Gingrich sidesteps staff exodus, blasts Obama over Israel in speech

CNN Wire Service

Republican Newt Gingrich sought to restart his foundering 2012 presidential bid Sunday in a speech that sidestepped last week’s exodus of 16 top aides from his campaign and hammered the Obama administration over its Middle East policies.

Appearing before the Republican Jewish Coalition in Beverly Hills, California, the former U.S. House Speaker made just one vague and indirect reference to the campaign controversy.

“As someone who has been in public life for nearly 40 years, I know full well the rigors of campaigning for public office,” Gingrich said. “In fact, I’ve had some recent reminders. I will endure the challenges. I will carry the message of American renewal to every part of this great land, whatever it takes.”

He also referred to himself as a candidate “running for president to lead a movement of Americans to insist that we change Washington,” saying, “With the help of every American who wants to change Washington, we will prevail.”

The Gingrich campaign was rocked by the sudden departure of staffers including its campaign manager on Thursday, less than one month after he formally announced his 2012 bid.

The staff resignations included his campaign manager Rob Johnson and long-time Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler, plus strategists and consultants in Iowa, South Carolina and Georgia, Gingrich’s home state.

Tyler said the resignations followed disagreements between the candidate and his staff about “Newt as a candidate and control of the campaign and scheduling.”

Gingrich focused almost the entirety of his speech on Israel and the Middle East.

“Both Israel and America are at a dangerous crossroads at which the survival of Israel and the safety of the United States both hang in the balance,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich told the audience that peace with the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas is an impossible goal.

The 2012 presidential candidate seemed to provoke the loudest applause when he vowed, if elected, to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

He blasted as “dangerous” recent speeches by President Barack Obama calling for Israel and the Palestinians to restart peace talks with the 1967 borders as a starting point.

“President Obama … wants Israel to accept the indefensible lines of 1967 as the starting point of negotiations. Accepting such a proposal would be a suicidal step for Israel,” Gingrich said.

Obama insisted in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last month that his position was being misrepresented.

“The parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967,” the eve of the war where Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza and other territory, he said.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among the loudest critics of Obama’s original speech calling for negotiations based on the 1967 borders and including land swaps to take current realities into account.