WASHINGTON – Republican presidential candidates made their case for support from the country’s Jewish community on Thursday, characterizing US President Barack Obama as a danger to Israel and warning of a continuation of his policies under a consecutive Democratic administration.
The contenders, speaking at a Washington forum, were preaching to a sold constituency – the Republican Jewish Coalition, a lobbying group that connects Jewish members of the party with its leadership.
But while most American Jews prioritize domestic issues in general elections, the candidates focused squarely on Israel, and on their conviction that Obama, after brokering a landmark nuclear deal with Iran over Israel’s objections, has compromised the Jewish state’s long-term security.
“Israel stands on the front lines of our civilizational struggle against radical, apocalyptic Islam,” said Marco Rubio, a leading contender and current Florida junior senator. “That term, apocalyptic Islam, is not an attempt at being provocative; it is rather a description of the true beliefs of the leaders of both Iran and the Islamic State – that they are living in the end times and that mass genocide is their way to honor God.”
Businessman Donald Trump, who has consistently led polls in key primary states, called Obama “the worst thing that’s ever happened to Israel,” and the deal with Iran a mortal blow.
Nevertheless, Trump – along with candidates Jeb Bush of Florida and John Kasich of Ohio – have said they would strictly police the nuclear deal as president, as opposed to others, such as Ted Cruz of Texas, who have threatened to tear it apart.
Trump expressed skepticism that either Israel or the Palestinians have the commitment to a two-state solution necessary for successful negotiations. He said he would be “so happy” if he, as president, could broker “perhaps the hardest deal in history to put together.”
The campaign refocused on national security following the Paris terrorist attacks last month, and Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon with support among evangelical Christians, has since slipped in the polls.
His speech to the RJC Forum was largely a recap of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s history, ending with a prescription familiar to conservatives: That Israel must retain strategic depth in any comprehensive solution; that the Palestinian Authority has passed on several opportunities to achieve statehood; and that Palestinian leadership is fundamentally undermined by Hamas’ control of Gaza.
Threats facing Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often says, come from the same extremist ideology challenging the West – that of “Radical Islam,” the candidates asserted, repeatedly using a term Obama avoids.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a long-shot candidate, warned that nominating Trump would put Republicans in a losing position come November, noting his dwindling support among Hispanic Americans and women.
“I believe Donald Trump is destroying the Republican Party’s chances to win an election that we can’t afford to lose,” Graham said, adding, “If you’re going to tell a woman who’s been raped that she has to carry the child of her rapist, you’re losing most Americans.”
Indeed, they may lose Jewish Americans – 93 percent of whom are pro-choice, including 77% of Jewish Republicans, according to a Public Religion Research Institute poll from 2013.
The National Jewish Democratic Council issued a statement highlighting consistent Jewish support for Democrats before the Republican event on Thursday. “As of late, we have seen how Republicans are rushing to turn away Syrian refugees,” said Greg Rosenbaum, the council’s chairman.
“However, leading Jewish organizations, from across the spectrum, do not see Syrian refugees as a threat – rather, there is rare unanimity on an issue that has stirred partisan passion.”
Few contenders took note of rising anti-Israel sentiment across US college campuses and throughout Europe, with the exception of Rubio, who said he would call the trend “anti-Semitic” should he become president.
“Let’s take a step back and realize what this means,” he told the crowd. “Discriminatory laws that apply only to Jews are now being written into European law for the first time in more than half a century.”
“I believe we need a president who is not afraid to call this out for what it is: anti-Semitism,” he continued. “I will be that president.”
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