Christie apologizes for 'occupied territories' gaffe
New Jersey Governor Chirs Christie was in Las Vegas over the weekend, along with several other GOP politicians who are considering a run for the White House, to address the Republican Jewish Coalition. Also watching the proceedings was Sheldon Adelson, one of the biggest contributors to Republican candidates over the last few years.
In his speech, Christie was talking about a trip to Israel he took with his family in 2012:
I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.”
Ooops. Most Jews and supporters of Israel do not recognize the term "occupied territories," and a murmur went through the crowd after he said it.
Either he realized his mistake himself or a staffer pointed it out, because Christie set up a hasty meeting with Adelson to explain himself.
Not long after his speech, Christie met with Adelson privately in the casino mogul’s office in the Venetian hotel and casino, which hosted the RJC meeting.
The source told POLITICO that Christie “clarified in the strongest terms possible that his remarks today were not meant to be a statement of policy.”
Instead, the source said, Christie made clear “that he misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’ And he conveyed that he is an unwavering friend and committed supporter of Israel, and was sorry for any confusion that came across as a result of the misstatement.”
Adelson accepted Christie’s explanation, the source said.
The mini-controversy and quick apology highlight both the importance of Adelson as the reigning mega-donor in GOP politics, as well as the tricky terrain that Middle East politics can pose for American politicians courting Jewish donors and voters.
Before the meeting, Adelson ally Morton Klein, president of the hawkish Zionist Organization of America, had confronted Christie about his use of the term, telling POLITICO he explained to the New Jersey governor that “at minimum you should call it disputed territories.”
Christie was non-committal, said Klein, who concluded afterwards that the governor “either doesn’t understand the issue at all, or he’s hostile to Israel.”
Besides the comment, Christie largely impressed the crowd Saturday night with tales of his own trips to Israel.
He also criticized the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy, which the crowd distrusts deeply.
What's very worrying to me is Christie's apparent tone deafness about the issue. I doubt, as Klein suggests, that Christie is "hostile" to Israel, but he made a rookie mistake in a big league forum. The gaffe was forgotten and Christie received good reviews from attendees, but the governor is already damaged goods and can't afford too many more mistakes like this one.