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2016 hopefuls Christie, Cruz court Jewish donors in New York

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at the Third Annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala, Thursday, May 28, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

NEW YORK (AP) — One declared and one likely Republican presidential contender criticized the administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran and reaffirmed their support for Israel as they courted wealthy Jewish donors Thursday at a gala in New York.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a declared presidential candidate, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is widely expected to jump into the race next month, criticized President Barack Obama’s handling of the Middle East as they worked to impress donors at the third annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala.

“Our friends in Israel deserve better than what they’ve gotten in the last seven years from this White House,” said Christie, who also spoke at the dinner last year.

The co-hosts of the gala included politically active millionaires and billionaires the candidates are wooing as they work to win financial support in a crowded Republican field that is expanding daily.

Among those in attendance: Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is known for his dedication to Israel and is likely to spend millions backing his favored candidate. Both Christie and Cruz, along with their wives, were seated at Adelson’s table.

Adelson has yet to publicly endorse anyone. Andy Abboud, Adelson’s top political aide, has said his boss might not choose until next year.

Adelson and his wife were among the 2012 presidential election’s top donors, contributing more than $90 million to candidates and causes. That included money for the super PAC supporting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, which helped extend his run.

In his remarks, Christie tried to translate his brash persona into a foreign policy that projected toughness.

“We must meet tragedy with strength. We must meet evil with strength,” he said, making the case that weak leadership from the White House was to blame for unrest across the Middle East.

“All throughout the history of the world, it has been clear, direct, honest, unadulterated strength which those who are evil respond to,” he said.

Cruz took a more alarmist tone.

“The nation of Israel has never been more in jeopardy,” he said, declaring that, come January 2017, the new president should immediately work to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities.

“If Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, that president in 2017 should stand up to the world and explain very simply: Either Iran will stop, or the United of America will stop it,” he said.

Neither Cruz nor Christie offered specifics.

Christie has drawn some unwanted attention at past Adelson events. Last year, he stumbled in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas when he made a reference to the “occupied territories.” He also raised eyebrows at the gala last year when he made no mention of Israel in his speech.

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Associated Press writer Julie Bykowicz in Washington contributed to this report.

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