NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rick Perry accused President Barack Obama on Tuesday of not standing behind Israel as the Texas governor sought to draw Jewish voter support in his bid to win the 2012 Republican U.S. presidential nomination.
Perry, an evangelical Christian who leads opinion polls among Republican presidential hopefuls, told several dozen New York Jewish leaders that Obama’s Middle East policy was “naive, arrogant, misguided and dangerous.”
“As a Christian, I have a clear directive to support Israel. Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel,” Perry said.
Perry made his foray into Middle East politics as the Palestinians prepared a unilateral bid for statehood, which they are expected to present as early as Friday to the U.N. Security Council.
Perry condemned the Palestinian efforts and called Obama’s Middle East policy “appeasement” for contending that the Israelis and Palestinians should use the 1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations.
Israel has occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since the 1967 Middle East war -- land that the Palestinians want for their future state, with East Jerusalem as their capital.
“We see in this American administration a willingness to isolate a close ally and to do so in a manner that is insulting and naive,” Perry said of Obama, a Democrat seeking re-election in the November 2012 U.S. election.
He also said that as president he would move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, a claim that is not recognized internationally.
Perry was joined by Bob Turner, a Republican who won an upset victory using a pro-Israel platform in a special U.S. House of Representatives election in a New York City district.
While many Jewish Americans are Democratic voters, some prominent U.S. orthodox Jews have spoken out against what they describe as Obama’s hostility toward Israel, a key U.S. ally.
Critics point to Obama’s strained relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his failure to visit Israel as president.
Obama and his defenders say his administration has shielded Israel at the United Nations -- Washington plans to veto the Palestinian statehood bid in the U.N. Security Council -- and provided it with significantly upgraded military technology.
While opposed by Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government, the 1967 borders have long been assumed to be a basis for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.
Perry was not the only Republican presidential hopeful bashing Obama’s Middle East policies on Tuesday. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said in a statement the Palestinian efforts at the United Nations were the “culmination of President Obama’s repeated efforts over three years to throw Israel under the bus and undermine its negotiating position.”
Romney is expected to meet Jewish leaders at a reception in New York next Monday.
Republicans have seized on worries among some U.S. Jews, emphasizing their support for Israel and trying to sow seeds of doubt about Obama as they approach the 2012 battle for the White House.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas plans to give U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon an application on Friday for full U.N. membership for a Palestinian state, setting the stage for a showdown with Israel and the United States.
The Obama administration, which fears a U.S. veto would undercut its standing in the Arab world, has been trying to dissuade Abbas and, working with European counterparts, to relaunch direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks instead.
Israel, which also has called for renewed direct talks with the Palestinians, opposes the U.N. move and says it is aimed at de-legitimizing Israel. Palestinians say statehood could facilitate talks among equals -- both sovereign states.
The latest direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed a year ago after Israel refused to extend a moratorium on new settlements in areas occupied since 1967.
Perry said Obama “encouraged the Palestinians to shun direct talks.” He said he would only support a two-state solution if it came from direct talks and that he opposes a freeze on new settlements.
A recent Gallup poll showed Obama slipping with Jewish voters, falling to a 55 percent approval rating and 40 percent disapproval rating. That approval rating was still about 15 percentage points higher than with the overall population.
Editing by Mark Egan and Peter Cooney