A supporter cheers as U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the Republican Jewish Coalition 2019 Annual Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., April 6, 2019.
(photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump predicted a close race in Israel’s elections and called both of the candidates “good people,” in a keynote speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas on Saturday.
The president made a brief comment on the upcoming elections, asking the crowd: “How is the race going? Who’s going to win the race?”
The audience yelled back “Bibi!” referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – to which Trump, in a diplomatic answer, responded: “I think it’s going to be close. Two good people.”
Trump thanked US Special Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt and “a young man named Jared Kushner” for their efforts to promote the peace process, assuring the audience: “Peace in the Middle East: If they can’t do it, nobody can.”
At the beginning of his speech, a few protesters interrupted with chants: “Jews are here to stay! Occupation is a plague!”
The majority of the crowd replied with “USA” chants, and the president responded: “He’s going back to Mommy; he will be reprimanded.”
When Trump mentioned his decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran, he referred to the protester: “Maybe you explain for the young man what does it mean when a country shouts as they’re signing the deal ‘Death to Israel’ – maybe you could explain that to him.
“We’ve now imposed the toughest-ever sanctions on the Iranian dictatorship, and it is not the same country,” the president continued. “Today, folks, they have riots in the streets. They have very little money coming in. A lot of things have changed.”
Trump also “thanked” Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, but then apologized: “I forgot that she doesn’t like Israel.”
Speaking about past tensions between former president Barack Obama’s administration and Netanyahu’s government, the president told the audience: “Three years ago, US-Israel relations were probably in the lowest point. How the hell did you support president Obama? Now, three years later I am standing before you here as the president to report a very different situation. The incredible bond between the US and Israel has never been stronger than it is right now.”
He mentioned his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, telling the audience: “We got you something that you wanted.” He mentioned Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who were sitting in the crowd, adding: “I could tell you, Sheldon and Miriam, that is the most important thing. They love Israel.”
Before the announcement on Jerusalem, the president said, his phone was “ringing off the hook.” He told the crowd he received calls from “presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, everybody,” but didn’t take the calls because he wanted to avoid the conversation before he made an official announcement.
Trump spoke about the ceremony that took place in the White House nearly two weeks ago, in which he signed a proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. “I stood with your prime minister at the White House to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” Trump told the crowd and added that it is something “I have been hearing about for a long time.”
The American Jewish Committee later criticized Trump for referring to Netanyahu as “your prime minister.”
“Mr. President, the Prime Minister of Israel is the leader of his (or her) country, not ours,” AJC tweeted. “Statements to the contrary, from staunch friends or harsh critics, feed bigotry.”
Speaking about his decision to recognize Israel sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Trump said that he supported the move after a briefing on the strategic value of the area.
“I agree – you need it,” he said. “You need the height. You need the height.”
“Israel security – really so important to talk about security – it’s always number one for me. They’d been trying to get that approved. As you know, for 52 years they wanted recognition from the United States on the Golan Heights.”
He mentioned the relatively quiet response from the international community, and said: “It was a big, big story for two days. Everyone’s happy. No repercussions: no. And there won’t be. I went there to protect Israel. We did the right thing. We did the right thing, and I want to congratulate Jared and Jason Greenblatt and [US Ambassador] David Friedman and all of the people they work with.
“And a big thing for me, and some of you won’t like this maybe, but I would love to see peace in the Middle East. I would love to see peace in the Middle East. If those three can’t do it, you’ll never have it done.”
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