“Let me say at the outset,” the Texas senator said as he took the stage at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual gathering, “Perhaps to the surprise of the previous speaker, Palestine has not existed since 1948.”
That was a jab at Trump, who spoke right before Cruz and several times referred to the Palestinian territories, some of which are under Israeli control, as “Palestine” — a definite faux pas in some pro-Israel circles.
Cruz, who is seeking to emerge as the Republican Party’s anti-Trump standard bearer, sprinkled several other swipes at Trump throughout his address to AIPAC, a high-profile Washington conference that drew thousands of people and every presidential candidate except for Bernie Sanders.
In his address, Cruz sought to cast himself as a knowledgeable and, as a senator, experienced champion of Israel — in contrast, he suggested, to Trump.
“My leading Republican opponent promised he, as president, would be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians,” Cruz said. “Let me be very, very clear: As president, I will not be neutral.”
Trump had held that position, though in his address ahead of Cruz, he appeared to reverse himself, issuing conditions for the Palestinians ahead of any peace talks, but not for Israel. In an earlier CNN interview, Trump said that it might be too difficult to be neutral “because there’s so much hatred.”
Cruz also tweaked Trump over previously suggesting that he could negotiate a better nuclear deal with Iran, and obliquely questioned whether Trump meant it when he promised to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Cruz’s hawkish and staunchly pro-Israel address otherwise hit on several issues valued deeply by the crowd, including his promises to reverse the Iran nuclear deal on his first day in office, to value Israel as a strategic ally, and to oppose the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement against Israel.
While John Kasich and Trump waved and quickly made for the exits after their speeches, Cruz took advantage of going last and lingered or a while longer in the crowd, shaking hands and posing for pictures. And during his speech, he sought to connect with the crowd by throwing out references to religious texts including the Talmud and the Megillah, a text tied to the Jewish holiday of Purim, which takes place this week.
“Am Yisrael Chai,” he concluded, to cheers, in Hebrew, offering up a triumphant slogan that translates as, “the People of Israel live.”
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