AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby that holds its annual national conference this coming week in Washington, has a longstanding policy of inviting every major presidential candidate to address its delegates in an election year.
It’s a logical position for a group that champions its bipartisan approach to politics, believing that the U.S.-Israel relationship is best served in Washington when representatives on both sides of the aisle are supportive of the Jewish state. As a result, AIPAC neither supports nor condemns candidates.
But that open invitation policy for presidential hopefuls, a major platform in an election year in front of more than 18,000 pro-Israel delegates, creates a good deal of unease for those who believe that Donald Trump has crossed the boundaries of civil discourse in conducting his campaign for the Republican nomination this year. Mitt Romney, the Republican standard bearer in 2012, called out Trump as “a phony, a fraud” who “has neither the temperament nor judgment to be president.” Party leaders are raising money and planning strategies to block his nomination, based on Trump’s widely perceived racism and bigotry regarding minorities, including Muslims and Hispanics. In short, this is a unique situation in the annals of modern American presidential politics.
The Reform Movement, recognizing both AIPAC’s position and Trump’s troubling behavior — brash, bellicose and increasingly inclined toward incitement at rallies — released a strong and thoughtful statement this week asserting its need to speak out regarding Trump’s forms of “hate speech.”
“At every turn,” wrote the heads of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Union of Reform Judaism, “Mr. Trump has chosen to take the low road, sowing seeds of hatred and division in our body politic.” They cited examples of Trump statements made regarding immigrants, the use of torture and “his general demeanor of disrespect for the office he now seeks” as “anathema to our fundamental values.”
The AIPAC platform gives Trump the opportunity to put forth his views on the U.S.-Israel relationship beyond his assertions that he loves Israel. Of course he also has the chance to offer a mea culpa for his behavior and for his controversial statements that have been so disturbing to so many, however unlikely that scenario may be. Finally, his appearance also gives the thousands of AIPAC delegates the chance to either boycott his speech or greet his appearance and remarks with complete silence. That would be a statement that speaks far louder than words.