Republican candidate Donald Trump got in hot water with Jewish donors on Thursday when he refused to back down on comments he made the previous day that he was not sure Israel was interested in peace with the Palestinians.
Trump told The Associated Press on Wednesday he has "a real question as to whether or not both sides want to make" Mideast peace.
"A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal - whether or not Israel's willing to sacrifice certain things," Trump told AP. "They may not be, and I understand that, and I'm OK with that. But then you're just not going to have a deal."
Pressed to explain his comments on Thursday, Trump refused to back down. "I don't know that Israel has the commitment to make it, and I don't know the other side has the commitment to make it," Trump said.
The comment drew murmurs of disapproval. He soon drew a smattering of boos after refusing to say whether Jerusalem should serve as the undivided capital of Israel, a priority for many in America's pro-Israel lobby.
Trump shrugged off the criticism. "You're not going to support me even though you know I'm the best thing that could happen to Israel," Trump said. "I know why you're not going to support me: because I don't want your money."
The Republican Party's presidential contenders spoke at a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a group whose primary benefactor, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, spent more on the 2012 federal elections than any other donor.
His willingness to make a huge political investment helps explain why his signature group has attracted all of the major Republican presidential candidates to its forum in Washington - even though the man himself wasn't among the hundreds in attendance.
Billionaire businessman Donald Trump is the front-runner followed by another outsider, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are in a second tier of candidates, considered to have a good shot at the nomination if Trump and Carson fade in the primaries. The candidacy of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of former presidents, has failed to catch fire. Other candidates include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former businesswoman Carly Fiorina.
Trump's commens also drew criticism from the other candidates.
"Some in our own party - in the news today - have actually questioned Israel's commitment to peace," said Sen. Marco Rubio. "Some in our own party actually call for more sacrifice from the Israeli people. They are dead wrong, and they don't understand the enduring bond between Israel and America."
Rubio continued: "I reject those who believe that Israel is the impediment to peace," he said. "Let me be crystal clear: there is no moral equivalence between Israel and its enemies."
Rubio also decried as anti-Semitic a move by the European Union to label goods imported from Jewish settlements, a decision sharply criticized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"We must not separate the threat to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv from the threat to Paris, or London, or Washington, or even Miami," Rubio said, also criticizing a rise in anti-Semitism in Europe.
"Discriminatory laws that apply only to Jews are now being written into European law for the first time in more than half a century," the Florida senator said, to sustained applause.
Ripping 'catastrophic' Iran deal to shreds
"We need a president who will stand unapologetically with the nation of Israel," declared Ted Cruz.
But in a clear break from Rubio and other Republican national security hawks, Cruz suggested the United States would be safer with Assad continuing in his role as Syrian president, just as the world would have been safer had Middle East dictators not been toppled in Libya, Egypt and Iraq.
"Toppling a government and allowing radical Islamic terrorists to take over a nation is not benefiting our national security interests," Cruz said.
Cruz, who recently has been climbing in presidential polls, also said he would make scrapping the nuclear deal the first order of business after assuming office following the next November's White House vote.
"If I am elected president, I have pledged on the very first day in office to rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal," he said of Obama's landmark foreign policy achievement.
Cruz asserted that Obama's former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who is running to succeed her ex-boss in the White House, would be equally catastrophic were she to become America's next commander-in-chief.
"If you vote for Hillary Clinton, you are voting for the Ayatollah Khamenei to have nuclear weapons," he said, in remarks echoed by his fellow Republican presidential contenders.
Cruz joined with Rubio in declaring that if elected president, he would move Washington's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Lindsey Graham, a US senator from South Carolina and former military attorney, joked that as president "I may have the first all-Jewish cabinet in America."
On a serious note, he insisted that on the topic of defense of Israel, his bona fides were second to none.
"ISIL will be destroyed, Iran will be defanged," under his administration, the senator proclaimed.
Michael Leventoff, a New York businessman and member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said Trump questioning Israel's commitment to the peace process is another example of him "just getting it wrong."
"There's plenty of evidence of Israel's repeated attempts at peace," he said. "This is exactly why Trump is what I like to call a brilliant idiot. He should know better, and probably does."
While there was no chance Thursday for the candidates to interact with Adelson, who is on a personal trip, many candidates already have met with him.
Each of the candidates is strong on the issues that concern Adelson the most, chief among them protection of Israel, said his political adviser, Andy Abboud.
AFP contributed to this report.