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Much love for Israel at RJC conference; Pence drops out

By Menachem Wecker

(JNS) “We are here in dark times. We are here in challenging times,” said Norm Coleman, board chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “The RJC was created for a moment like this—to ensure that America has Israel’s back to do whatever it takes to wipe Hamas off the face of the earth, however long it takes.”

Coleman, a former U.S. senator, spoke on Saturday morning introducing nearly four hours of speeches by Republican presidential nominees at the RJC annual Leadership Summit in Las Vegas.

The RJC will help elect a pro-Israel president in 2024, and opposes the so-called “Squad,” Coleman said. “I hope we retire the name ‘the Squad.’ From this point forward, as far as I’m concerned, they’re the Hamas caucus in Washington,” he said.

Coleman said he didn’t know what the candidates would say, but that each would do a better job than U.S. President Joe Biden.

“When America is weak, the world is less safe,” said Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. Biden and the Democratic Party have “allowed an anti-Israel, antisemitic mentality into their ranks,” she said, adding that supporting Hamas is not a gray area. “This is about good versus evil,” she said. “I want to make it abundantly clear: The Republican Party stands with Israel.”

Vivek Ramaswamy

By Mike Wagenheim/JNS) Vivek Ramaswamy has been an outlier on Israel in the Republican presidential race. After this weekend’s Republican Jewish Coalition Leadership Summit, he largely remains that way.

Ramaswamy, the entrepreneur and upstart, novice candidate, led off Saturday’s cattle call of major GOP presidential candidates in Las Vegas, trying to clear the air on recent comments regarding hopes that America could end military aid to Israel by 2028 following an expansion of the Abraham Accords, along with remarks that new supplemental aid following Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre should not be given unless Israel provides the United States with an end-game strategy for Gaza.

His comments have also flirted with antisemitic tropes, with talk of “financial and corrupting influences that lead [politicians in both parties] to speak the way they do” about certain unnamed conflicts.

He took to the Venetian Hotel stage on Saturday among a few scattered boos, telling those gathered that his vision is the most pro-Israel of any in the party, though in a much different fashion than GOP orthodoxy dictates.

Repeatedly referring to Israeli founding father David Ben-Gurion’s stance that Israel must be prepared to defend itself by itself, Ramaswamy again came out in favor of a U.S. “diplomatic Iron Dome” for Israel, and recommended that Israel not count on American financing going forward.

Ramaswamy told JNS that he believed he clarified his views on Saturday.

“I think that the philosophical foundation of my view was also clarified. We live in, understandably, a moment of raw emotion based on what happened on Oct. 7. I share that,” he told JNS. “Now when it comes to what we do, the question is, what principle do we apply?”

He referenced Ben-Gurion and Israel’s right to defend itself unrestrained, without “asking anybody else for permission or for forgiveness. That’s the North Star of the response. Everything else follows from that.” 

Repeating his statement that he’d like to see a “Munich 2.0,” with Israel hunting down all who participated in the Hamas massacre, just as Israel did following the PLO massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Ramaswamy told JNS that, in the end, “my opinion doesn’t matter in this and neither does that of any other American. This is Israel’s decision to make. And I’m rooting for success.” 

That includes, according to the candidate, giving Israel a full green light to take out Hamas and Hezbollah.

Separately, Ramaswamy told JNS that the United States should strike back at Iran 10 times harder each time it is hit. All signs have pointed to Iran in recent attacks against American military personnel in the Middle East. He said he wasn’t going to telegraph exactly what that response would entail, but if “you mess around with us, you’ll find out what we have in store.” 

Ramaswamy also told JNS he believes that the two-state solution is “an artificial myth.” 

“The 340-350 million descendants of Ishmael have how many countries? The Jewish people are entitled to one,” he said. “On one hand, you have an Arab world that has consistently and continually been attacking and slaughtering Jews in Israel, but turning their backs on the Palestinians. You can’t have it both ways. That’s done.”

But he concluded with a reminder of his overarching policy on the subject: U.S. policy is not beholden to Israel’s needs, and the alliance will be better off when Israel weans itself off American defense aid. 

“I’m not running for president of Israel. I’m running for president of the United States,” said Ramasway. 

He told JNS that both countries should “go back to our foundational vision, and our founding values. Then each of us is going to be better off and our friendship will be that much stronger for it as well.”

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)

“We need to stop sending pallets of cash and unrequited love to Iran,” said the South Carolina senator. During his talk he often got very emotional, raising his voice, quoting from scripture and pacing the stage, as if preaching.

“We need a new president and administration that doesn’t speak with a forked tongue, saying they support Israel in the day while they delay Israel at night,” Scott said. “As a Christian, I see the Jewish people as my elder brothers and sisters in faith. We all serve the one true God.”

The senator focused on anti-Jewish hatred on college and university campuses, which he said are proving a cancer that requires a “cultural chemotherapy.”

“They seem more offended by microaggressions than mass murder,” he said.

Chris Christie

“There is a difference, everyone, between free speech and hate speech,” said the former New Jersey governor, who is also a lawyer. “There is a difference between free speech and violence. There is a difference between incitement and free speech.”

“What’s going on on our college campuses today is not free speech,” he said. “It is hate speech.”

“The world knew what was going on in Germany in the 1930s and they said, ‘It’s not our problem. It’s not as bad as you say,’” Christie said. “It was American isolationism that led to those excuses.”

America First means that the United States must first fix its own antisemitism problem, according to Christie. But to others, it means America must go at things alone. “It means fill the moat and pull up the drawbridge; these are not our problems,” he said. 

“Nobody in this room does not want America to be first. All of us do. It is how America becomes first that is the argument in our party right now,” said Christie. “Do we become first by turning our back on the rest of the world? Do we become first by saying, ‘Well, this problem, this hate, this murder, this terrorism is not our problem?’ Don’t be fooled, everyone.

“It’s time for unserious people to leave the stage and for serious people to stand up and say there is no substitute for American leadership in this world,” he added. “None at all.”

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R)

“Hamas is a proxy of Iran. Hezbollah is a proxy of Iran,” the North Dakota governor and businessman said, noting that Biden did not name Iran in his statements after the brutal Hamas attacks on Israel on Oct. 7. 

“In business terms you all understand, Joe Biden thinks that if we go after the subsidiary, it’s OK to leave the parent company alone—the one that’s providing all of the funding,” he said.

“When I am your president, we’ll reinstate rule number one: Don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Burgum said to applause. He noted he has spent three decades, beginning as a software entrepreneur, traveling the world building companies, and came to understand what rights and freedoms people had across the world, he said.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who is running for president, speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual Leadership Summit in Las Vegas on Oct. 28, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of the RJC.

“I’ve had people working for me in over 100 countries. I’ve had people that worked for me that didn’t have the right to vote or the right to free speech,” he said. “Joe Biden’s recent $6 billion hostage deal just put a $1 billion price tag on every American student, every American tourist and every American business leader traveling or living abroad.”

Mike Pence

The former U.S. vice president, under President Donald Trump, emphasized that a Republican must defeat Biden, who he said has mishandled the White House response to Hamas’s attacks.

“Today, as the United States is experiencing the most explosive and dangerous demonstrations of antisemitism in our history. Never before have people gathered in the streets of America to celebrate the mass murder of Jews,” he said.

“I am leaving this campaign, but let me promise you: I will never leave the fight for conservative values, and I will never stop fighting to elect principled Republican leaders to every office in the land,” he added to extended applause. “So help me God.”

He made news by announcing he was dropping out of the race. “It’s become clear to me: This is not my time. So, after much prayer and deliberation, I have decided to suspend my campaign for president, effective today,” said Pence.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

“Israel values life. The Hamas terrorists worship death,” DeSantis said. “Don’t tell me there’s a moral equivalency here, because there is not.”

He continued: “I don’t care what imbeciles on college campuses say. I don’t care what liars in the media say. I don’t care what reprobates at the United Nations say. We stand with Israel. We stand with the people of Israel.”

Florida did not just respond to the Hamas attacks with words, it took action, said DeSantis. The state protected Jewish institutions in Florida, and he issued an executive order that provided planes which helped bring 700 Americans back from Israel, he added.

“How sad is it that the best the Biden administration could do was to dump people in Greece. They have to just somehow find a way home from Greece, and then the Biden administration sent them a bill for the trip to Greece,” he said. 

“If you come across our border illegally, Biden will fly you all over this country free of charge,” he said. “He’ll put you up in hotels, free of charge. But if you are an American leaving Israel, he’s gonna stick you with the bill.”

DeSantis said he would build a wall on the southern border, block Palestinians who hate Israel from coming to the United States and would revoke student visas for those who support Hamas.

Israel is “the most dependable ally we have in a very troubled part of the world,” DeSantis said of Israel. “We would not be here today as Americans were it not for what took place in the Holy Land thousands and thousands of years ago. The Judeo-Christian tradition is what western civilization was built on. It was what this country was built on. And they’re the caretakers of that important piece of land.”

Nikki Haley

Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and former South Carolina governor, began by calling Pence “a good man of faith,” who has fought for America and for Israel. “We all owe him a debt of gratitude,” she said.

“The world is on fire. But here in America, we’re acting like it’s Sept. 10, when we were blind to the world’s dangers. We need to remember what it felt like on Sept. 12,” she said.

“We need to wake up. We need to regain our moral clarity,” she continued. “We need to commit ourselves to ensure that good defeats evil. That means fighting antisemitism in Congress and on college campuses, and it means giving Israel everything she needs to destroy Hamas. Eliminate Hamas once and for all. Finish them.”

Haley said she is glad that many, in both parties, support Israel and that Biden “is saying some of the right things.”

However, she continued, “his actions haven’t always matched his words. If you stand with Israel, you don’t cozy up to Iran. Biden followed in Obama’s Iran-sympathizing footsteps by helping Israel’s number-one enemy. There would be no Hamas without Iran, and there would be no murders without Iran giving the green light.”

Haley said she isn’t holding her breath for that support for Israel to last. “More than 1,400 Jews were murdered in cold blood. Yet now people are calling for ‘restraint’ and a ‘cease fire.’ It’s an insult of the worst kind,” she said.

Haley said that the situations in Israel and Ukraine are more similar than different, and that the United States should support both for their own sake and for U.S. national security.

“Iran and Russia are joined at the hip, and they’re both unlimited partners of Communist China. Iran, Russia and China are all part of an unholy alliance,” she said.

“Mark my words. Those who would abandon Ukraine today are at risk of abandoning Israel tomorrow,” she said. “They’ve lost sight of who our friends are and who our enemies are. Who is good and who is evil. That is not who you want in the Oval Office.”

Donald Trump

The former U.S. president, who is leading in the polls by more than 40 points, described himself as “the best friend that Israel has ever had.”

“Everybody says, ‘You sir are the best friend that Israel has ever had,’ and with four more years, I will defend America and I will defend Western civilization from the barbarians and savages and the fascists that you see right now trying to do harm to our beautiful Israel,” he said.

The war between Israel and Hamas is “a fight between civilization and savagery, between decency and depravity, and between good and evil,” Trump said. “There is no comparison between a group that worships death and a group that cherishes life and cherishes our nation.”

The former president touted his record on the Middle East, including U.S. forces killing Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, in Jan. 2020; withdrawing in May 2018 from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal; imposing oil sanctions on Iran; and withdrawing from the U.N. Human Rights Council, which he called “anti-American, anti-Israel and antisemitic.”

“If we don’t win this election, I really believe you’re not going to have Israel anymore,” he said. “And you’re not going to have the United States of America anymore.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if by “we” he meant Republicans or himself.

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