In New York, Christie slams Obama, champions Israel

Gov. Christie
Gov. Christie
Posted: May 20, 2014

NEW YORK - The United States needs to again be "a moral power" in the world, having ceded some authority during President Obama's tenure, Gov. Christie said Sunday night.

Speaking at the Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala in a midtown banquet hall to a crowd that included Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, Christie did not mention Obama by name, but accused the president of taking a weak stance toward the conflict in Syria.

"Once you draw that red line, you enforce it," Christie said, apparently referring to Obama's declaration in 2012 that Syria's use of chemical weapons would not be tolerated. "Because if you don't, America's credibility will be at stake."

Invoking former President Ronald Reagan as a symbol of certainty in foreign policy, Christie called for the United States to "send clear signals" to its allies and enemies. At one point, he said, "Who is out there that you will nominate to make sure that justice is done around the world?"

Christie - who said last week he was still considering running for president - sounded themes similar to those in a speech he gave in March before the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, criticizing Obama's foreign policy while calling for the United States to better define its positions.

It was also a repeat opportunity for Christie to impress Adelson, a billionaire casino magnate who along with his wife, Miriam, spent more than $90 million in the 2012 elections and who is being courted by Republicans for his support in the 2016 race.

During the March speech - held at Adelson's luxury Las Vegas hotel, the Venetian - Christie stirred some controversy by using the term occupied territories. The term refers to land where Palestinians live and where Israel maintains a military presence, including the West Bank. Its use is rejected by Adelson and other conservative Zionists as validating Palestinian views.

Christie apologized to Adelson in a private meeting after the event, saying he misspoke, according to a Politico report.

The two were seated at the same table Sunday night, according to Christie's spokeswoman. Also seated at the table was Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who ran for president in 2012 and who has been seen as a possible candidate in 2016.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a well-known rabbi from New Jersey who hosted the event, acknowledged to the crowd that "Chris Christie said something some people said he shouldn't have said about Israel."

"I could care less about verbal gaffes" because in Judaism, actions, not words, have the highest value, Boteach said.

"I'm not interested in perfect people," he said. "This is not a dinner for angels."

About 600 people - including actor Sean Penn, Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, and Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer - attended the gala, held at the Cipriani.

During his 16-minute speech, Christie focused on America's role in the world, saying the nation's position had been diminished in recent years, in part by setting a poor example domestically.

"We are, and have become, a dysfunctional government" that other countries may no longer want to emulate, Christie said.

The U.S. is also not sending clear signals to the world, about "who our friends are . . . [and] who we will oppose, regardless of the cost," Christie said.

He never mentioned Israel, though he discussed some of the country's foreign interests, referring to the possibility of the "terrorist state" of Iran gaining nuclear capability.

"It's unthinkable" the U.S. would let that happen, Christie said. "Yet we are sitting in a world, watching the vacuum that American leadership has created being filled."

As he described his leadership, Christie talked - as he has in other speeches - about inheriting a budget deficit from former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, and refusing calls from Democratic legislators to raise taxes.

"People need to know that you'll stand up and stand for the things that you believe in," he said. The governor, now facing an $800 million revenue shortfall with six weeks left in the fiscal year, has again rejected raising taxes.

Christie didn't discuss the turmoil in his administration as a result of the investigations into the George Washington Bridge lane closures but said he was unfazed by dropping approval ratings.

"If you worry every day about what position you are in in an opinion poll, you can't govern and you can't lead. I speak about this from personal experience," he said.

Perry also spoke at the event, rousing the crowd as he focused his brief remarks on Israel.

Calling for the U.S. to "renew its commitment to Israel," Perry said the nation must be very clear that "Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state."


mhanna@phillynews.com

609-989-8990

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