Rubio takes on Trump in address to Republican Jews

‘Some in our own party actually call for more sacrifice from the Israeli people,’ senator says

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio (AP/Jose Luis Magana)
Republican Senator Marco Rubio (AP/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON – “No nation wants peace more” than Israel or “has shown greater restraint toward its enemies,” GOP presidential hopeful Senator Marco Rubio told an enthusiastic crowd at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s candidates’ forum Thursday morning, while taking jabs at front-runner Donald Trump for comments seen as not sufficiently supportive of Israel.

At what RJC officials stressed was the only forum other than the debates at which all of the candidates appeared simultaneously, Rubio, who has risen steeply in the polls in recent weeks, received a warm welcome.

Rubio was the third speaker of the day, following fellow Senators Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz – and of the three, the junior senator from Florida devoted the most time to discussing Israel.

“The threats facing both our country and Israel have grown dramatically in recent months, in large part because our president has placed his own legacy ahead of our mutual security,” he warned. “I think one thing that’s become obvious over this last year is the devastating cost of a foreign policy that lacks moral clarity.”

Although – unlike Graham, who spoke before him – Rubio did not criticize his Republican primary opponents by name, he offered veiled criticism of Trump. “Some in our own party actually question Israel’s commitment to peace,” he complained. “Some in our own party actually call for more sacrifice from the Israeli people. They are dead wrong, and don’t understand the enduring bond between Israel and America.”

Rubio’s jab referred to comments made a day earlier by Trump. “Whether or not Israel is willing to sacrifice certain things, they may not be, and I understand that, and I’m OK with that,” he had said in an interview Wednesday.

Rubio described Israel as the “only one pro-American free-enterprise democratic nation” in the Middle East, arguing that “today, Israel stands on the front lines of our civilizational struggle against radical, apocalyptic Islam.”

Like both speakers before him, Rubio took issue with President Barack Obama’s use of the term “violent extremism” to describe the rise of jihadist groups like the Islamic State. Although each candidate referred to the phenomenon by different terms, they all stressed the importance of emphasizing its ideological roots within Islam.

“Any time there is daylight between America and Israel, it emboldens Israel’s enemies to take action – first against the Jewish state, but then against the rest of the free world,” Rubio continued, jabbing at Obama’s oft-repeated statement that there should be more “daylight” between the US and Israel.

Rubio compared growing anti-Israel sentiment overseas to the physical violence facing Israelis in recent weeks. “In one international forum after another, Israel is attacked by despotic regimes and even free nations throughout Europe that should know better given their histories,” Rubio complained, accusing both Obama and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton of “taking the past of least resistance” and “throw[ing] up hands and say[ing] in essence “not our problem.”

“Over the past three months of Palestinian terror attacks, our administration refused over and over again to do anything more than call on both sides for restraint – as if there were no difference between aggression and self-defense,” he said.

Rubio also condemned the recent European Union decision to label settlement products. “I believe we need a president who is not afraid to call this out for what it is: anti-Semitism. I will be that president,” he declared.

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