Republican presidential candidates will swear allegiance to Israel in its fight against Hamas | International

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Donald Trump at the annual meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, in 2019.Jacquelyn Martin (AP)

Ron DeSantis was last year's sensation in Las Vegas. A lot has happened since the last time the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) met in the gaming capital in 2022. The governor of Florida arrived at the meeting of the influential Jewish lobby as the favorite to defeat Donald Trump in the race for the White House. The former president leads the preferences despite totaling 91 charges in four accusations opened in court. This Saturday, however, candidates will be able to contrast their points of view while pledging allegiance to Israel in its offensive against Hamas.

"Today more than ever we are with Israel." With these words from Norm Coleman, one of the presidents of the organization, the event started on Friday night. “This year, Israel is experiencing the greatest devastation since the Holocaust (…) we are hurt, but we know how to move forward and look for better days,” said the former senator from Minnesota. The importance of his message was underlined by a pair of videos of Israeli Defense Forces fighters, which were widely applauded by the public.

Starting Saturday morning, the RJC event in Las Vegas will become a forum where the eight Republicans running for president, as well as other high-profile politicians, parade across the stage to commit to the Jewish cause.

Organizers announced Friday morning that Mike Johnson will join the event. Johnson became the leader of the House of Representatives on Wednesday after 22 days of chaos and four candidates that showed the internal tensions of the Republicans. Johnson, an ultraconservative close to Trump, will give a speech Saturday night. Before him, Steve Scalise, the leader of the conservative majority in the Lower House, will take the stage, and who has also been added at the last minute "to show his solidarity with the people of Israel and the American Jewish community."

The presence of Johnson, the most recent anointed to Washington's political leadership, will give clues to how the party digests the conflict in the Middle East. The leader of the House of Representatives is an evangelical Christian, a group that represents one of the most loyal bases within the conservative organization. The war against Hamas has crept into the most urgent concerns of evangelical voters, as some polls have reflected in Iowa, the first state to hold the Republican caucus next January, and where religious people have an important presence.

It was in Iowa where Nikki Haley, Trump's former ambassador to the United Nations, described the conflict between Israel and Gaza that began on October 7 as a "war against good and evil." “We must have a leader who has the clarity to know the difference,” the governor of South Carolina said this month.

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Both Haley and DeSantis, who are vying for second place in Trump's shadow, have placed the conflict in the Middle East at the center of their international policy narrative. This Thursday, CNN and the Associated Press reported that Florida was facilitating the procedures for third parties to send drones, ammunition, combat armor and helmets to Israel for use by elements of the Defense Forces. The information was confirmed by a spokesperson for the DeSantis campaign, who indicated that the State has not used resources in the purchase of these objects and that the aid is limited to expediting transportation permits.

The Republican Jewish Coalition's annual meeting is also one of the largest fundraising events. The group is among the most relevant lobby groups in favor of Israel. Its members represent the third in funding capacity, after the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and J Street. The money coming out of this group has increased considerably since 2018, where it went from $130,000 to last year, exceeding $320,000, according to the organization Open Secrets.

Donald Trump returns

Last year the former president attended the event electronically. In a video, Trump assured the audience that no Administration had done more for Israel than his. Among the actions he highlighted, which align with the demands of the harshest sectors of American Jewry, were moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and officially recognizing the Israeli colonies established in the Golan Heights.

Trump had in the past the support of one of the most influential men in the RJC, billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Sands casino and a major donor to the Republican Party. Adelson died in 2021, but his widow, Miriam, remains a central figure within the organization thanks to a fortune of around $30 billion. Unlike her husband, she prefers to stay on the sidelines and not openly support any candidate.

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