Commentary Magazine


Is He Running? Perry Slams Gaza Flotilla

Texas Governor Rick Perry is best known for his opposition to big government tax-and-spend policies rather than any stands on foreign policy issues. But for the second time in as many months, Perry has issued a statement on Middle East policy bound to increase speculation about him running for president.

On Tuesday, Perry sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder blasting the efforts by anti-Israel activists to break the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. He praised the attorney general for the warning he issued to American citizens participating in the flotilla and labeled the entire project an “unacceptable provocation,” going so far as to call for the federal government to “aggressively pursue all available legal remedies to enjoin and prevent these illegal actions, and to prosecute any who may elect to engage in them in spite of your preemptive efforts.”

Perry is right about both the flotilla and the Americans (such as leftist author Alice Walker), who have chosen to take part. It’s a propaganda ploy that has nothing to do with helping the people of Gaza. Since Israel has allowed both food and medicine to flow freely into Gaza, there is no humanitarian crisis. The only purpose of the flotilla is to help break the diplomatic isolation of the terrorist regime that rules there.

Though Perry’s letter is very much to the point about the need for the United States to do what it can to hinder this pro-Hamas stunt, there is little doubt it will be interpreted as a brazen attempt to curry favor with supporters of Israel. While he was but one of many Republicans and Democrats who took issue with President Obama’s decision to insist the 1967 lines be the starting point for future peace negotiations, his anti-flotilla letter demonstrates Perry is determined not to let any opportunity pass to demonstrate his support for Israel and his disdain for its foes.

While some will put this down as the Texan pandering to the Jewish community in the hope of financial support for his putative presidential candidacy, the intended object of his pro-Israel push may be a very different group. If Perry does run, he will be competing directly against both Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty for the conservative Christian vote. Though social issues such as abortion are key for that sector of the public, it is often forgotten they are also among the most ardent supporters of Israel, often surpassing the Jews in their down-the-line-backing for its government. Though all the GOP candidates–with the exception of libertarian extremist Ron Paul–can be considered supporters of Israel, Bachmann and Pawlenty have staked out positions on the Middle East that resonate most loudly with pro-Israel Christians. Though Perry will, I’m sure, be happy to accept any Jewish political donations, he’s probably even more interested in one-upping both Bachmann and Perry among the evangelicals who actually vote in large numbers in Republican primaries and caucuses.

But either way, the Perry letter seems to be one more sign the Texas governor is inching closer to a presidential run.