LIVE BLOG: U.S. Presidential Candidates Speak at the Republican Jewish Coalition

Haaretz' Natasha Mozgovaya brings you minute-by-minute updates as Republican presidential hopefuls talk about Israel, American Jews, the economy and the Iranian threat.

Hundreds of people convened Wednesday on a rainy morning in the Ronald Reagan building at the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington. Unlike the presidential debates, this time the candidates took stage one by one, offering to answer the audience's questions.

There was one candidate missing, though. The organizers have decided not invite Rep. Ron Paul, saying that even though the decision seems "ill advised," there is no reason "to allow Paul to pretend he is anything but an extremist who is far outside of the mainstream, especially when it comes to issues concerning the U.S.-Israel alliance."

Bachmann - Natasha Mozgovaya - December 7, 2011
Natasha Mozgovaya

Live Blog

4:16 - RJC CEO Matt Brooks concludes the event with saying: "Ladies and gentlemen, you've witnessed history today: the next president of the U.S. was on this stage."

"The Jewish community has a role to play in these elections and we'll win," Brooks says.

Perry - Natasha Mozgovaya - December 7, 2011
Natasha Mozgovaya

4:13 - "The most overrated organization in the world today is the UN," Bachmann says.

4:03 - Bachmann promises: "I will move the Embassy to Jerusalem. Recognize annexation of the Golan Heights or any settlements Israel would chose to annex."

Gingrich - Natasha Mozgovaya - December 7, 2011
Natasha Mozgovaya

4:00 - "This is our moment of clarity to stand with Israel," Bachmann says.

"Our options are diminishing by the day. The President will stand with Occupy Wall Street - but he won't stand with Israel. We have to accelerate covert operations and cyber operations in Iran. We must order the CIA director to do every effort necessary to stop the Iranian bomb. The Pentagon must prepare a war plan. President Obama has seriously diminished the security of Israel."

Santorum - Natasha Mozgovaya - December 7, 2011
Natasha Mozgovaya

3:56 - Bachmann quotes Panetta ("get to the damn table"), the speech by the Ambassador to Belgium and the dialogue between Obama and Sarkozy.

3:54 – Bachmann's offensive continues: "They want to turn Israel into 23d Arab state."

Romney - Natasha Mozgovaya - December 7, 2011
Natasha Mozgovaya

3:52 – Bachmann lashes out at Obama: "The President has delegitimized Israel by describing Israel as a 60-year-old occupation. He abandoned prior U.S. policy that Israel is entitled to defensible borders; The former administration's commitment" (mentioned Bush's letter: "no right of return for the Palestinian so-called "refugees.'" He calls them to return to the indefensible borders. I guarantee you without any reservation: I will never call for dividable Jerusalem."

3:49 – The rest of the topics are familiar: On the Solyndra affair (the California solar panel company that went bankrupt – N.M.) she says: "We are not a banana republic, we are the U.S. and we need to act like one." Bachmann promises to repeal "Obamacare" and to get Washington, D.C. "out of directing markets."

3:48 – Bachmann says her priority as president will be to make America competitive again.

3:42 - Bachmann talks about administration's appeasement policy, says President Obama's weakness in the Middle East emboldened the Palestinians to seek statehood at the UN. "My commitment is unequivocal and unchanging," she says. "We stand with Israel. Today more than ever Israel requires the necessary aid that the U.S. gives to our ally, the only democracy in the Middle East.

3:44 – Bachmann takes a jab at the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, says "we are here to occupy America."

3:37 - Rep. Michele Bachmann starts with recalling her 1974 experiences in Kibbutz Be'eri in Israel: "It opened my heart to the plight of the Jewish people."

3:13 – Perry says that "bringing America back begins with faith."

3:10 – An interesting promise from Perry: "Strategic defensive aid to Israel under a Perry Administration will increase."

3:05 - "Military option is not one that Israel will take easily," Perry says. "But Israel needs our vocal moral support, because there will be inevitable international condemnation if Israel decides to strike. What Israel does not need is President Obama demanding eternal gratitude for being its best friend."

3:07 - Perry does not mince words: "This administration's approach to Israel is a torrent of hostility.

3:09 - "U.S.-Israel policy is not a checkbox for the campaign. It's a deeply personal issue for me," Perry says.

3:03 - "Instead," Perry goes on, "the administration insisted on a stop of settlement activities, established a practice of indirect talks, subverted the Oslo accords. (Obama) insisted on 1967 borders as basis for negotiations."

On Iran, Perry said that it is "marching unimpeded toward nuclear weapons. They made no mystery of their intentions, what they will do with these weapons. This administration was silent during the green revolution."

2:57 - Texas Governor Rick Perry says "two Americans citizens detained abroad are Jewish," which signifies their devotion to service.

President Obama, says Perry, "undermines our historical relations with Israel." "Israel's security is critical to America's security. Israel's action in Iraq (bombing the nuclear reactor in 1981 – N.M.) made the world safer. I support the goal of the Palestinian state - but it should be the Palestinians who meet certain preconditions - Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state."

2:55 - Congressman Steve Rothman, a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittees on Defense; and State and Foreign Operations, released the following statement on former Governor Mitt Romney’s speech: "A few days ago, I called upon former Governor Romney to stand by the U.S.-Israel MOU (a ten-year Memorandum of Understanding that provides Israel with $30 billion in aid by 2018 – N.M). I am deeply disappointed that Governor Romney refused to state whether he supports the MOU between the US and Israel in his address this morning to the Republican Jewish Coalition. If Governor Romney isn’t willing to support Israel’s military and foreign aid package before an audience of pro-Israel, Republican Jews many of us believe he simply doesn’t support it."

2:50 – Interestingly, the issue of U.S. foreign assistance – including to Israel – is absent from everyone's agenda.

2:40 - On Iran, Gingrich says: "The only rational long-term policy is regime replacement. I'll focus on gasoline supply, how to sabotage it every day. I'd find every dissident group in the country. I'll do everything I could to keep the regime off balance." "It's better to stop them early than to stop them late," he adds.

2:31 – Indeed, Gingrich is getting a much more enthusiastic reception than Romney.

2:30 - Gingrich: "I will ask John Bolton to become Secretary of State" (hysterical applause).

2:28 - Gingrich calls Secretary of Defense Panetta's speech "outrageous." "Could you imagine someone firing missiles at us - and someone saying: "Come to the table?" How about first stopping violence?"

2:29 – "Hillary Clinton talks about discrimination of women in Israel," Gingrich says, "and then meets with Saudis?

2:23  – After lunch with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the presidential hopefuls are pressing on with making their case.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is talking about the gaps between what needs to be done and the actual policies of the Obama administration: "This administration should be firing the Ambassador to Belgium." Gingrich receives applause from the audience. It seems he is getting slightly more enthusiastic reactions from the audience than Mitt Romney did.

"We don't have to worry about China - in order to compete with China, we need to be smart," he said.

2:25: - "We need a dramatically rethought strategy toward the Middle East," Gingrich says.

12:52 P.M.- Congresswoman NitaLowey (D-NY) issued the following statement in response to Romney’s speech: “Throughout my career in Congress, Democrats and Republicans have stood side-by-side in support of Israel’s security and the U.S.-Israel relationship because they are bipartisan, national security priorities. It is highly irresponsible for a presidential candidate to spread reckless accusations about our foreign policy that could lead anyone to question the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security."

11:05 – Romney answering a question on Iran: "Ultimately, the regime change will be necessary. It is unacceptable for America – a nuclear Iran means a nuclear Saudi Arabia, nuclear Egypt - it's not safe for America."

10:58 - Romney finishes with repeating the words "Join me." "I'll lead America to a better place," he says. "Our fight starts today. Together we are going to win."

10:55 - Romney goes on to talk about Obama's "appeasement" policy. "He seems to be more generous to our enemies than to our friends, and it's a sign of someone who is not sure of our strength."

He added: "He promised to change the nation - and he is doing it - turning us from the opportunity nation to the entitlement nation; shrinking commitment to our friends, accommodating our foes."

10:40 - Former Massachusetts governor is introduced as "the next President of the U.S." - to applause. "In the last few years we had much change, we just didn't have much hope," Romney begins.

"All President Obama did was chastise Israel and had nothing to say about Hamas and thousands of rockets fired at Israel," he says. "My policy couldn't be more different - I'll travel to Israel on my first trip, reaffirm Israel's existence as a Jewish state. And I want the world to know that the bonds between the U.S. and Israel are unshakable. I wouldn't meet with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. He should be excluded from the diplomatic community and indicted for incitement of genocide. And on my watch, Iran's Ayatollahs won't be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons. Our friends should never doubt we'll stand by them in their hour of need; our enemies should never question our resolve.

10:36 – Next speaker is Mitt Romney.

10:28 – Huntsman on Iran: "It will be very difficult to get the Chinese and the Russians on board. We as a country better be prepared for the conversation when 3 years from now Israel asks: Are you with us or not? The nuclear proliferation has disastrous complications for the region.... For me all options are on the table."

10:22 - Huntsman on a foreign policy: "It's time for the world to understand who our friends and allies are, that we stand with Israel." (Applause).

10:10 - Huntsman goes straight into the economic issues: "I am not going to pander (to the Tea Party). I am the only candidate on the debate stage that is not going to do that".

10:00 - Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is the second candidate to speak; begins with a joke: "If I speak with New Hampshire accent, it's because I spend much time there."

09:50 – Santorum: "Look at the situation developing in Iran. It's time the Oval office has courage and convictions and so something that is right, to challenge the radical theocracy. It will change the world. There is no greater threat to the existence to Israel than Iran."

09:45 A.M. (EST) - First to speak was former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. "Jews around the country", he said, are beginning to understand that the values of the Republican party are in concert with their views.