WASHINGTON // Republican presidential hopefuls lambasted President Barack Obama's policy towards Israel, accusing him of being timid with Iran and allowing a dangerous distance to develop between the US and Israel.
"This president, for every thug and hooligan, for every radical Islamist, he has had nothing but appeasement," said the former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum in one of harshest criticisms on Wednesday.
In speeches that resembled political auditions before Jewish activists and donors, the former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and the congresswoman Michele Bachmann promised to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the Texas governor, Rick Perry, pledged he would increase military aid to Israel.
The former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a co-front-runner in the polls with Mr Gingrich, said Mr Obama, by his actions, has "emboldened Palestinian hardliners who now are poised to form a unity government with terrorist Hamas and feel they can bypass Israel at the bargaining table".
Recent controversial remarks about anti-Semitism by Howard Gutman, the US ambassador to Belgium, also figured in the assault on the administration by Republicans seeking the right to oppose Mr Obama in next year's elections.
The former Utah governor, Jon Huntsman, who was Mr Obama's first envoy to China, suggested the remarks had been cleared in advance by the State Department or perhaps even the White House.
Mr Gutman had told a conference that "a distinction should be made between traditional anti-Semitism, which should be condemned and Muslim hatred for Jews, which stems from the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians".
All of the Republicans stressed that Iran must never be permitted to gain a nuclear weapon, raising the possibility of a pre-emptive military strike to prevent it. Israel regards the prospect of a nuclear Iran as a threat to its existence.
Any criticism of Mr Obama drew applause from the audience, and the White House and its allies were quick to counter the allegations.
"Because they know they can't attract Jewish voters with their domestic policy, Republicans turn to Israel and attempt to make the Jewish state a partisan issue," said Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat who is chair of the Democratic National Committee in the House.