GOP presidential candidates offer red meat on Israel (UPDATED)

US Politics
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Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, spoke earlier today at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s presidential forum (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images via The Guardian)

Update: C-SPAN has posted the morning and afternoon videos of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s forum yesterday. And here’s the New York Times report, which takes note of the Republican candidates invoking the Holocaust and World War II. For more on the forum, see below.

Six Republican candidates for president, minus Ron Paul, addressed the Republican Jewish Coalition’s (RJC) forum today, and gave the audience what they wanted: a sustained attack on the Obama administration’s Middle East policy. There was a lot of red meat served, and the audience ate it up.

Some of the key themes repeated throughout the candidates’ remarks: the belief in American primacy, as opposed to Obama’s “apologetic” foreign policy; the unbreakable bond between the U.S. and Israel; a sense of outrage at the Obama administration because of Leon Panetta’s, Hillary Clinton’s and Howard Gutman’s recent remarks; and pledges to take aggressive action against Iran.

Politico‘s Ben Smith noted that the RJC seemed to be “[Mitt] Romney’s crowd,” although Newt Gingrich also received a warm welcome.

Now for the news:

Gingrich, who has recently surged in polls, told the audience that he would move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem–a line frequently repeated by presidential candidates across the spectrum but never followed up on. (Gingrich, at an RJC event earlier this year, lauded extremist Israelis who marched in occupied Jerusalem chanting “butcher the Arabs.”)

More on Gingrich’s speech from The Hill:

Newt Gingrich worked to one-up Mitt Romney and the other GOP hopefuls in his approach to relations with Israel, pledging to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, vowing to fund every dissident group in Iran and floating former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton as his pick to run the State Department.

Gingrich’s comments Wednesday at the Republican Jewish Coalition forum marked an escalation in the contest for which Republican presidential candidate can take the most staunch and unquestioning position in support of Israel.

Gingrich also lashed out at President Obama, decrying his approach to U.S.-Israel relations as outrageous and accusing the president of self-deception and appeasement.

“It’s always Israel’s fault, no matter how bad the other side is. It has to stop,” Gingrich said to frenetic applause.

Gingrich also pledged to appoint John Bolton, the former Bush administration official known for his belligerent rhetoric on Iran, as his Secretary of State.

Michele Bachmann, the right-wing Republican congresswoman from Minnesota who has little chance at gaining the nomination, threw in a racist line about the Palestinian right of return, saying that it would “swamp” Israel with “millions of Arabs” who have never lived in Israel and that it would turn Israel into an “Arab state.”

Mitt Romney, as noted earlier, accused Obama of “appeasement” and said that he would “travel to Israel on my first foreign trip.”

What’s important to note about Romney, the front-runner, is that his attempt to draw a contrast between his planned policies on Israel and Obama’s is that it falls flat when you examine the facts. 

Here’s Romney:

As President, my policies will be very different. I will travel to Israel on my first foreign trip. I will reaffirm as a vital national interest Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. I want the world to know that the bonds between Israel and the United States are unshakable. I want every country in the region that harbors aggressive designs against Israel to understand that their ambition is futile and that pursuing it will cost them dearly.

It’s true that Obama has not traveled to Israel. But the other points don’t work as much, which is indicative of just how entrenched support for Israel is in Washington. Obama has “affirmed” that Israel is a “Jewish state.” And Obama has said that “the bond between Israel and the United States is unbreakable.” The Obama administration has also taken a hawkish route on Iran, and even Elliott Abrams, a staunch neoconservative, admits that the U.S. and Israel’s “military relationship has gotten steadily stronger” under the Obama administration.

The takeaway from all of this: Israel will be a huge issue in this presidential campaign, and Republican distortions of Obama’s record will continue. But the political sparring masks the fact that the Obama administration has been nothing but extremely supportive of Israel’s right-wing government. The political debate will continue to be about who can one-up their opponent on devotion to Israel. They need those campaign dollars.

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