New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appears to be having difficulty in persuading influential American Jews of his pro-Israel credentials.
Weeks after Christie upset billionaire power broker and key Republican donor Sheldon Adelson by referring to the West Bank as “occupied territories” at a political confab in Las Vegas, the New Jersey governor once again raised eyebrows among those on the hawkish wing of American Jewry by failing to mention Israel once during a speech at a gala attended by Adelson last weekend.
With Adelson among other high-profile figures in attendance, Christie spoke at the World Jewish Values Network dinner in New York on Sunday. The fallout of his speech, however, continued to reverberate into the weekend.
Christie’s speech, which The Values Network’s PR firm had promised would be a “ ‘major speech’ on Israel and the Middle East, according to insiders,” was notable for its failure to mention Israel, even as the presumed Republican presidential hopeful criticized President Obama’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Syria, Iran and Russia.
By contrast, one of Christie’s likely rivals for the Republican nomination — Texas Governor Rick Perry, who was invited to present the Adelsons with the Principle Benefactor Award — rhapsodized on stage about his many travels to Israel, during which he “crossed the Jordan River” and “peered over the Golan Heights into Syria.”
“It’s time for this country to renew our commitment to a strong Israel,” Perry said. “Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state! The cause of good shall triumph over evil.”
Morton Klein, the head of the Zionist Organization of America, is quoted by New York Magazine as saying that Adelson was disappointed with Christie’s latest perceived gaffe.
“Sheldon was concerned about the ‘occupied territory’ remark and he expected Christie would make amends and would express support for Israel and it didn’t happen,” Klein, an Adelson confidante, told New York.
Klein said that Adelson, like others in attendance, “was perplexed and shocked and mystified."
"Why did Christie do this?” Klein said. “This was an insult.”
One prominent American Jew and pro-Israel hawk who did come to Christie’s defense was Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who hosted the gala dinner and who is also a Jerusalem Post columnist.
“Would I have I liked him to mention Israel? Of course,” Boteach told New York Magazine. Nonetheless, the rabbi remains convinced that Christie is a “friend of Israel.”
Still, with a run to the White House on the horizon, it appears Christie has much work to do if he hopes to enlist the support of the pro-Israel crowd on the political right.
“Chris Christie is no friend of Israel,” said Klein, who added that this was a view shared by some of the largest political donors in the Republican Jewish community. “I would be very surprised if any of the major pro-Israel activists in the room would support Christie.”