For the beginning of Phyllis Bernstein’s reflections on AIPAC, click here. She continues her analysis by examining how the Presidential candidates presented themselves and where they stand on issues of concern to AIPAC:
My main question is how will Israel have peace if it is unwilling to delineate a border, end the occupation, and allow for Palestinian sovereignty, security, and dignity? AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) isn’t dealing with that question. I wish that many American Jews who care about Israel were also thinking more broadly about economic issues, women’s issues, human rights, equality, education, civil rights, health care, but these are not topics of concern at AIPAC. Its sole purpose is to ensure that Israel has the political and financial means to maintain itself as the supreme military power in the Middle East. It never has cared about instances of Israel’s disregard for human and civil rights. So why should it care about Donald Trump’s?
Here’s what Hillary Clinton said: “For many years, we’ve all been rightly focused on the existential danger of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. After all, this remains an extremist regime that threatens to annihilate Israel. That’s why I led the diplomacy to impose crippling sanctions and force Iran to the negotiating table, and why I ultimately supported the agreement that has put a lid on its nuclear program.” For many in this audience her work on this deal means she can’t be trusted. You can read her remarks by clicking here.
John Kasich said he doesn’t need on-the-job training because he was a member of the House Armed Services Committee during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. To a rousing standing ovation, Kasich called for the suspension of the nuclear deal in response to missile tests by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
When Donald Trump spoke against the Iran nuclear tests and pledged to confront murders at the hands of “knife-wielding Palestinians,” many in the audience appeared to warm to his message, and a DC Orthodox rabbi in a prayer shawl was carried off by security people after he shouted out when Trump began speaking. That was the only walkout I saw.
Trump declared that his “number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran. I have been in business a long time. I know deal-making and let me tell you, this deal is catastrophic – for America, for Israel, and for the whole Middle East. At the very least, we must hold Iran accountable by restructuring the terms of the previous deal.”
So is Trump “dismantling the nuclear deal” that was so strongly opposed by AIPAC, or will he merely “enforce the terms of the previous deal to hold Iran totally accountable.” (“We will enforce it like you’ve never seen a contract enforced before, folks, believe me.”) What should we believe?
Here is when the audience laughed and I did too: “I’ve studied this issue in great detail, I would say actually greater by far than anybody else. Believe me. Believe me.”
Cruz proclaimed: “I will rip this catastrophic Iranian deal to shreds. . . . Either you [Iran] will shut down your nuclear program,” he roared, “or we will shut it down for you.” He believes “this Iranian deal is Munich in 1938,” and demands that America stand up to the Iranian “bully.”
All candidates except Hillary Clinton failed to discuss the settlement expansion. Many at AIPAC expressed concern for Clinton’s policy on Israel. They don’t want to see the land of Israel being divided in two; they distrust Clinton all the more for having been part of President Obama’s administration, which they see as having wanted to do so in a two-state peace agreement.
Both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz think they can do what many Presidential candidates have promised over the years. Sen. Cruz pledged to move “the American embassy to Jerusalem, the once and eternal capital of Israel” while Trump stirred a standing ovation, thundering: “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”
Hillary Clinton and John Kasich know enough not to promise that.
Here is what Clinton said about Trump on Israel: “We need steady hands, not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday, and who knows what on Wednesday, because everything’s negotiable. Well, my friends, Israel’s security is nonnegotiable!” she said.
Clinton: Since my first visit to Israel 35 years ago, I’ve returned many times and made many friends. She made a good statement.
Trump gave us his qualifications: his daughter Ivanka is about to have a “beautiful Jewish baby,” he served as Grand Marshal of the Salute to Israel Parade in 2004 — a grave danger that only he could overcome, a comment that got the audience to warm to his act, as I refrained from bursting out in laughter. He continued: “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 Netanyahu immediately. I have known him for many years and we will be able to work closely together to help bring stability and peace to Israel and to the entire region.”
Trump also said,”Obama and Hillary Clinton have treated Israel very, very badly,” with “President Obama in his final year — yay!, he may be the worst thing to ever happen to Israel, believe me, believe me. And you know it and you know it better than anybody.” Much of the crowd clapped and cheered each time. The leadership of AIPAC rightly offered their apology the next day for Trump’s comments on President Obama — and, worse, for the spectacle of AIPAC’s members applauding him. When Trump made those comments, my husband turned and asked me if they should be clapping at that. It was so wrong. Believe me.
Cruz took the stage with a shot at Trump, saying his use of the term “Palestine” was incorrect. “Palestine has not existed since 1948….”
Kasich made his first trip to Israel in 1983, and he seems to appreciate the importance of our relationship with Israel and Israel’s unique security challenges. While in Congress he worked to assure Israel’s continuing qualitative military edge by authoring the initial $10 million for the Arrow Iron Dome anti-missile system that’s so critical to Israel’s security, and he supported the Phantom 2000 program guaranteeing Israeli air superiority with the latest fighters, and the transfer of reactive armor technology that has made Israeli tanks so effective. He thinks “it can be fairly said that my support and friendship for our strategic partner Israel has been firm and unwavering for more than 35 years of my professional life.”
Kasich promised to “condemn all attempts to isolate, pressure and delegitimize the State of Israel and I will support Congress’s efforts to allow this activity, both here and in the EU and I am also very concerned about rising attacks on Israel and Jewish students on our college campuses. I pledge to use the full force of the White House to . . . to protect students from hate speech, harassment and intimidation, while supporting free speech on our college campuses.”
Cruz stressed how he put his money where his mouth was for Israel, by refusing to confirm State Department appointees until the Obama administration clarified whether a halt on flights to Israel was an economic boycott of the country. He also promised to block access to federal funding and even prosecute, where appropriate, schools and universities who attempt to boycott the State of Israel.
Clinton showed knowledge and received much applause when talking about young people “on the front lines of the battle to oppose the alarming boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as BDS.” She told the audience “when anti-Semitism is on the rise across the world, especially in Europe, we must repudiate all efforts to malign, isolate and undermine Israel and the Jewish people.” She wrote a letter last year “to the heads of major American Jewish organizations” saying “we have to be united in fighting back against BDS. Many of its proponents have demonized Israeli scientists and intellectuals, even students.”
Her advice to all the college students who may have encountered this on campus: “I hope you stay strong. Keep speaking out. Don’t let anyone silence you, bully you or try to shut down debate, especially in places of learning like colleges and universities. Anti-Semitism has no place in any civilized society, not in America, not in Europe, not anywhere.”
On the UN
Trump said, “An agreement imposed by the UN would be a total and complete disaster. The United States must oppose this resolution and use the power of our veto. Why? Because that’s not how you make a deal.” He would veto “any attempt by the UN to impose its will on the Jewish state.”
Clinton said, “Candidates for president who think the United States can outsource Middle East security to dictators or that America no longer has vital national interests at stake in this region are dangerously wrong. It would be a serious mistake for the United States to abandon our responsibilities or cede the mantle of leadership for global peace and security to anyone else.”
Bernie Sanders is the only Jewish candidate who ever lived in Israel and was not given the opportunity to speak via a video link (Mitt Romney did from the campaign trail in 2012, as has Benjamin Netanyahu). Sanders has written a broad, well-reasoned and effective policy speech, accessible by clicking here. I wish we heard it.
He clearly describes his deep connection and concern for Israel, and was just as firm that he would, if elected, continue to ensure Israel’s security. But he also insisted that Israel could not be secure without a peace agreement, and, most pointedly, that “peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights, and economic wellbeing for the Palestinian people.” This is not the kind of message that AIPAC generally listens to, but it must.
This website — http://www.policyconference.org/gallery/videos.asp — provides videos and links to the entire AIPAC conference.
Who will speak for ending the occupation and allowing the Palestinian people the freedom and basic rights that are taken for granted? Israel’s shift to the right, the expanding settlements, the devastation in Gaza are not part of the general conversation. We need to hear the voices of all Americans who support a just and reasonable two-state solution—with peace and security for Israel and freedom for the Palestinians.