Last Saturday (March 29, 2014) Republican hopefuls for the 2016 presidential election – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R), Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) and Ohio Governor John Kasich were in Las Vegas, courting donors. They were invited at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s (RJC) 2014 Spring Leadership Meeting. They all spoke, addressing topics ranging from fiscal responsibility to foreign policy, offering, of course, a strong defense of Israel.
Walker vowed that the GOP’s next presidential nominee must be someone “from outside Washington,” touting his success at the state level in cutting spending. He also chimed in on Obamacare, prodding the party to move forward on a new idea. He said that the party “can’t go back in time,” and need to replace Obamacare with something “patient-centered.”
Christie, for his part, recalled the 2012 trip he and his family took to Israel. He said, “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.” The story was intended to forge common cause with Jewish casino owner Sheldon Adelson (who has been financing illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories flouting international laws) and the several hundred donors to the Republican Jewish Coalition to which Christie was speaking.
But as soon as Christie uttered the term “occupied territories”, it set off murmurs in the crowd. It is a forbidden word in Zionism, and amongst zealous Zionists who consider the term as validating Palestinian challenges over Israel’s illegal occupation and presence there. Other Christian Zionist supporters of Israel also oppose the use of the term in spite of the fact that the international community, including Israel’s greatest benefactor – the USA, officially maintains that the West Bank of the Jordan River with Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israel War, comprises the Occupied Territories. The Zionist state has been maintaining a military presence ever since 1967.
Christie’s comments drew criticism amongst the die-hard supporters of the illegal Jewish settlement movement. The 80-year-old GOP mega donor Adelson could not have been amused. He owns the Venetian resort that hosted the four-day conference – already being dubbed “the Sheldon primary” – complete with Scotch tastings, private roundtable panels, golf, poker and other activities. In the 2012 election cycle, Adelson poured in more than $90 million to super PACs and candidates including Newt Gingrich to unseat President Obama and other Democrats. With his dirty casino money, he remains a formidable force in American politics, a fact which was not lost last weekend.
According to published reports, soon after the speech, Morton Klein, president of the hawkish Zionist Organization of America, confronted Christie about his use of the term, lecturing the New Jersey governor that “at minimum you should call it disputed territories.” According to Politico, Christie was non-committal at the beginning. The governor “either doesn’t understand the issue at all, or he’s hostile to Israel,” said Klein.
Later, however, Christie met with Adelson privately in the casino mogul’s office in the Venetian hotel and casino, which hosted the RJC meeting. We are told that there Christie “clarified in the strongest terms possible that his remarks today were not meant to be a statement of policy,” and conveyed that he “is an unwavering friend and committed supporter of Israel, and was sorry for any confusion that came across as a result of the misstatement.” Adelson accepted Christie’s explanation.
Besides the comment, Christie largely impressed the crowd Saturday night. He also criticized the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy, which the RJC crowd distrusts deeply. “We cannot have a world where our friends are unsure of whether we’ll be with them, and our enemies are unsure of whether we’ll be against them,” Christie said to loud applause. He also recounted meeting the hawkish Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an RJC favorite, and being “extraordinarily taken by his strength and resolve.”
The three governors are considered likely contenders for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. Party loyalists hope their attendance this weekend will help convince Adelson to support an establishment candidate in the next presidential, rather than a dark horse candidate like Newt Gingrich who he propped up with millions in 2012. Christie got loud applause when he said, “It’s time for us to stop as a party killing each other.”
The mini-controversy and quick apology from Governor Christie once again highlight the influence of the powerful ‘Israel Lobby’ in dictating what’s kosher for American politicians and what’s not when it comes to the Middle East politics.
As the adage goes: hell can freeze, but don’t dare to challenge the Israeli interest in the USA! To succeed as a politician in this country one must appear and sound more Zionist than an Israeli Jew.
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