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09.20.11

Rick Perry’s Jewish Gambit

The Texas governor hits New York—bashing Obama’s stance on Israel and currying favor with rabbis. Lloyd Grove on Perry’s one-state solution.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry ventured into the effete precincts of Manhattan on Tuesday to commune with Jewish supporters of Israel and mercilessly hammer President Obama’s “wavering and aimless” Middle East policies.

It was, in a word, pandermonium.

The Republican presidential frontrunner—who swaggered bowlegged up to the lectern at the W Hotel on Union Square, as though he’d just come off a cattle drive—was received by the assembled yarmulke-wearing multitude with hugs and cheers. Perry, for his part, wore no headgear that might detract from his wonderful hair.

Before his speech he shook hands and exchanged abrazos with an array of rabbis, politicians, and activists lined up behind him, at one point stopping to caress the cheek of high-tech entrepreneur Irwin Katsof, a Perry supporter who’d accompanied the governor on a recent trip to the Holy Land.

Modeling a midnight-black suit and a mustard tie, Perry was repeatedly interrupted by applause as he accused Obama of dissing “our oldest and strongest democratic ally in the Middle East” and rewarding “the terrorist tactics of Hamas” and the recalcitrance of other Palestinian leaders who refuse direct talks with Israel—pronounced “Isrull”—on the two-state solution.

“I am for Jerusalem being united under Israeli rule … and as the president of the United States, [Perry’s position would be] if you want to work for the State Department, you will be working in Jerusalem.”

There were shouts of approval as he lauded the Israelis for destroying the nuclear—pronounced “nuc-u-lar”—capabilities of Iraq and Syria; advocated defunding the United Nations and shutting down the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington if the U.N. votes in coming days for Palestinian statehood; supported the right of Israel to continue building settlements in the occupied territories; and admonished an Israeli reporter that “I hope you will tell the people of Israel that help is on the way.”

The biggest applause line was when Perry affirmed: “I am for Jerusalem being united under Israeli rule … and as the president of the United States, [Perry’s position would be] if you want to work for the State Department, you will be working in Jerusalem.”

It was the same position, oddly enough, that candidate Obama once enunciated at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in June 2008 (before quickly walking it back in a cloud of nuance).

In Tuesday’s speech, Perry inadvertently dropped a line in his prepared remarks that “we must signal to the world, including nations like Turkey and Egypt whom we have considered allies in recent years, that we won’t tolerate aggression against Israel.”

“Please print that, because I just overlooked it,” the governor requested during a post-speech news conference.

Perry’s comments prompted a near-ecstatic reaction from, among others, newly minted Republican congressman Bob Turner—winner of last week’s special election  to replace disgraced Democrat Anthony Weiner in New York’s Ninth Congressional District—and state assemblyman Dov Hikind, a nominal Brooklyn Democrat who supported John McCain.

“I’m not endorsing anyone today,” the flamboyant Hikind said when invited to make remarks of his own. “But I like what I heard today … I said, that sounds like me! That sounds like the speeches I’ve been making for years! … So, Governor, for what you said publicly and what you said privately upstairs, God bless you, and for today, I wish you all the luck in the world.”

Turner, also on the fence at this point, told me he could support Perry or almost any of the other Republican candidates for president. “Everyone except for one has his head screwed on straight on this issue,” Turner said—a reference to Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who advocates U.S. neutrality in the Middle East.

Also standing behind Perry—physically as well as philosophically—was Likud politician Danny Danon, deputy speaker of the Knesset.

I asked him: would he prefer to be dealing with President Perry rather than President Obama?

“I would prefer to have a president that would speak directly to the point, and who understands the issues of the Middle East, and would not be as naive as President Obama is today,” Danon said.

Is that a yes?

“I gave you an answer.”