his statement about Jews not supporting him because he won’t take their money is a misreading of the issue. Jews want to engage with pro-Israel candidates to help them understand the depth of the issue,” he explained.

Marc Zell, vice-president of Republicans Overseas and co-chair of Republicans Abroad Israel, was not impressed. “Trump lacks sophistication, knowledge and experience.”

Also, media reports indicated that Dr. Carson “stumbled” his way through his speech, repeatedly mispronouncing Hamas, making it sound like hummus. And, reports added, it was Bush and Cruz who received the warmest receptions.

Susan Rosenbluth is the founder and publisher of  of TheJewishVoiceandOpinion.com. A longer version of this article can be found online at: TheJewishVoiceandOpinion.com

By Susan Rosenbluth

TheJewishVoiceandOpinion.com

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