Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump pledged Monday that if elected he would “send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and its most reliable ally, the State of Israel.”
“The Palestinians must come to the [negotiating] table knowing that the bond between the U.S. and Israel is absolutely unbreakable,” he told delegates at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. “When I become president, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on day one. … I will meet with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu immediately. I’ve known him many years and will work with him to bring stability and peace to the region.”
Trump read his 25-minute address from a teleprompter, for the first time he has read prepared remarks since he launched his presidential campaign last June. He made no mention of remaining “neutral” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a position he first articulated during one of the presidential debates.
And he did not amplify on a line in the speech saying that the United States had a “useful role” to play in the quest for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Campaign aides said Trump had worked on his speech with Jewish advisers. He touched on all the hot button issues, including pledging to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which he described as Israel’s “eternal capital.” And he said the Palestinians must stop the daily terror attacks against Israelis that have occurred since October, and “must accept Israel as a Jewish state — and it will forever exist as a Jewish state.”
At another point, he said flatly: “You cannot achieve peace if terrorists are treated as martyrs.”
Trump made no mention of the many empty seats that were noticeable in the arena — seats vacated by delegates who wished to express their disgust with the tone of Trump’s rhetoric during the campaign, which several Jewish groups called racist and bigoted. And the applause for Trump was more muted than the sustained and standing applause delegates gave to the comments of the other presidential candidates who also spoke to at the conference. A number of delegates noticeably refrained from clapping.
But Trump received notable applause when he trashed the Iran nuclear deal, saying his “number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”
“I have been in business a long time. I know deal making. Let me tell you, this deal is catastrophic for Israel, for America and the whole Middle East. We rewarded the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with $150 billion and we received nothing in return. I studied this deal in great detail — more than anyone else, believe me. It's a bad deal.”
He noted that just by waiting until the deal expires, Iran would be able to build a nuclear bomb because it was not forced to dismantle its nuclear machinery.
Trump promised that as president he would “stand up to Iran’s push to dominate and destabilize the region. … We will totally dismantle Iran’s terror network, which is big and powerful but not powerful like us. They have terror cells everywhere, including in the Western hemisphere very close to home, and we will work to dismantle that reach, believe me.”
Noting that Iran recently fired three ballistic missiles that each traveled 1,250 miles, Trump said they “designed to intimidate and frighten Europe — and maybe even hit the U.S. We will not let it happen — and we not let it happen to Israel, believe me. Painted on those missiles in Hebrew and Farsi were the words, `Israel must be wiped off the face of the Earth.’ You can’t forget that. What kind of demented minds write that in Hebrew? Testing those missiles did not violate the deal we made, but the tests violated United Nations resolutions and nobody has done anything about it. We will. I promise, we will.” [The U.S. brought the matter to the U.N. Security Council but Russia blocked any discussion.]
Returning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump rejected suggestions by President Barak Obama to allow the U.N. to outline a possible agreement between the two sides.
“The U.N. is not a friend of democracy, not a friend of freedom or the U.S., where it has its home, and surely not a friend to Israel,” he maintained. “The U.S. must oppose this resolution and use its veto, which l would use 100 percent. That is not how you make a deal. Deals are made when parties come together. … It will only further delegitimize Israel and be a catastrophe for Israel. It’s not going to happen folks.”
He said the U.S. “can be a facilitator” to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but it is “preposterous” to impose a resolution on the two sides. And Trump said he knows that Israel has repeatedly said it is willing to sit and negotiate an agreement without any preconditions, but that the Palestinians have on three occasions since the Camp David summit in 2000 rejected all peace proposals.
Earlier, he told The Washington Post that the U.S. should reconsider its involvement in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization because it costs too much money and said the U.S. should stop “nation building” around the world and concentrate instead on building the American infrastructure. NATO has been the cornerstone of the Western security alliance since World War II.
In explaining his noninterventionist approach to foreign affairs, Trump told the newspaper’s editorial board: “We have $19 trillion in debt. We’re sitting, probably, on a bubble. And it’s a bubble that if it breaks, it’s going to be very nasty. I just think we have to rebuild our country.”
Trump also for the first time named his foreign policy advisers, a five-member team chaired by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the only senator to endorse him.
Just as Trump began to speak, a number of delegates stood and walked out. Among them was Rabbi Irwin Zeplowitz, spiritual leader of The Community Synagogue in Port Washington, L.I.
“I feel a statement has to be made,” he said minutes before Trump entered the arena. “I know many people feel we don’t want to insult a candidate or embarrass AIPAC, and I respect their right to invite him. But I don’t believe I have to listen to him. I want to make a statement that his rhetoric has no place in the political system.”
Rabbi Zeplowitz said he told others in his row that he planned to stand when Trump walked in and then turn his back and walk out. “One person said, ‘Shame on you,’” he said.
Even before Trump entered the hall, hundreds of the 18,000 AIPAC attendees walked out. They were led by an organized group of several hundred Conservative and Reform rabbis.
In addition, the Reform movement prepared and distributed to its 1.5 million members — including several thousands attending the AIPAC Policy Conference — sacred texts about human dignity to be studied before and after Trump spoke.
Minutes before Trump spoke, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the movement’s Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, told The Jewish Week that those outside the arena planned to study the Jewish text and listen to Trump’s speech on speakers in the hallway.
“We will listen to his speech and talk about it,” he said. “It is not that we are not willing to engage.”
But he said the best way to express their disgust with the inflammatory language Trump has used in the campaign against women, immigrants, Muslims and those with disabilities was to remain outside the arena.
“We don’t want to sit quietly in the room” when Trump speaks, Rabbi Pesner said, adding that they chose to leave ahead of Trump’s remarks in order not to “diminish AIPAC or the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
“We are not trying to make a statement in the room, but outside of the room,” he added. “That is why we are mobilizing 1.5 million souls spread across North America and want them to be part of the discussion, too.”
He said other delegates he has spoken with chose to remain in the arena and to sit silently.
In addition to Trump, the other two Republican candidates for president, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, also spoke.
In a powerful speech, Kasich told the conference that he remained “unwavering in my support for the Jewish state and in the partnership between the U.S. and Israel.” He said that as president he would want to “strengthen and expand the relationship with Israel.”
He called also for “canceling the Iran nuclear deal in response to Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests” because they are a violation of the agreement. He noted that one of the missiles had printed on the side in Hebrew, “Israel must be exterminated.”
Speaking from a prepared text he held on the podium, Kasich said that as president he would work to fight racism, anti-Semitism and attacks against Israel, “particularly at international bodies.”
And he received a standing ovation when he said: “We must work to eliminate and condemn all attempts to delegitimize Israel,” and said he was “concerned about the rising attacks against Israel and Jewish students on our college campuses.”
He made no mention of his opponents for the presidency, but took an obvious swipe at Trump when he said: “I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land. I will not do it.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner for president, addressed the pro-Israel lobby in the morning. Her Democratic opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, was campaigning in the West and chose not to interrupt his campaign schedule to appear at the Washington event. He offered a video address instead, but AIPAC officials turned him down.
Instead, Sanders delivered a foreign policy speech to a crowd in Salt Lake City. He sent copies to AIPAC and asked that it be distributed to delegates.