On Wednesday, six Republican candidates for president appeared before the Republican Jewish Coalition to campaign for Christian votes. There are Jewish Republicans, to be sure, but not enough to make a difference in this primary contest. No, the real prize that drew the candidates to the event were the 40 per cent of GOP primary voters who identify themselves as "born-again" Christians. Many of them fervently believe that Israel can do no wrong and that it is their religious duty to support any and all Israeli policies as a prerequisite to hasten the "Day of Judgment".
The speeches were mostly filled with hysterical criticism of President Barack Obama's "appeasement" of Israel's enemies and hyperbolic praise for Israel (with the exception of John Huntsman, who, after a few pandering platitudes, spoke mostly about the economy and was greeted with stony silence). Because their remarks included such irresponsible charges and promises, I have included significant excerpts to give a flavour of how out of touch today's Republican Party is with current Middle East realities.
Newt Gingrich has in recent days surged ahead in the polls with statements like this: "As president, on my first day in office, I will issue an executive order directing the US embassy in Israel to be moved to Jerusalem as provided for in the legislation I introduced in Congress in 1995.
"The United States should explicitly reject the concept of a right of return for Palestinian refugees. The so-called right of return is a historically impossible demand that would be a demographic disaster and mean the end of the Jewish state of Israel.
"The United Nations camps system must be replaced by a system of earned income and property rights to restore dignity and hope to every Palestinian."
The next day, Mr Gingrich followed up these remarks, in essence rejecting any Palestinian claim to a state: "Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places. And for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and I think it's tragic."
Michele Bachmann continued her pattern of lambasting Mr Obama while pandering to the far-right constituency: "It seems as if lately, our president has forgotten the importance of Israel to America and thinks of our relationship only in terms of what we do for Israel. The president is more concerned about Israel building homes on its own land than the threats that Israel and America face in the region.
"Obama improperly calls for Israel to retreat to indefensible 1949 armistice lines with swaps, and to then still face further demands to divide Jerusalem and allow a Palestinian 'right of return' to overrun the entire state of Israel. The Obama administration has also unconditionally given the Palestinians unprecedented amounts of US foreign aid, and opposed Congressional efforts to condition aid on the real steps that would bring about peace.
"The so-called Palestinian 'right of return' would demographically destroy Israel by swamping it with millions of Arabs who never lived in Israel, thereby turning the world's only Jewish state into the world's 23rd Arab state.
"My administration will fully recognise Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital."
In that company, Mitt Romney was eager to sing the same tune: "Over the past three years, President Obama has ... chastened Israel. He's publicly proposed that Israel adopt indefensible borders. He's insulted its prime minister. And he's been timid and weak in the face of the existential threat of a nuclear Iran.
"These actions have emboldened Palestinian hard-liners who now are poised to form a unity government with terrorist Hamas and feel they can bypass Israel at the bargaining table. President Obama has immeasurably set back the prospect of peace in the Middle East."
Rick Perry continued the refrain, based on his own version of history: "President Obama has systematically undermined America's relationship with Israel … I support the goal of a Palestinian state, but it should be the Palestinians who meet certain preconditions.
"Instead, the administration has insisted on previously unheard of preconditions for Israel, such as an immediate stop to all settlement activity. President Obama has suggested the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations. And he has instituted the practice of 'indirect talks', subverting the Oslo Accords.
"Israel does not need our president demanding gratitude for being the best friend Israel has ever had while his secretary of defence rails that Israel has 'to get back to the damn table' with the Palestinians, and his secretary of state questions the viability of Israel's democracy, even as his ambassador to Belgium blames anti-Semitism among Muslims on Israel's failure to accommodate the Palestinians."
All of this went beyond the normal platitudes offered up in an election year. It was dangerous, shameful and crass pandering, making it clear how far today's Republicans have moved from the reality-based foreign policy of the Bush-Baker era. And while it's hard to imagine the alternate universe inhabited by these candidates for president, it's frightening to think of where they would take US-Middle East policy should any of them be elected.
James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute