WASHINGTON (RNS) GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich ignited an audience of Republican Jewish activists Wednesday (Dec. 7) by promising to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
But he was just getting started.
Gingrich also promised to use American dollars to fund “every dissident group” in Iran, whose leader has threatened to destroy Israel. And he would appoint former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton—a conservative favorite—to head the State Department.
Gingrich’s fiery pro-Israel rhetoric outshone Mitt Romney’s speech to the same group earlier in the day. All GOP presidential candidates except Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, spoke to the Washington gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition, and all expressed strong support for the Jewish state.
Romney, often accused of blandness, had tried to inject some passion into his remarks, and even received a few compliments from audience members for his energetic defense of the U.S.-Israel partnership.
But Gingrich, who is gaining significant ground on Romney, seemed to tap directly into the audience’s frustrations with what they perceive as a U.S. foreign policy that is unduly patient with those who would do Israel harm.
“Can you imagine if our next-door neighbor were firing missiles at us and we said ‘Oh, can we come to the table?’ How about saying to Hamas: ‘Give up violence and come to the table?’” Gingrich said, referring to the militant government that rules the Gaza Strip.
“It’s always Israel’s fault no matter how bad the other side is, and it’s got to stop,” Gingrich added.
Doug Hutt, a Jewish Republican who came to the Washington forum from East Brunswick, N.J., called Gingrich’s comments—particularly his promise to move the embassy to the ancient capital of Israel—“a lot of red meat for the crowd.” (Past peace proposals have tried to divide control of Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians.)
But Hutt added that he and other Jewish Republicans still wonder if Gingrich, who carries significant baggage related to his businesses and past marriages, is electable.
Jewish Democrats said Jewish voters will overwhelmingly support President Obama, as they did when a solid 78 percent of U.S. Jews cast their ballot for him in 2008.
David A. Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council, called Wednesday’s gathering “the rarest of audiences—a group that is 100 percent Republican and Jewish.”
Gingrich also used his speech to elaborate on earlier, controversial comments that children in poor neighborhoods should be put to work because they can’t learn a work ethic from the adults in their lives.
He told the Republican Jewish group that he believes it would do society good to hire these children part time in their schools, as clerks in the front office, for example.
“The reaction on the left has been hysterical,” he said. “The problem is that we need people to learn the culture of work, the culture of savings.”
He compared himself to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a liberal New Yorker whose study of the African-American family in the 1960s brought charges that he was unsympathetic to their plight.
“It’s exactly what happened to Moynihan,” Gingrich said.