NEW YORK - Gov. Christie attacked President Obama over nuclear negotiations with Iran and what he cast as a weakened relationship with Israel in a speech Thursday before a crowd that included prominent Jewish guests and donors.
The Republican governor, who is considering a 2016 presidential bid, described a world worsened by a "lack of American leadership," where "evil is not being met by strength."
He tried to present himself as a capable alternative, saying that while some people have criticized him as too blunt, "maybe it's time we lose some of that filter as well."
"Unless we show our strength and resolve together, evil will triumph," Christie said.
Describing a "Middle East on fire" and a "crossroads time" in the world, Christie said it was "not a time for nuance, but for directness."
The Champions of Jewish Values Gala, held in a ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, also featured remarks from U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), who is running for president.
Others speakers included Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Near the end of the evening, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz presented an award to Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel.
Perhaps of greatest political interest to Christie was Sheldon Adelson, a Republican megadonor who co-hosted the event with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and who could make a significant mark on the 2016 presidential race. Christie and Cruz were seated at a table with Adelson, who with his wife Miriam Adelson spent more than $90 million on the 2012 election.
Christie has previously had chances to woo the casino magnate, including during a Republican Jewish Coalition event last year in Las Vegas, where Christie made reference to the "occupied territories." The term refers to lands, including the West Bank, where Palestinians live and where Israel maintains a military presence; the Israeli government believes it has a right to the land.
Christie's use of the phrase drew an attack from a Zionist group - as did his remarks at last year's Jewish Values Gala, where Christie omitted explicit mention of "Israel."
On Thursday, Christie said "our friends in Israel deserve better than what they've gotten in the last seven years from this White House." He said it had appeared Obama was "unwilling to stand up to anyone" except Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, "who happens to be our friend."
Criticizing nuclear negotiations with Iran, Christie said, "How can we sit and negotiate the future of the Iranians' weaponry without Israel and their neighbors at the table?" He said "as long as Iran believes that Israel should not have the right to exist," negotiations with the country should cease.
Menendez, who was recently indicted on federal corruption charges, was repeatedly praised Thursday for his stances on Iran. Adelson called him a "true hero to all in the Jewish community."
The senator drew applause from the crowd as he criticized the Obama administration's proposed nuclear deal with Iran. "I will not yield to those who wish to break my resolve," he said, vowing a commitment to "preserving the unshakeable bond between Israel and the United States."
Cruz painted himself as a staunch defender of Israel's interests before pivoting to 2016, saying that the next president was "likely to face an Iran on the verge of having nuclear weapons" and, upon taking office in 2017, should re-impose sanctions.
If Iran isn't deterred, Cruz said, "that president in 2017 should stand up to the world" and say, "Either Iran will stop or the United States of America will stop you."
As Christie finished speaking Thursday, Boteach praised his "immense friendship to Israel."
Boteach, a well-known New Jersey rabbi who stirred controversy this year over an ad his foundation took out in the New York Times accusing national security adviser Susan Rice of ignoring genocide, recently arranged a meeting between Christie and Wiesel.
Boteach said earlier this week that he had taken a number of politicians over the years to meet Wiesel, and that Christie "jumped at the opportunity."
Christie also met this week with Dermer, the Israeli ambassador, according to a picture posted on his Twitter account. The governor's office had not announced the meeting.
Earlier Thursday evening, Christie attended a fundraiser in Short Hills, N.J., for the America Leads super PAC backing his possible presidential bid. The event raised more than $1 million, according to a spokesman, Tucker Martin.