By Josh Lederman - 12/15/11 03:36 PM EST
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) delivered a severe rebuke to Palestinians on Thursday, linking their culture to terrorism and questioning their worthiness to have an independent state.
Speaking to a conference of Reform Jews, Cantor told of a Palestinian woman treated for burns at an Israeli hospital who tried to return for a follow-up visit wearing a suicide belt.
“What kind of culture leads one to do that? Sadly, it is a culture infused with resentment and hatred,” Cantor said.
Detecting a weakness for President Obama among voters who believe he has forsaken the U.S. alliance with Israel, Republican rhetoric toward Palestinians has become increasingly caustic in recent weeks.
The party’s slate of presidential candidates have jostled in debates and at a meeting of Jewish Republicans last week for who can take the stance that is most pro-Israel — and, often, anti-Palestinian.
Obama is scheduled to speak to the conference on Friday.
While Cantor and other House leaders have firmly backed Israel’s right to defend itself, they are generally careful to distinguish between those who commit terrorist acts and Palestinians as a whole. That nuance was absent in Cantor’s Thursday address to the Union for Reform Judaism.
“It is not morally equivalent when the offenses of terrorists are equated with the defenses of Israel,” he said to a few thousand conference participants, who offered Cantor a polite but guarded reception.
A number of participants could be heard outside the ballroom where Cantor was speaking discussing their choice not to attend his speech so as to not lend their support to his conservative views.
Warning that the 2,000-year-old dream of a Jewish state is in jeopardy, Cantor said the international community is replete with anti-Semitic vitriol and pointed to the success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s post-revolution elections, which he said presented major challenges to U.S. interests in the region.
He also hailed the package of harsh economic sanctions passed on Wednesday by the Republican-controlled House.
Cantor avoided a direct critique of Obama, but called out the president’s ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, who sparked a political flare-up in early December when his comments about differentiating types of anti-Semitism were seen by some as blaming Israel for Muslim anti-Semitism.
“I say to you, any justification of any form of anti-Semitism must not be tolerated or condoned,” Cantor said. “History is replete with examples that when it comes to the Jewish people, the world can turn a deaf ear.”