NEW YORK — Surrounded by some of the most hawkish Jewish leaders from Israel and the U.S., Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday accused the Obama administration of pursuing a policy of "appeasement" in the Middle East that has directly led to the Palestinians' pursuit of United Nations recognition.
"We are indignant that certain Middle Eastern leaders have discarded the principle of direct negotiations between the sovereign nation of Israel and the Palestinian leadership," Perry said. "And we are equally indignant that the Obama administration’s Middle East policy of appeasement has encouraged such an ominous act of bad faith.
"Simply put, we would not be here today at the precipice of such a dangerous move if the Obama policy in the Middle East wasn’t naive, arrogant, misguided and dangerous," Perry said.
"I do support a two-state solution," Perry said, in response to a question after the speech, "only if the nation of Israel and the Palestinian Authority do sit down and have direct negotiations."
He also told reporters that he supports the controversial practice of Jewish settlers building in disputed territories and for Jerusalem to become the unified capital of Israel. "I am for Jerusalem being united under Israeli rule," he said, adding that, given the opportunity, he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
In his speech, Perry laid out far tougher demands of the Palestinians before such a state could be created and recognized by the United States.
"First, Palestinian leaders must publicly affirm Israel’s right to exist, and to exist as a Jewish state," Perry said. "Second, President Abbas must persuade all factions including Hamas to renounce acts of terrorism and release kidnapped Israeli Gilad Shalit. And third, Palestinian statehood must be established only through direct negotiations between the Palestinian leadership and the nation of Israel.
"By not insisting on these principles, the Obama administration has appeased the Arab Street at the expense of our own national security interests," Perry said. "They have sowed instability that threatens the prospects of peace."
Perry spoke before a largely Orthodox Jewish crowd at a Manhattan hotel. Those appearing with him included prominent Jewish leaders and supporters who have take an even harder line in the Palestinian-Israeli debate. Danny Danon, a Likud member and the deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset, and Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the vice president of the New York-based National Council of Young Israel, both oppose a two-state solution and argue that the West Bank and Gaza rightly belong to Israel.
In his speech, Perry extended his critique of the Obama administration's foreign policy to include its handling of the 2009 popular uprising in Iran.
"Today, the greatest threat to the security of Israel and, by extension, a threat to America, is the Iranian government developing a nuclear arsenal," Perry said. "One thing is clear: We must stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Economic sanctions must be tightened and increased and all options must remain on the table to stop a brutally repressive regime from acquiring a nuclear capability.
"To date, we have fumbled our greatest opportunity for regime change. As average Iranian citizens were marching on Tehran in the Green Revolution in 2009, America was wasting precious time on a naive policy of outreach to both the Iranian and Syrian governments," he said.
"Who knows what the leadership of Iran would look like today if America had done everything in its power to provide diplomatic and moral support to encourage the growing movement of dissidents who sought freedom," he said.
Bob Turner, the Republican elected last week to the U.S. House seat occupied by disgraced former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, also took the stage with Perry. He attributed his surprise win to Jewish voters repudiating the Obama administration's policy on Israel.
"The message that voters have sent is that this administration has been vacillating and at times hostile to Israel," Turner said. Because of that, the administration would "pay a high political price."
Asked whether his support for Israel was rooted in theology, Perry said: "Israel is our oldest and most stable Democratic ally in the region. I also as a Christian have a clear directive to support Israel. So from my perspective it's pretty easy."
An Israeli reporter asked whether he thought U.S.-Israeli relations were in crisis. "The American people are for Israel. We may have an administration that feels different," Perry said. "I hope you will tell the people of Israel that hope is on the way."
Perry arrived in New York on Monday for a whirlwind two-day tour that’s bringing him face to face with a melting pot of donors, supporters and naysayers — from Wall Street bankers to Hispanic small business owners, and from Israeli politicians to U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel.
It’s the second visit to the city by Perry in two weeks. Last Wednesday, the governor came to town to dine with erstwhile GOP hopeful Donald Trump. This time, his schedule is packed. At least three fundraisers are planned, including one hosted by Hank Greenberg, the former CEO and chairman of the troubled financial giant AIG.
On Monday, as President Obama was settling into town in advance of a potentially contentious United Nations opening session, Perry was attending a private fundraiser inside the prestigious apartment building at 15 Central Park West. According to Business Insider, those in attendance were a mix of religious activists and Wall Street notables, including hedge fund manager Sean Fieler, a vocal critic of the Federal Reserve, and Gordon Pennington, a media consultant with strong ties to Focus on the Family.
Perry has two fundraisers on Tuesday, according to media reports. The first will include several powerful members of the Republican Jewish community, including Jeff Ballabon, whom Business Insider described as a “point of contact between the Republican Jewish community and the Christian Right.” Also likely to be in attendance, according to media reports, are Issac Applbaum, who’s on the national board of AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobbying group; Steve Papermaster, a Republican Jewish activist from Austin; and Robert Chernin, a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
But it’s the second that’s likely to garner the most headlines. Tuesday night, according to media reports, Perry is attending a fundraiser put together by Greenberg, who was the head of American Insurance Group for 37 years. Greenberg left the company just three years before AIG’s share price fell by 95 percent and the Federal Reserve Bank took a controlling stake in the beleaguered firm. AIG was the largest insurance company in the world, but its unwise deals with major banks had exposed it to more than $100 billion in potential losses. The bailout that saved it was the largest ever of a private company.
Apart from fundraising, Perry set aside time in New York to reach out to communities not traditionally courted by Republicans.
For example, Perry ventured into Inwood, a heavily Hispanic neighborhood in the far north of Manhattan. At Papasito Mexican Grill and Agave Bar, he met with a group of small-business owners convened by Fernando Mateo, the President of Hispanics Across America, an advocacy group, and the head of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers. Mateo said that Perry’s positions on immigration made him a viable option for conservative Hispanic voters.
Perry is “someone that understands that children are not responsible for the actions of their parents,” Mateo told The New York Times. “Out of all the Republican candidates, he stands alone as far as we’re concerned.”
There was another guest at the Inwood event: the neighborhood’s colorful U.S. representative, Rangel, who showed up briefly to cheekily tell reporters that Perry was “the best thing going for President Obama.”
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.