KFAR AZZA, Israel (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie on Sunday visited Israel, saying the U.S. must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Israel in its war against the Hamas militant group.
Christie toured a kibbutz that was ravaged in the Oct. 7 rampage by Hamas militants that triggered the war and was meeting Israeli leaders, wounded soldiers and families of Israeli hostages during his one-day visit. The former New Jersey governor is the first candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination to visit Israel.
“I came here because I wanted to see this for myself,” Christie said during a tour of Kfar Azza, one of more than 20 towns and villages attacked by Hamas militants on Oct. 7. Israel says over 1,200 people were killed and 239 others are being held hostage in Gaza.
Jets buzzed overhead as Christie toured the kibbutz alongside the speaker of Israel’s parliament, Amir Ohana.
Christie, donning a flak jacket and flanked by an entourage of Israeli soldiers, made his way through homes with walls riddled by bullet holes and couches stained with blood. Over a month since the attack, many Kfar Azza houses are burnt-out and destroyed — structures left standing are scribbled with Arabic graffiti.
“To be able to walk through a neighborhood like this and see what was done to the people, to still be able to walk into one of these homes and smell the death still, a month later, is something that I think the American people need to know.”
Christie, the 2024 race’s most vocal critic of former president, Donald J. Trump, has cast himself as the only Republican willing to directly take him on. Trump has not visited Israel during the current campaign cycle, though President Joe Biden has.
The Republican candidates have all lined up behind Israel, even as the country comes under growing international pressure to halt or scale back an offensive in the Gaza Strip in which more than 11,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and minors, have been killed, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths. About 2,700 people have been reported missing and are thought to be trapped or dead under the rubble.
Christie praised the way that Biden has handled relations with Israel during wartime. As widespread protests of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in major cities like New York and Los Angeles attract thousands, the Biden administration has sought to increase humanitarian aid into Gaza while backing the Israeli war effort by moving US troops and defense systems into the region. Biden has largely ducked calls to pressure Israel into a ceasefire.
Christie said that he thought protesters calling for a ceasefire did not represent the vast majority of Americans.
“I don’t think it’s the role of the United States to instruct the state of Israel on how to provide safety and security for its people,” he said. “I think we can give advice, as friends give advice in private. But publicly, my view is that we need to stand with Israel.”
During his visit, Christie watched a film of gruesome footage pulled from the body cameras of Hamas militants on Oct. 7 and compiled by the Israeli army. The military has screened the film to international press and multiple world leaders who have visited Israel since the start of the war.
“I want the people of Israel to know that there are hundreds of millions of Americans who stand with them, who understand the atrocities that were committed, and why in the future we need to stand absolutely shoulder to shoulder with Israel,” Christie said.
Christie has positioned himself as someone who if elected would defend U.S. interests and democracy abroad. He has previously visited Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The trip marks his second trip to a warring country since the start of his presidential bid, after a visit to Ukraine in August.
By far the most strident critic of Trump in the Republican field, Christie has consistently been in the low single digits in national polls, far behind the former president.