Unlike Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who phoned in a generic speech today to the Republican Jewish Coalition, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) gave a detailed, meaty address that reflected an appreciation for the sophistication of the group he was addressing. He was rewarded with frequent ovations and even whoops.
Rubio began by rejecting the idea there should be “sunlight” between the United States and Israel: “This enemy hates our two nations — both liberal democracies, both products of the Judeo-Christian tradition — for the exact same reasons. And the first requirement of fighting for our common security is standing together. We must not separate the threat to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv from the threat to Paris, or London, or New York, or Miami.”
Rubio also addressed an issue close to the hearts of pro-Israel Republicans, namely the attempt to delegitimize Israel in international bodies:
Consider this: Just weeks ago, Palestinian Authority president . . . Mahmoud Abbas began a speech to a UN body by asking, quote, “For how long will this protracted Israeli occupation of our land last? After 67 years, how long?” As we all know, sixty-seven years ago was 1948, the year of Israel’s creation. So the man who is supposed to be Israel’s “partner for peace” has just said that all of Israel is illegitimate and that the Jewish state is an “occupation” of someone else’s land. . . . But our president said nothing. By his silence, our government emboldened those who seek Israel’s destruction and made itself a bystander to a poisonous lie. Similarly, 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 called out the European Union’s effort to label Israel’s goods as coming from the so-called “occupied territories.” He declared, “The E.U. is singling out only Israel. Let’s take a step back and realize what this means. Discriminatory laws that apply only to Jews are now being written into European law for the first time in more than half a century. 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.”
That provoked a raucous ovation, in part because it reflected a granular insight into specific concerns of the Jewish state. Rubio also drew enthusiastic applause for his condemnation of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. “This coalition of the radical left thinks it has discovered a clever, politically correct way to advocate Israel’s destruction. BDS couches hatred in the language of human rights and social justice. . . . As president, I will call on university presidents, administrators, religious leaders, and professors to speak out with clarity and force on this issue — the same way they speak out against racism and other forms of bigotry. I will make clear that calling for the destruction of Israel is the same as calling for the death of Jews.”
He vowed to scrap the Iran deal and then called for the United States to put the “peace process” in perspective, slamming Donald Trump (although he did not mention his name) for calling for more Israeli concessions: “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. . . . There is no moral equivalence between Israel and those who seek to destroy her. Understanding that fundamental truth is essential to being the next Commander in Chief. This is not a real estate deal with two sides arguing over money. It’s a struggle to safeguard the future of Israel.” Ouch. That may come up in the next debate.
Rubio vowed: “Instead of pressuring Israel to make unreciprocated concessions, I will work with its prime minister on areas of mutual interest. I will finally move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I will help ensure that Jerusalem remains the Jewish state’s undivided and eternal capital. I will revive the common-sense understandings reached in the 2004 Bush-Sharon letter and build on them to help ensure Israel has defensible borders, including through its continued control of the Golan Heights.” The last point was a clever call-out to the agreement that permitted settlements to build upward, but not expand. It will also be a point on which he can take on Hillary Clinton, who refused to recognize the deal and spent time berating Israel in private and public.
When Rubio listed his actions in the Senate, they were not Mickey Mouse resolutions or noncontroversial feel-good measures, but included new sanctions against Hezbollah, new sanctions on Iran and as speaker of the Florida House a measure “requiring the Florida pension program to divest from companies linked to Iran’s terrorist regime.” He also noted that, along with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), he introduced a bill to allow “states like Florida [to] continue to divest from Iran.” He continued, “I’ve also led efforts in the Senate to pressure the Palestinian Authority to end its partnership with Hamas, attempted to defund UN agencies that attack Israel, and supported legislation to force Europe to stop its despicable anti-Semitic boycotting of Israeli products. I have been a staunch supporter of our military assistance to the Jewish state, especially the Iron Dome system that has saved countless lives. These programs have ended up benefiting America by leading to technological innovations now used by the U.S. military.”
In the Q&A, RJC’s executive director confessed that Rubio had covered “85 percent” of what he was going to ask. He managed to come up with a couple of queries. In what was maybe the best argument for his presidency, Rubio explained his thinking on issues such as Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq. He argued that he had the “foresight” to see where the debacles would unfold, cautioning against a premature pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, warning that a vacuum would be created for jihadists if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stayed to wage a bloody civil war and warning that a failed state was forming in Libya.
In sum, Rubio’s response to charges that he lacks an executive record is that he has the knowledge, judgment and insight to figure out what is going on in the world. It’s his defense to attacks on experience but also a sword to wield against opponents like Cruz who couldn’t see U.S. interests in Syria or understand that Assad was not the alternative to the Islamic State.
It was a winning speech that will reinforce support Rubio has and win support from most of the Jeb Bush supporters if Bush falters.