Six of the seven Republican presidential candidates took to the podium at the Republican Jewish Coalition's Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington on Wednesday, vying with each other in their praise for Israel and their effusive pledges to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas was not invited.
To read Israel Hayom's exclusive interviews with all leading Republican candidates, click here .
Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, who has risen dramatically in public opinion polls in recent weeks and is positioned as the front-runner in the Republican presidential race, lashed out at the White House for its conduct toward Israel.
"The fact that ... Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would talk about discrimination against women in Israel and then meets with the Saudis ..." he said, his voice trailing off as laughter erupted in the hall. Earlier this week, Clinton expressed alarm at what she said was a growing trend of religious exclusion of women in Israeli society.
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The former House speaker drew repeated applause when he said he would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and make Bush administration diplomat John Bolton his secretary of state.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is in a near dead heat with Gingrich in the polls, also earned a standing ovation from the several hundred participants in the audience when he said that U.S. President Barack Obama, by his actions, has "emboldened Palestinian hard-liners who now are poised to form a unity government with terrorist Hamas and feel they can bypass Israel at the bargaining table."
Romney said that "in his inaugural address to the United Nations, the president chastised Israel but said little about the thousands of Hamas rockets raining into its skies. He's publicly proposed that Israel adopt indefensible borders."
Obama has "insulted its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and he's been timid and weak in the face of the existential threat of a nuclear Iran," added Romney. He repeated a pledge to make his first foreign trip as president to Israel, saying "I want the world to know that the bonds between Israel and the United States are unshakable."
Romney asserted the president had weakened America’s military and world standing by what he called bowing to foreign dictators and by withdrawing troops. He also chastised Obama for not finding the time in his diplomatic travels to visit Israel, “our allies, our friends.’’
“He rushed to apologize for America, but he’s hesitated to speak out for democracy and freedom,’’ Romney said
Romney also commented on the Iranian nuclear issue, saying "covert and overt" activities are needed to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Despite mounting evidence from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, Tehran denies trying to build a nuclear bomb.
"Ultimately, regime change is what's going to be necessary," said Romney.
Recent controversial remarks about anti-Semitism by Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, added fuel to the Republicans' fire.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who was Obama's first envoy to China, suggested the remarks had been cleared in advance by the U.S. State Department or perhaps even the White House.
Huntsman suggested that Ambassador Gutman's comments about anti-Semitism reflected "ambiguity that the administration has toward Israel."
"I say these aren't speeches that are cooked up at local level within the embassy. They go high up within the State Department, probably within the National Security Council," he said.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum compared Obama’s policies in the Middle East to actions taken by England before World War II to try to avert the conflict.
“For every thug and hooligan, for every radical Islamist, he has had nothing but appeasement,” said Santorum.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, working to undo damage caused by saying he would reduce Israeli foreign aid “to zero,” pledged to increase all forms of “strategic, defensive aid” to the country.
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, an advocate of federal spending cuts, stressed the importance of U.S. foreign aid. “Today more than ever, Israel requires the necessary aid that the United States gives,” she said.
As any criticism of Obama drew applause from the audience at the forum, the White House and its allies were quick to counter the allegations.
"Because they know they can't attract Jewish voters with their domestic policy, Republicans turn to Israel and attempt to make the Jewish state a partisan issue," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat who is chair of the Democratic National Committee.
She said Obama has demonstrated unwavering support for Israel, and during his presidency, U.S. military assistance to the Jewish state has reached unprecedented levels.
Mindful of the political stakes, the White House has arranged briefings and a Hanukkah party at the White House for Jewish leaders on Thursday. Obama is expected to speak next week to a conference of the Union for Reform Judaism.
Obama won the election in 2008 with 78% support from Jewish voters, according to national exit polls.
According to Bloomberg News, the Republican goal is to win increased support from Jewish Democrats and independents to help the party carry swing states, including Florida.
According to the National Jewish Democratic Council, a 10% decline in Jewish support for the party could shift the vote by 98,000 in Florida, 35,000 in Pennsylvania, 18,000 in Ohio and 8,500 in Nevada, states targeted as battlegrounds in the 2012 presidential election, Bloomberg reported.
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