In Israel, Christie says Trump shirked progress in Middle East, fueled intolerance

By | November 12, 2023

Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor who is challenging Donald J. Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, said Mr. Trump’s rhetoric of intolerance — as evident today as during his presidency — had fueled the rise sectarianism against Jews and Muslims. after Hamas’ brutal attack on Israel on October 7 and the fierce Israeli response in Gaza.

And Mr. Trump’s lopsided adherence to the wishes of Israel’s right-wing government, while widely praised in Republican circles, has achieved only the “low-hanging fruit” of Middle East diplomacy over the course of his presidency, Mr. Christie said, disparaging one of Mr. Trump’s major foreign policy accomplishments.

He argued that Mr. Trump’s lack of “intellectual curiosity” and foreign policy ambition had led his administration to abandon the search for a more elusive peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr. Christie delivered a scathing assessment of Mr. Trump’s Middle East policies in an interview as he traveled to Israel on Sunday for what turned out to be an emotional day-long visit in which he visited a kibbutz, Kfar Azza, near Gaza, where there were 58 inhabitants. massacred by Hamas terrorists last month. Mr. Christie watched raw footage of the attacks at a military base near Tel Aviv, commiserated with survivors and their families at a hospital and spoke with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem.

In the interview, Mr. Christie discussed the Israeli crisis — and the repercussions felt around the world — from the perspective of a man who has known Mr. Trump well for years, advised him and then turned around against him.

Mr. Christie’s criticism of the former president’s record in the Middle East is significant. Israel’s peace deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, known collectively as the Abraham Accords, are widely seen as perhaps Mr. Trump’s most significant diplomatic achievement. . And Republicans praised decisions such as moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

President Biden’s own diplomatic efforts to secure a peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which were in earnest before the outbreak of the Gaza war, were widely seen as building on Mr. Trump’s achievements .

Mr. Christie praised Mr. Biden’s handling of the Israel-Gaza crisis, including his October 18 visit to Israelwhere he met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He accused Mr. Trump of cynicism in his handling of the once largely bipartisan relationship between the United States and Israel and held him responsible for fractures over Israel within the Democratic Party.

Mr. Christie said that President Barack Obama’s policies had been seen as favoring Israel’s enemies and that Mr. Trump had seized the political opening presented: on the Golan Heights, by withdrawing from the Mr. Obama’s deal with Iran to moderate its nuclear ambitions and pursuing regional peace deals between Israel and Persian Gulf states that isolated the Palestinians and marginalized their demands for political autonomy.

“I don’t think he has any principles on these issues,” Mr. Christie said. “I think it’s just that he saw a public opportunity presented by Obama and he took it.”

Mr. Christie argued that Democratic voters, in turn, had reflexively opposed everything that Mr. Trump had wholeheartedly embraced, including electing representatives to Congress like Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, which they saw as staunch opponents of Mr. Trump. . These new Democratic left lawmakers then opened an anti-Israel wing of the Democratic Party that is straining the U.S.-Israeli alliance.

Meanwhile, he added, the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace, once considered the holy grail of presidential diplomacy, has been all but forgotten.

“I don’t think he was equipped to deal in a foreign policy way with a very difficult, if not impossible, issue, right? And I don’t think he has any ambition,” Mr. Christie said. “I think he was looking for relatively direct and easy scores because his point of view has always been political.”

“If Chris Christie thinks that strengthening the US-Israeli alliance, moving the embassy to Jerusalem, bringing peace to the Middle East through the Abraham Accords and enacting laws to protect American Jews is an easy solution, he lives clearly in an imaginary and non-imaginary world. grounded in reality,” said Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.

Mr Christie was quick to say he did not blame Mr Trump for the bloody hostilities in Israel. The timing of the Hamas attack reflects broader geopolitical dynamics with Iran, Russia and China, he explained.

But Mr. Christie’s immersion in the horrors of October 7 seemed evident in his shift in tone throughout the day.

Before arriving in Israel, he discussed the difficult balancing act between Israel’s vital need to defend its territory and people and concerns over growing backlash around the world.

“We went there after 9/11,” he said. “We understand the visceral need and the practical need to retaliate and degrade Hamas. »

“But don’t have an exclusively short-term view,” he advised. “And it’s tricky for someone like Netanyahu and the political position he’s in now, because, you know, there will definitely be a countdown every time the war is considered over, as to how which Israel got there in the first place.”

Mr. Christie then visited one of the kibbutzim hit hard by Hamas terrorists, saw bullet-riddled children’s quarters and spoke to Simcha Greiniman, a volunteer who described a scene in which the charred remains of a entire family clinging to each other – two children, their parents and a grandmother – had to be separated.

He watched raw footage, broadcast at a military base, recovered from cameras worn by Hamas marauders and from victims’ smartphones before they died. He highlighted not only the carnage and terror, but also the joy expressed by the young terrorists exulting in their actions.

At the end of the day, Mr. Christie also spoke of putting any resumption of the Palestinian peace process “on the back burner.”

“Ultimately, this is in the best interest of Israel and the entire world. But I think the actions taken by Hamas on October 7 have made this resolution much more difficult and more long-term. And I think that’s one of the real shames of their actions,” he said Sunday evening.

In the interview, before his arrival in Israel, Mr. Christie attributed the rise in public expressions of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim prejudice since the start of the war in part to Mr. Trump’s often inflammatory rhetoric.

“I don’t think Trump is an anti-Semite,” even though he has regularly espoused stereotypes about Jews, Mr. Christie said. But, he added, Mr. Trump’s “intolerance toward everyone” is “what has contributed” to the rise of bigotry.

“He says what he says, regardless of the fact that he is seen as a leader and that his words matter,” Mr. Christie said. Fanatics “think you give them permission to be a fanatic,” he added, “and it’s even worse that they think you are one.”

Mr. Trump has bristled at accusations that he is anti-Semitic, pointing the finger at his daughter Ivanka, a Jewish convert, and his Jewish children.

Mr. Christie attached little importance to it.

“It’s just him looking for a convenient way out that he thinks ends the conversation.” He doesn’t want to have that conversation,” he said of Mr. Trump’s protest that he had Jewish grandchildren. “I don’t accept that as evidence of anything at all.”

Mr. Trump’s well-known habit of spouting Jewish stereotypes — saying he only wanted “short guys in yarmulkes” to count his money, calling Jewish real estate executives “killers” and telling attendees at a Republican Jewish Coalition rally that they were all tough negotiators — is part of the stereotypes he perpetuates about Italian Americans, Black Americans and Muslim Americans, Mr. Christie said with disdain.

“I think he’s a 1960s guy from Queens, New York, with some attitudes that he probably learned from his parents,” Mr. Christie said.

But he was less sympathetic to the bigotry that he said Mr. Trump had unleashed.

“His rhetoric contributes to that,” he said. “By his rhetoric, I mean his intolerance towards everyone. Everyone hears this dog whistle in a different way.

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