In pitch for Jewish votes, Rick Perry slams Obama on Israel

Gov. Rick Perry appeared in New York Tuesday with representatives of a bloc that Republicans have been wooing: the Jewish vote. That vote could be a big factor in the 2012 presidential election.

Mary Altaffer/AP
Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks about Israel during a news conference in New York, Tuesday.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) assailed the Obama administration Tuesday for “appeasement” over its policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Governor Perry was speaking in New York City alongside a group of conservative Jewish leaders from the United States and Israel, as President Obama attended meetings at the United Nations elsewhere in the city. The Palestinian bid to receive UN recognition of statehood has put the Obama administration on the spot as it tries to head off the effort.

“Simply put, we would not be here today at the very precipice of such a dangerous move if the Obama policy in the Middle East wasn’t naive, arrogant, misguided, and dangerous,” said Perry, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

He continued: “The Obama policy of moral equivalency, which gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism, is a very dangerous insult.”

Perry accused the Obama administration of encouraging the Palestinians to abandon direct talks with Israel, in a “policy of appeasement.” The Palestinians have said they will resume talks only after Israel stops building settlements on disputed land. Perry also criticized Mr. Obama for suggesting the 1967 borders as a starting point for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, saying the statement demonstrated “a willingness to isolate a close ally.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, running in second place for the GOP nomination, also blamed Obama for the Palestinian bid for recognition at the UN.

“What we are watching unfold at the United Nations is an unmitigated diplomatic disaster,” Mr. Romney said in a statement. “It is the culmination of President Obama’s repeated efforts over three years to throw Israel under the bus and undermine its negotiating position.”

But Perry won the day with his personal appearance in New York alongside representatives of an electoral bloc that Republicans have been wooing: the Jewish vote. Democrats have long dominated among Jewish voters.

Obama won almost 80 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, but if the Republican nominee can wrest enough of those votes away – particularly in the crucial swing states of Florida and Pennsylvania – that could cost the president his reelection.

“This is a very, very smart move, Perry’s reaching out to Jews,” says Ford O’Connell, chairman of the conservative Civic Forum PAC. “With Obama’s apparent stance toward Israel, Republicans really have a chance for the first time in a very long time to make inroads with Jewish voters.”

If the Republican nominee can win 25 percent of the Jewish vote in Florida, that would go a long way toward winning that state, Mr. O’Connell says. Winning Florida, one of the most populous states in the country, is widely seen as essential to a GOP presidential victory in 2012.

A recent Gallup poll found that Jewish support for Obama’s job performance was down to 54 percent between Aug. 1 and Sept. 15, but the decline was not disproportionate to the president’s overall decline in public opinion. During that period, 41 percent of Americans approved of Obama’s job performance.

Still, the GOP's special-election victory on Sept. 13 in a heavily Jewish and longtime Democratic congressional district in New York has given Republicans hope for the future on the Jewish vote. In the election, Bob Turner won the seat formerly held by Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner. Voters in the district stated their unhappiness with Obama as a reason to vote for the Republican.

In his remarks Tuesday, Perry noted that he has made several visits to Israel and that as a Christian, he has “a clear directive to support Israel.”

The speech was one of Perry’s first focused on foreign policy since his presidential campaign launched on Aug. 13. He endorsed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question, a more moderate position than that of some of his supporters. He also laid out five principles the US should make clear before the UN:

• That the US stands with Israel and the principle of “direct negotiations without equivocation” laid out in the Oslo Accords of 1993.

• That a declaration of Palestinian statehood could jeopardize US funding of UN operations.

• That the move on statehood jeopardizes US aid to the Palestinians.

• That the US should close the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington if the UN grants Palestinian statehood.

• That the US must signal to the world, including Turkey and Egypt, that the US “won’t tolerate aggression against Israel.”

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