On omitting 'Israel' at Jewish event, Christie says he doesn't 'pander'

Did Gov. Christie err in delivering a speech to a crowd of Jewish philanthropists -- without once mentioning Israel by name?

Christie's "Israel"-less remarks Sunday night at the Champions of Jewish Values gala in New York have drawn heat from the president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, who earlier this week accused Christie of showing "enormous disrespect."

"It’s almost not to be explained, except huge discomfort with expressing strong support for Israel," said Klein, who previously attacked Christie after the Republican governor used the term "occupied territories" during a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in March.

Referring to that dust-up, Klein said, "What a perfect opportunity to make amends. And he didn't do it."

To Christie, however, his support for Israel was perfectly obvious during the 16-minute speech, which the governor described at a news conference Wednesday in Trenton as calling for a "robust, direct foreign policy that actually allows our friends to feel a sense of security, and allows our enemies to understand that if you mess with our friends, we're going to take you on."

Attributing the discontent over his speech to "one person who is a persistent critic of mine," Christie said that if people didn’t interpret the speech  “as supportive of Israel, they weren’t smart enough to be in the room."

"I don’t go to these things to pander," Christie said.

Christie's appearance at the New York event -- hosted by well-known Rabbi Shmuley Boteach -- had marked another chance to curry favor with billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a Republican mega-donor being courted for his support in the 2016 race. Christie, who addressed Adelson at his speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in March, was seated at his table Sunday night, as was Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Klein noted that Perry's "entire speech" -- which was briefer than Christie's -- "was to show support for Israel."

"It’s so easy to throw that red meat at this audience," Klein said. He said Christie "is just not a friend of Israel. That's all."

In a statement after the speech, Boteach defended Christie. "Developing a moral American foreign policy that supports nations that battle evil terrorists and does not force them to make peace with parties who seek the destruction of innocent life is the perfect way to support Israel," he said.