Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump upset AIPAC organizers when he criticized President Barack Obama. (photo by David Zam)
There were clear signs of discord in Washington, D.C., as representatives of AIPAC publicly rebuked presidential hopeful Donald Trump after he harshly criticized the sitting president.
At the pro-Israel organization’s policy conference last month, in front of some 18,000 attendees, visibly upset AIPAC president Lillian Pinkus admonished Trump on stage for his remarks a day earlier.
“Whatever policy disagreements we may have, we must not condemn the sitting president on stage,” she said. “There are people in our AIPAC family who were deeply hurt last night and, for that, we are deeply sorry.”
Chairman of the board Robert A. Cohen said that booing and clapping speakers when they attack another person was unacceptable at the event, and that “AIPAC doesn’t pick sides.”
Trump, who was cheered wildly for noting that it was President Barack Obama’s last year in office, said that “Obama rewards our enemies” and “Hillary was a total disaster as secretary of state…. Obama and Hillary have been very bad to Israel. Obama may be the worst thing to happen to Israel.”
Every major party candidate for president spoke at the dais, except the senator from Vermont, Democrat Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish. All candidates who spoke placed heavy emphasis on Iran.
GOP frontrunner Trump didn’t mince words. He called the Iran deal brokered by the P5+1 – the United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom plus Germany – “awful” and “bad for Israel, the Middle East and the world.”
The $150 billion channeled to Iran in the agreement, by his reckoning, was “unbelievable” with “nothing in return,” and that the Islamic Republic will have a nuclear bomb within several years.
As president, Trump said he would “stand up to Iran’s aggression” because “I know how to deal with aggression and that’s why I’ll win.”
The Middle East’s terror activity has Iran’s fingerprints all over it, he continued, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, reward money for Palestinian terrorists, and influence in at least two dozen other countries.
“I will dismantle Iran’s global terror network,” Trump said. “We will enforce this deal like you’ve never seen a contract enforced before.”
The New York billionaire mogul and reality TV host took aim at two other threats to Israel, the United Nations and Palestinian terror activity.
“The UN is incompetent and no friend of Israel,” he said. “A [peace] agreement imposed by the UN would be a total disaster. And the U.S. must use our veto, which I will use 100%.”
The Jewish state, he said, has always been willing to strike a deal with its neighbors, noting that prime minister Ehud Barak in 2000 offered nearly the entire West Bank as a Palestinian state, but the offer was dismissed by then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat. Other times, he said, “Palestinian leadership has rejected very good offers.”
Trump noted that, under his purview, the U.S. embassy would move “to the eternal capital of the Jewish state, Jerusalem.”
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, trailing a distant second to Trump in GOP delegates, began his speech, “America will stand with Israel and defeat Islamic terror.”
He spoke about his three trips to Israel as senator, including a visit to Israeli hospitals that treated Syrian refugees. He noted that he had proposed legislation to ban the Iranian ambassador to the UN from entering the United States since he was involved in the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. It passed in both the Senate and House.
Taking a jab at the Obama administration, he said it was “unjust” for them to impose a travel ban on Israel in the summer of 2014. He further called out Democrats for boycotting Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech last year at AIPAC.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential frontrunner, was taken to task for saying that Hamas fires rockets from civilian areas because Gaza is tight for space. “Rather,” said Cruz, “it’s because Hamas are beasts who use human shields.”
As for the “fundamentally immoral” Iran deal, Cruz said he will “rip it to shreds on the first day,” since the Islamic Republic won’t follow it anyway.
“Hear my words Ayatollah Khomeini: If I am president and Iran launches a missile test, we will shoot that missile down,” said Cruz. “And, in January 2017, we will have a commander-in-chief who says under no circumstances will Iran be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons: either you will shut down your nuclear program or we will shut it down for you.”
Cruz compared the Iran deal to the failed 1938 agreement between British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler, which led to the Third Reich’s takeover of Czechoslovakia and allowed its continued military build-up.
If elected president, Cruz said he would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, yank federal funds from schools that boycott Israel and veto any UN unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.
Governor of Ohio John Kasich, running third in the GOP delegate count, noted his 35-year support for Israel and his role in helping erect a Holocaust monument in his state.
He called for the suspension of the Iranian nuclear deal, particularly after recent test missiles in contravention of international treaties. As president, he would “defeat ISIS and stop arms flows to Hezbollah.”
He also spoke out against the boycott, divestment and sanction movement, and antisemitism on campus. On Israel, he noted the “culture of death that the Palestinian leadership has promoted for decades,” and that “Palestinians cannot continue to promote hatred.” In sum, he called Jerusalem the eternal capital of Israel.
When she took to the stage, Clinton noted that the “the ideological gap between the parties has increased, but there’s still common agreement on Israel.”
She took a three-pronged approach to global security: Iran’s aggression, the growing tide of extremism, and efforts to delegitimize Israel. “The deal with Iran is making the world safer, including Israel,” she said. “The supreme leader still calls all the shots in Iran, but we should support voices who want to bring change in Iran.”
Regarding other parts of the region, she said that “ISIS must not be contained; it must be defeated.”
On the issue of Israel, she noted that Palestinian leadership has to stop inciting violence. “Children should not be taught to hate in schools,” she said, adding that she would oppose any attempts to “push a [unilateral two-state] solution,” including in the UN. “Palestinians should be able to govern themselves in their state,” she said, while adding that Israeli “settlements are not helpful to peace.”
She condemned BDS and said, “we have to fight against it” because “antisemitism has no place in American society.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden took a risk mentioning to the 18,000 attendees at the policy conference that Israeli “settlements are a barrier in the way of a two-state solution.” That risk was welcomed by a chorus of boos – despite attendees being cautioned by AIPAC leadership to not do so.
Biden insisted that, notwithstanding political differences, the United States is “united in our unwavering commitment to the Jewish state of Israel.”
However, “violent acts of retribution must stop,” he continued, “terror is terror is terror … and it must be stopped.”
The White House “stands with Israel against delegitimization” and believes that “Israel is stronger today because of the Obama-Biden administration,” he said.
Biden touted last year’s Iran deal as a “success,” explaining that many “Iranian facilities are dismantled and destroyed” and that “Iran is further away from the possibility of being nuclear. If Iran violates [the deal] there will be consequences.”
Speaking by video link from Israel, Netanyahu both criticized, and suggested salvaging, the U.S.-brokered Iranian nuclear deal.
“Those who worked for the deal and against the deal can work together to ensure that the deal is followed,” he insisted, noting that, in March, Iran tested a missile that posed a threat to Israel.
“The writing isn’t just on the wall; it’s on the missile,” said Netanyahu.
He said that Israel is singled out for condemnation at the UN and said he hopes the United States will continue its moral voting record at the Security Council.
With regard to Israel’s neighbors, he said Palestinian children are taught to hate, and showed a video of television broadcasts that illustrate his point.
“We cannot compromise with terror and must defeat it,” he said. “We need a two-state solution with a demilitarized Palestinian state.… We are ready for negotiations anywhere and anytime without preconditions.” But, he said, Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, “isn’t ready or willing to come” to the negotiating table.
David Zam has covered political, cultural and historical events for Landmark Report, including the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march as White House-approved press, two AIPAC policy conferences and several other political conventions. He has degrees in history and law.