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US Republican Presidential Contenders Pledge Support for Israel

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition, Dec. 7, 2011
Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition, Dec. 7, 2011

In U.S. politics, most of the Republican presidential hopefuls were in Washington Wednesday where they took turns bashing President Barack Obama’s policies toward Israel and Iran.  

The Republican White House contenders took turns discussing foreign policy in general and specifically relations with Israel as they spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition.

The six candidates who spoke criticized the Obama administration for being unnecessarily tough on Israel and for not being tough enough on Iran and its nuclear ambitions.

Among those who spoke was the new frontrunner in the Republican presidential field, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich.

“How about saying to Hamas, give up violence and come to the table," he said. "How about saying to the PLA [Palestinian Authority], recognize Israel and come to the table.  This one-sided continuing pressure that says it is always Israel’s fault no matter how bad the other side is has to stop!”

Gingrich has surged ahead of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in national polls and in surveys in early-voting states like Iowa and South Carolina.

Romney also spoke to the Republican Jewish forum and said that President Obama’s policies had emboldened Palestinian hardliners and set back the prospects for peace.

Romney said if elected president next November he would visit Israel on his first trip abroad.

“And I want the world to know that the bonds that exist between Israel are unshakeable," he said. "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 very dearly.”

Romney and Gingrich also criticized the Obama administration for doing too little to stop Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapons program.

The other Republican contenders who spoke at the forum also expressed concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum recalled his work in Congress to draw attention to Iran as a threat to both Israel and the United States.

“We all understood that the real existential threat to the state of Israel, a real threat to the security of this country long term, was this theocracy in Iran," he said.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman said he would strengthen ties to Israel if elected as part of a broader foreign policy overhaul.  Huntsman served as the U.S. ambassador to China until earlier this year.

“It is time for the world to understand who our friends and allies are," he said. "It is time for the world to understand that we stand with Israel during this time of need.”

Texas Governor Rick Perry and Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann also spoke to the Republican Jewish group.

The only major Republican contender not invited to speak was Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who has said as president he would not support using military action to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.

Obama administration officials say the U.S. remains firmly supportive of Israel.  Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told MSNBC television that President Obama “cares deeply about Israel in a personal way” and that “the administration’s commitment to Israel is absolutely steadfast and unwavering.”

Republicans have made efforts in recent years to win a greater share of the Jewish vote in the U.S.  American Jews make up about two percent of the U.S. population and President Obama won the support of about three-quarters of Jewish voters in the 2008 election.

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