Last week, potential US presidential candidate, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, spoke to hundreds of attendees at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Palazzo hotel. The governor hardly mentioned Israel in his prepared remarks, which was a bit of a surprise, but during the Q&A session, he made a pivotal error in referring to Judea and Samaria as “occupied territories.”
For someone well entrenched in politics, who has courted Jewish communities throughout his own state and the nation as he seeks a higher position, he must know that is the language of those hostile to Israel, designed solely to delegitimize the Jewish state’s claims to that land.
Governor Christie later claimed that he misspoke, but that is not in keeping with the polished politician we have come to know.
Here’s why: The audience noticeably gasped and murmurs quickly spread throughout the room when Christie used this term.
This audience understood that Israel captured this land from Jordan in a defensive war. More important, Jordan had no legal sovereignty there, but had illegally controlled this territory from 1948 to 1967, only being recognized by two countries.
These activist Zionists know that Israel has a greater political, religious, legal and historic right to that land than do the Palestinians.
For G-d’s sake, the term Jew comes from the fact that we Jews come from Judea.
As someone who has delivered many public speeches, the audience reaction was so pronounced that Governor Christie instantly realized he upset many of those in the room, giving him his first opportunity to say that he was wrong and misspoke. But he didn’t. Despite that, I still wanted to give him another opportunity to do so.
It’s important to note that I want to like Governor Christie.
As the head of the Zionist Organization of America, the oldest pro-Israel group in the US, I, like anyone – Republican or Democrat – who supports the Jewish state, want to find reasons for important public leaders to want to maintain and strengthen US support for our most important ally. When I approached Christie after his presentation, I respectfully explained to him why he should use one of the more accurate terms; either “Judea or Samaria,” “West Bank,” or the least acceptable, “disputed territories.”
Christie responded brusquely and dismissively with a scowl and a non-answer. “I saw you shaking your head,” he proclaimed.
I asked him again if he would use one of the more appropriate terms.
He again responded with the same non-answer, refusing to say he misspoke, saying, “Yeah, I saw you shaking your head in the first row when I used that term.” That is what got me concerned and thoroughly frustrated.
It was only after I then spoke to the many journalists covering this event, which triggered over a hundred tweets and other media reactions, and after Christie met with mega-donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, that Christie suggested that he “misspoke.”
What Governor Christie didn’t say is that he sincerely apologizes, or that he now understands Israel has a legitimate claim to this land, or that Jews have every right to live there. And remember, he only said that he “misspoke” after speaking to a major donor whose support he was seeking. He never said it to me whose support he was not seeking.
Clearly to someone he did not know or consider to be a donor or a worthy supporter, he would likely express his true feelings, while to donor Adelson he would more likely say whatever was necessary to gain his support. It was intense negative media attention that caused him to claim he misspoke, not his genuine belief or appreciation for the criticism.
It pains me to say that Governor Christie either has a woeful lack of knowledge and understanding of the reality of the issues facing Israel or that he is simply hostile to the Jewish state to the point of wanting to sound “politically correct” to the Left.
The writer is national president of the Zionist Organization of America.