WASHINGTON — Republican White House hopefuls slammed US President Barack Obama’s policy towards Israel on Wednesday, charging he has undermined its security, set back Middle East peace efforts, and coddled Iran.
Speaking to hundreds of their party’s Jewish activists, the candidates called for “regime change” in Iran and Syria and agreed that Obama has placed undue pressure on Israel to return to the negotiating table with the Palestinians.
“This one-sided, continuing pressure that says it’s always Israel’s fault — no matter how bad the other side is — has got to stop,” thundered former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who has surged to frontrunner status in recent polls.
Gingrich, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and other candidates for the party’s nod to take on Obama in the November 2012 elections spoke to a forum of Republican Jewish leaders one month before the first nominating contest.
“President Obama has immeasurably set back the prospect of peace in the Middle East,” charged Romney, long seen as the man to beat for the nomination.
Republicans energized by Obama’s low popularity have slammed his Middle East policy, hoping to pump up Christian conservatives and erode Democrats’ usually strong support from Jewish voters, a small but potent voting bloc.
Gingrich bluntly called for “regime replacement” in Iran, vowed to “fund every dissident group in the country,” and urged US action “indirectly and covertly” to help Syria’s opposition “replace” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Gingrich vowed to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, blasted Obama’s ambassador to Belgium for saying some anti-Semitism stems from the Arab-Israeli conflict, and denounced Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s “outrageous” call for Israel to return to peace talks with the Palestinians.
US presidential candidates hunting for votes have typically vowed to move the embassy, as called for under a 1995 law, but presidents of both parties have used their power to waive the law’s requirements once in office.
Romney won cheers from the Washington gathering when he declared that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “should be indicted for the crime of incitement to genocide” over his past anti-Israel remarks.
“Ultimately, regime change is what’s going to be necessary” in Iran, said Romney, who called for “covert and overt” efforts to support the opposition to leaders in Tehran.
He accused Obama of having called on Israel to “adopt indefensible borders,” having “insulted” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and being “timid and weak in the face of the existential threat that Israel faces from Iran.”
Obama said in May that Middle East peace will ultimately require Israel to exist alongside a Palestinian state, based on shared territorial lines from before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war but modified with “mutually agreed” land swaps.
Republicans — as well as Netanyahu — have zeroed in on the 1967 borders while ignoring the notion of territorial exchanges, which are expected to be a way for Israel to shore up its security and keep settlements in the West Bank.
And Democrats noted that US and international economic sanctions on Iran have tightened sharply on Obama’s watch as part of a concerted effort to force Tehran to halt what the West charges is a nuclear weapons program.
Representative Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on a House committee that disburses foreign aid, blasted Romney’s assault on Obama as “shameful” and said US-Israel security ties were “broader and deeper than ever before.”
Former Republican senator Rick Santorum, a long-shot for the party’s nomination, noted Wednesday was the 70th anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and likened Obama to politicians who appeased Germany’s Adolf Hitler.
“For every thug and hooligan, for every radical Islamist, he (Obama) has had nothing but appeasement,” thundered Santorum. “We saw that in the run up to World War II.”
Romney also accused Obama of having “adopted an appeasement strategy” that “betrays a lack of faith in America.”
Former US envoy to China Jon Huntsman vowed to banish “ambiguity” about whether Washington stands with Israel.
“Today, there is some ambiguity, there is some sense that we are not together. Those days, under my administration, will be gone,” he said.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, looking to fix the damage done when he said foreign aid to Israel should start at zero, promised that “strategic aid in all forms under a Perry administration will increase to Israel.”
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore