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Christie Pivots to Islamophobia and toward Adelson

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination hasn’t been a success. He’s currently polling in eighth place with the support of between two and three percent of Republican primary voters. But, as The New York Times reported today, Christie is still trimming his sails to appeal to the modern GOP, even going so far as to embrace Islamophobia as a campaign tool. Although the Times credits Christie’s shift to an effort to appeal to primary voters, the promotion of an anti-Muslim agenda both at home and abroad has coincided with Christie’s year-and-a-half long struggle to secure the support of casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Christie had previously maintained good ties to his Muslim constituents. He held annual Iftar dinners until 2012, rejected the GOP’s hostility to the Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan, and slammed critics as “the crazies” when they attacked a Muslim lawyer he had nominated for a judgeship.

Indeed, Christie was one of the rare but notable examples of a GOP politician who rejected the emerging Islamophobic party line. But all that has evaporated.

Last year, Christie rushed to apologize to Adelson after he referred to the West Bank as the “occupied territories,” the term used by the U.S. government, during a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition(RJC). But Adelson, who sits on the board of the RJC and is expected to once again emerge as the single largest donor to the Republican presidential nominee, took offense. Christie personally apologized in a private meeting in the casino mogul’s office.

More recently, Christie has called for a full stop to the settling of Syrian refugees in the U.S., including the settlement of “orphans under five.” He has also been unwilling to confront Donald Trump about his inaccurate claims that Muslims celebrated the 9/11 attacks in New Jersey. This tilt toward outright bigotry toward Muslims brings Christie far closer to the Islamophobia promoted by the GOP’s biggest megadonor.

Adelson is the biggest donor of the Zionist Organization of America, a group which has taken a hardline stance against Syrian refugees. Last week, ZOA president Morton Kleinspeaking at an awards banquet attended by Adelson and his wife Miriam, urged the deportation of families of terrorists and called for no Syrian refugees to be admitted to the U.S.

“Don’t bring these refugees here. Treat as pariahs all those who promote radical Islam. … We must crush radical Islam as we crushed Nazism,” Klein said.

Adelson’s hawkish foreign policy views, especially in the Muslim world, are by now the party doctrine of the GOP. Indeed, as Ali Gharib recently pointed out, Adelson is at the nexus of the GOP’s Islamophobia. He reportedly helped distribute copies of the Islamophobic film Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West before the 2008 election, and he funds fringe anti-Muslim figures like Steven Emerson, who claimed that Islam, “which has more than 1.4 billion adherents, somehow sanctions genocide, planned genocide, as part of its religious doctrine.”

Adelson himself famously proposed firing an “atomic weapon” at Iran instead of negotiating with Tehran and funded a number of the groups opposing the Iran nuclear deal, including United Against Nuclear Iran and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Christie is increasingly a longshot in both the GOP presidential primary race and the contest for Adelson’s endorsement (and the millions which are expected to come with it). But with Adelson and his wife reportedly split between endorsing Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) , and the RJC’s presidential candidates forum scheduled for tomorrow, Christie may feel he can’t afford to come off as remotely sympathetic to Muslims either at home or abroad.

And with Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corporation having contributed over $3.5 million to the Republican Governors Association during Christie’s chairmanship of the group and the Las Vegas billionaire’s history of giving Christie access to one of his private jets, Christie has no shortage of reasons to maintain warm ties with the Adelsons. It’s no surprise, then, that he has embraced hardline policies towards Muslims, even at the expense of abandoning his Muslim constituents in New Jersey.

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Bret Stephens is a columnist for the New York Times who previously worked at the Wall Street Journal and the neoconservative flagship magazine Commentary.


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