As part of what he apparently considers a comeback tour, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spoke over the weekend at a meeting in Las Vegas of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Christie’s speech was mostly music to the ears of the audience at the Venetian hotel, but there was one discordant note.
Recalling a trip he and his family took to Israel in 2012, Christie said: “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.”
The New York Times reported: “A prominent Jewish leader, Morton A. Klein, said he tried to correct Mr. Christie as he left the stage, urging him to use different language, like ‘disputed territory.’ Mr. Christie ‘scowled,’ he said, and did not say whether he would do so in the future. ‘I was shocked,’ said Mr. Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America.”
But it didn’t take long for Christie to get the message that using the term “occupied territories” was a faux pas at this particular forum. The New York Times, Politico and the Jewish Telegraph Agency reported that Christie later apologized for his choice of words to Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Venetian hotel, a pillar of the Republican Jewish Coalition and, not so coincidentally, a big spender on political causes. As the New York Times noted: “Mr. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, gave $93 million to super PACs during the last presidential campaign, making them the election’s biggest donors.”
It’s not news when presidential candidates try to outdo themselves in their support for Israel. When he was seeking the White House, Mitt Romney pledged that if he elected, “we will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally Israel,” which would have been a departure from every other administration. Despite a strong friendship, the United States and Israel often have disagreed, including on Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. (Whether a President Romney actually would have followed an “Israel knows best” policy is doubtful.)
Still, Christie’s capitulation on “occupied territories” is especially notable. That the West Bank is occupied by Israel is common parlance in diplomacy. United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, approved after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, calls for the withdrawal of Israel’s armed forces “from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” (Israel and other nations differ about whether that means withdrawal from all of the territories.)
No less a friend of Israel than President George W. Bush said this in 2007: “The Israelis must do their part. They must show the world that they are ready to ... bring an end to the occupation that began in 1967 through a negotiated settlement.”
It’s true that some Israelis believe that the West Bank is part of a biblically mandated Greater Israel, but that isn’t a mainstream position. Israeli annexation of the West Bank, while it may have some support in Israel and among some Americans, is a position no president of the United States — even a President Christie — will ever embrace. So why encourage false hopes by apologizing for a perfectly unobjectionable reference?
If the answer is that Christie feels he can’t afford to offend Sheldon Adelson, that doesn’t speak well for the governor’s vaunted toughness.
Follow Michael McGough on Twitter @MichaelMcGough3Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times