New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the possible GOP presidential contender who raised the hackles of many pro-Israel Republicans with an off-the-cuff remark in March about the “occupied territories” of the West Bank, will get another chance to appeal to high-profile Jewish donors this Sunday.
Many see the earlier flap at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s leadership retreat in Las Vegas as water under the bridge, especially after Christie reportedly apologized to political donor and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, who hosted the event, in a closed-door meeting. But others view what they consider a record of supporting New Jersey residents with ties to terrorist organizations as disqualifying the colorful governor from seeking the party’s support.
That’s what makes Christie’s appearance at the annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala in New York City so important, observers say, even as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whose organization This World: The Values Network is hosting the May 18 gathering, calls the event decidedly non-political.
Boteach has amassed a panoply of heavy-hitting politicians and financiers, including Republican Governor Rick Perry of Texas, U.S. Sen. Corey Booker (D-N.J.), Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, Judy and Michael Steinhardt, anti-genocide campaigner John Prendergast, and actor-activist Sean Penn.
Among the most vocal individuals expressing distrust of Christie is Zionist Organization of America president Morton Klein, who was in the audience at the Venetian Resort and Hotel when the governor described a “helicopter ride from the occupied territories” to “understand the military risk that Israel faces every day.”
Christie reportedly told Adelson later that weekend that he “misspoke” in his Vegas appearance.
Although he accused Christie of being “rude, insensitive and [showing] a complete disinterest in the issue” when he followed the governor into a hallway behind the stage at the Venetian, Klein told JNS that he will attend the New York gala out of deference to Boteach and the Adelsons, whom he described as “close friends.” But he said he won’t be applauding for Christie.
“Everyone I spoke to, and I spoke to maybe a dozen people in the next day or so after this, were all horrified that he would use such a term [and] that his only response was, ‘I misspoke,’ ” Klein said of the “occupied territories” remark.
The rift, which has lined up a small cadre of pro-Israel conservative commentators and Republican donors against a Christie presidential candidacy, has created headaches for Boteach, who called the controversy just one example of how much more Americans now care about what people may think, rather than their actions. He argued that Christie should be judged on his body of work, as opposed to just one comment, adding that he believes the governor to be sufficiently pro-Israel and friendly to the Jewish community.
“My issue with our current political climate, and this is a value statement as opposed to a political statement, is that it rejects values,” said Boteach. “It’s not about what people do, it’s about what people say or believe and a single statement can create a news cycle for an entire week.”
Dr. Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, said Christie’s “occupied territories” gaffe followed several disturbing actions by Christie related to Middle Eastern affairs, dating back to when he was the U.S. attorney for the district of New Jersey.
In 2008, for example, New Jersey resident Imam Mohammad Qatanani was discovered by the FBI to have been previously arrested and convicted in Israel for aiding and abetting the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Qatanani failed to disclose the three-month detention when applying for a green card.
But in the lead-up to the cleric’s trial, Christie supported Qatanani, meeting with him at his mosque and calling him “a man of great goodwill,” Pipes and co-author Steven Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project of Terrorism, charged in a National Review article.