New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, and senior United States Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, both ripped into President Barack Obama’s handling of relations with Israel and nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Their harsh criticisms came from the podium of the Broadway Ballroom of the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Manhattan May 28 at the Champions of Jewish Values Awards Gala, an organization founded by author and TV host Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of Englewood.
Speaking before a predominantly Jewish and strongly Zionist audience of nearly 1,000, Christie said Obama “has shown you what the lack of American leadership and American strength can do to the world.”
Christie has not yet declared whether he will seek the Republican nomination for president, but he sounded like a candidate on the attack when he declared, “The Middle East is on fire and what Obama needs to do is stand up and say to the world that America will not stand for it.”
Chiding the president for not enforcing the “red line” against the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against its own people, Christie said, “It seems at times this president is unwilling to stand up to anyone in the world except Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, who actually happens to be our friend….
“Ironically, as the world comes apart, the president stands up to our friends but cannot stand up to evil.”
The governor said that as long as Iran opposes the existence of Israel “it should not be a part of any negotiations.” He expressed incredulity that the president “is trying to convince us that somehow Iran will change” and asked, “How can we permit these negotiations to go on without Israel and its friends at the table?
“It is because evil is not being met with strength.”
Christie suggested rather that the Iranians should be given a multi-pronged ultimatum: “We won’t talk to you until you affirm Israel’s right to exist, we won’t talk to you until you stop exporting terrorism, we will not talk to you until you join the civilized group of nations.”
He said the U.S. government needs “to be strong and to speak clearly — not only to our allies but to our adversaries. Our friends in Israel deserve better that what they’ve gotten in the last seven years.”
‘Embassy to Jerusalem’
Addressing the audience in somewhat milder tones, Menendez promised he would oppose waiving sanctions against Iran “unless it agrees to a deal that begins to dismantle its illicit nuclear infrastructure.”
He told the audience he has “serious questions” about where negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program are headed, adding that he is “concerned about the president’s statement that greater sanctions relief would come” and about “Iran’s ability to retain research and development authorities,” allowing it to enrich uranium at a faster pace.
“I am deeply disturbed that the framework agreement does not speak to the long-established requirement that Iran must come completely clean on the question of weaponization of their nuclear program,” Menendez said.
He said he understands the hope with which some regard the negotiations, but, he said, “hope is not a national security solution.”
Following Menendez, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a declared candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, said, “The nation of Israel has never been more endangered.”
Promising to “stop any deal that would allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons,” Cruz received a round of cheers when he asked the gathering to envision, after the next election, “instead of a president who boycotts Prime Minister Netanyahu, imagine a president standing unapologetically with him.”
He said the next president should “immediately re-impose” sanctions against Iran and, if Iran does not stop making nuclear weapons, “should transfer bunker-buster bombs to the nation of Israel and if Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, that president in 2017 should stand up and explain to the world very simply, ‘Either Iran will stop or the United States of America must stop them.’”
Cruz drew his biggest round of applause when he said that “in 2017 the next president should announce that America is moving its embassy to Jerusalem.”
Prior to the awards dinner, NJ Jewish News asked Cruz how he expected to attract the support of many liberal American Jews who disagree with his opposition to such domestic policies as abortion and gay rights and fighting global warming.
“The Obama administration has demonstrated a greater antagonism to Israel than any other administration in history, and it is waking a lot of people up to the fact that our friends and allies no longer trust us and our enemies no longer fear us,” Cruz said.
“Domestically a lot of people are recognizing what we are doing isn’t working. It isn’t a left-right issue. It’s a matter of common sense. Under the Obama economy, millions of Americans are hurting.”
Among others awarded for championing Israel and other Jewish causes were former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Jacqueline van Maarsen, a close girlhood friend of Anne Frank.
British-born actor Ben Kingsley was given a special Champion Holocaust Memory Award for his portrayals of, among others, Mahatma Gandhi, Anne Frank’s father Otto, Oskar Schindler’s Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern, and Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal.
Other prominent figures in attendance included Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a strong financial backer of Israel and conservative political causes, and Michael Steinhardt, a hedge fund manager and founder of Taglit Birthright Israel and the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.