WASHINGTON (JTA) — Republican presidential contender John Kasich, speaking before thousands of Israel activists, took aim at front-runner Donald Trump’s comment that he would remain “neutral” in brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“We cannot be neutral defending our allies,” Kasich, the governor of Ohio, told the crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday.
Trump’s comment on neutrality has been much criticized in the pro-Israel community, but he backed away from it later in his address later Monday to AIPAC.
Kasich, who is running a distant third in the Republican contest, spoke early in the evening, prior to speeches by rivals Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Kasich also targeted Trump for what has been widely perceived as a divisive campaign, in which Trump has insulted Mexicans, Muslims, women and the disabled.
“We are Americans before we’re Republicans or Democrats,” Kasich said. “I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land. I will not do it.”
One of Kasich’s biggest applause lines came when he denounced Palestinian attacks on Israel, saying they are a result of “a culture of hate that the Palestinian Authority has promoted for 50 years,” of which he said he was “horrified.”
Also well received was his pledge to suspend the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, citing Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests as a violation of the spirit if not the letter of the deal. Kasich until recently had said that while he did not favor the deal, he would abide by it.
And in a comment that appeared directed at the Obama administration’s treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kasich said: “We must stand by our friends instead of abusing them while currying favor with our enemies.”