Donald Trump pulls back criticism of Israel, attacks gag order on 2024 campaign trail

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WASHINGTON — Former President continued to walk back his previous criticism of Israel, telling Iowa voters on Monday that he has always supported the longtime ally now engaged in a war with Hamas.

“We stand with Israel,” Trump said during a rally encouraging supporters to attend the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses that kick off the Republican presidential nomination.

Trump was also more a little more reticent about the indictments and four criminal cases against him, hours after a federal judge issued a limited gag order on the former president and 2024 Republican presidential candidate.

Claiming the gag order, which only applies to the federal charges alleging he tried to steal the 2020 election, is unconstitutional, Trump said: “we’ll appeal it and we’ll see.”



In a second speech, ostensibly devoted to national security, Trump vowed to press on with his presidential campaign and added: “I am willing to go to jail if that’s what it takes for our country to win and become a democracy again.”

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu back in 2019

Trump criticized , complimented Hezbollah

Trump’s two appearances in Iowa on Monday were his first speeches since his criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – and compliments of Hezbollah – drew counterattacks from his Republican primary opponents.

Speaking before supporters last week in West Palm Beach, Fla., Trump attacked Netanyahu for refusing to participate in the 2020 targeted killing of an Iranian general.

Trump also criticized unnamed Israeli officials for discussing the possibility of attacks from Hezbollah, saying those comments might tip off the militant group to the county’s vulnerabilities. He added: “You know, Hezbollah is very smart … They’re all very smart.”

Trump additionally criticized Netanyahu in an interview with Fox News Radio over the Hamas attack. “He was not prepared,” Trump said. “He was not prepared and Israel was not prepared.”

During his Iowa appearances, Trump did not mention Netanyahu and Hezbollah. He focused instead on Iran and President Joe Biden, blaming both for the outbreak of more violence in the region earlier this month.

Trump first sought to clean up the damage with social media posts and written statements over the weekend. In a Truth Social post, Trump included the hashtags #IStandWithIsrael” and “#IStandWithBibi.”

Republican criticism of Biden over Israel

Trump’s opponents for the Republican presidential nomination have spent days denouncing his comments on Israel, saying they undermined an ally in the midst of a crisis and could embolden Iran.

“He’s a fool,” said former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “Only a fool would make those kinds of comments. Only a fool would give comments that could give aid and comfort to Israel’s adversary.”

Former South Carolina governor – and United Nations ambassador – Nikki Haley said Trump’s comments underscore that he is out of touch. “It’s why I continue to say it is time for a new, generational leader,” Haley said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaking on Fox News, said Trump seems to have a personal beef with Netanyahu because the Israeli prime minister called Biden to congratulate him on winning the 2020 election, despite Trump’s protests about the race.

Saying that “attacking Bibi was a huge mistake” from Trump, DeSantis argued that it was “personal for him to come out and take shots at Bibi just days after Israel had suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history.”

Trump enjoys big leads in state and national polls, including ones conducted in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Trump’s gag order

In both speeches on Monday, Trump again criticized his criminal prosecutions and civil trials, though he held off on specifying Justice Department prosecutor Jack Smith and U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan.

Hours earlier, Chutkan issued a gag order that puts limits on what Trump can say about prosecutors, witnesses, and court personnel. The judge said Trump did not have the right to use his campaign to mount a “smear campaign” against legal officials.

While Trump did not single out individuals, he did claim that “they’ve weaponized the Justice Department and the FBI,” and he protested the new order. This order does not apply to the charges he faces in Georgia over allegations he tried to steal the election in the Peach State.

“I’ll be the only politician in history that runs with a gag order where I’m not allowed to criticize people,” Trump said during his first speech in Adel, Iowa.

In his second set of remarks, in Clive, Trump did not mention Chutkan by name, but said: “The judge doesn’t like me too much.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump walks back Israel criticism, attacks gag order in Iowa

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