Republicans Take Turns Bashing Obama

Few Fireworks as Candidates Push Closer Ties With Israel

Applause Lines: Republican candidate Michele Bachmann reminisced about her time in a kibbutz (it was hard work) and vowed to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem pronto (she’s got a donor lined up to pay for it) at a Jewish Republican forum. All the candidates  pledged their support for Israel and aimed barbs at President Obama.
getty images
Applause Lines: Republican candidate Michele Bachmann reminisced about her time in a kibbutz (it was hard work) and vowed to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem pronto (she’s got a donor lined up to pay for it) at a Jewish Republican forum. All the candidates pledged their support for Israel and aimed barbs at President Obama.

By Nathan Guttman

Published December 07, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Republican presidential candidates took turns bashing President Obama’s record on Israel, as they made their pitch to Jewish Republican voters less than a month before the primary season kicks off.

The message delivered to an audience of Jewish supporters by six of the Republican hopefuls (Ron Paul was not invited to the forum) in a day-long event organized by the Republican Jewish Coalition, was a mix of criticism of the current administration and promises for the future. They included standard no-brainer applause lines such as pledging to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and vowing to make Israel the first foreign visit after being elected.

Timing played well for Republicans, as they took to the podium only days after a series of comments from senior administration officials viewed by Israelis and some Jewish groups as indicating a lack of support for Israel by the Obama administration. These comments included a call from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta for Israel to return to the “damn table” and talk to Palestinians, criticism by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of recent Israeli actions limiting civil and women’s rights, and a controversial remark made by the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, some interpreted as excusing European anti-Semitism.

“This one-sided continuing pressure that says it’s always Israel’s fault no matter how bad the other side is has to stop,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the current frontrunner in the polls.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who is trailing in the polls, said the recent remarks should be seen as reflecting the Obama administration’s mindset.

“These aren’t speeches that are cooked up at the local level and at the embassy,” Huntsman said. “They go high up within the State Department.”

Absent from the discussion was the issue of foreign aid to Israel which has provoked concern in the pro-Israel community following comments by candidates Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich that they would “start from the zero” any process of deciding and allocating U.S. foreign aid to all countries, including Israel.

Perry made an attempt to provide a more nuanced explanation for his policy by telling the Jewish audience that zeroing out aid would not impact “strategic aid” such as that provided to Israel.

“Strategic defensive aid under a Perry administration will increase to Israel,” the Texas governor promised. Under current laws, there is no distinction between civil and military aid, since both come out of the State Department foreign operations budget.

Gingrich and Romney, who was the odds-on favorite to win the nomination until recently, avoided the issue altogether and were not asked about it in the question-and-answer session, which was made up of friendly remarks by RJC members.

After initially making the remark about cutting foreign aid, Romney’s campaign insisted the candidate did not direct his comments at Israel, but Romney himself has yet to clarify his position, a stance that was highlighted by Democrats in their response to the Republican speeches.

“If Gov. Romney isn’t willing to support Israel’s military and foreign aid package before an audience of pro-Israel, Republican Jews many of us believe he simply doesn’t support it,” said Rep. Steve Rothman, a New Jersey Democrat.

The Republican Jewish Coalitions candidates’ forum drew plenty of national media attention and put Jewish supporters of Obama on high alert.

The National Jewish Democratic Council issued statements responding to the candidates’ addresses, the Democratic National Committee offered fact sheets rebuking Romney’s statements and former Congressman Robert Wexler, in a conference call following the event, called the RJC gathering a “theater of absurd.” Even J Street, the left-leaning lobby, which is not affiliated with the Obama campaign or with Democratic Party, set up shop across the hall from the RJC gathering at the Ronald Reagan building in Washington and offered rebuttals on demand to attacks on Obama.

Mostly, the messages of all six presidential hopefuls to the Jewish community were similar and focused on a pledge to support Israel, tough talk on Iran and an explanation of their economic programs. Recurring themes included repealing “Obamacare”; accusing the president of appeasing America’s enemies; and distancing themselves from Washington and from government bureaucracy.

Some, such as Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, evoked the “Judeo-Christian” foundations of America. Perry chose to speak of his religious belief and Michele Bachmann reminisced about her time as a volunteer on a kibbutz in Israel (where she worked the cotton fields from four in the morning until late afternoon and then went to rest in an area of the kibbutz referred to by the overseas volunteers as the “ghetto.”)

Among the promises offered by Republican candidates to Jewish voters were a pledge to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem on the first day of their presidency (Michele Bachmann even said she has secured funding from a donor to pay for the move); to visit Israel as first destination (Romney, Bachmann); to “take a meat ax” to the State Department if it keeps up its current policy regarding Israel (Santorum); and to appoint former controversial Bush administration U.N. ambassador John Bolton to Secretary of State (Gingrich).

Republican candidates all criticized President Obama’s handling with Iran’s nuclear threat. But most stopped short from calling for a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Perry went further than others when suggesting the U.S. should offer its “vocal, unerring moral support” to Israel “in the face of what will be inevitable international condemnation if she is forced to strike [Iran].” According to Mitt Romney, the best solution for the Iran probably would be overthrowing the current leadership. “Ultimately,” Romney said, “regime change is what’s going to be necessary.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.