Chris Christie was supposed to “make amends” this past Sunday when he spoke to an audience that included one of the Republican Party’s biggest donors and pro-Israel activists, billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Adelson was reportedly infuriated by a previous Christie remark: The governor had referred to the West Bank as the “occupied territories.” The widely held expectation was that the Republican presidential hopeful would use this latest appearance in front of Adelson to correct the impression that he’s anything but the staunchest of allies to the Israeli right. But as Christie delivered his stump speech, he didn’t mention the word Israel, not even when he talked about standing with “our friends” around the world.
“Sheldon was concerned about the ‘occupied territory’ remark and he expected Christie would make amends and would express support for Israel and it didn’t happen,” said Adelson ally and head of Zionist Organization of America Morton Klein, who said he spoke with Adelson after the event, an awards ceremony organized to honor champions of Jewish values by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Klein said he spoke to all the largest donors at the event, which included not only Adelson but fellow billionaire Michael Steinhardt, who funds “birthright Israel” a program that pays for any Jew under age 28 to visit Israel.
Sheldon, like others, “was perplexed and shocked and mystified,” said Klein. Adding his own thoughts, he asked, “Why did Christie do this? This was an insult.”
By contrast, Texas Governor Rick Perry took to the stage and proclaimed the United States an unshakeable friend and ally of Israel. He went further, assuring that Jewish values are American values. The presidential hopeful presented Adelson with an award.
Boteach defended Christie and noted that the governor spoke about coming to the aid of America’s friends. “Would I have I liked him to mention Israel? Of course.” But, he said that Governor Christie “is a friend of Israel.” He worried that the idea that Christie is an enemy of Israel would become the talking point.
Last election cycle, Adelson spent over $100 million supporting candidates. This year he promises to spend more. Adelson, who owns casinos throughout the world, has two issues: He is for Israel and against internet gambling. Adelson is often viewed as holding his own Republican primary. The winner emerges with a considerable war chest, as Newt Gingrich did in the GOP primaries and Mitt Romney did in the general election.
“Chris Christie is no friend of Israel,” said Klein, a sentiment he said summed up the view of the largest donors. “I would be very surprised if any of the major pro-Israel activists in the room would support Christie.”