At AIPAC, Clinton, Trump try to outflank each other on the right
The three remaining Republican presidential candidates and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton addressed the conservative American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on the second day of its annual policy conference. It’s a longstanding point of bipartisan consensus that presidential candidates must court AIPAC, the foreign policy lobbying group that has spent the new millennium shoring up support for Israel and pushing for economic sanctions and military action against Iran.
Of the Republicans, likely nominee Donald Trump has come under scrutiny on the right and in establishment foreign policy circles for his nebulous and seemingly contradictory positions on Israel-Palestine. Trump, who has made fear of Muslims and Middle Easterners a centerpiece of his campaign, has (somewhat bizarrely) made multiple statements suggesting that his administration would adopt a “neutral” stance in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. At other times, he has reverted a more predictable stance, claiming to be the most pro-Israel of the potential GOP nominees.
Clinton, Trump’s probable rival in the general election, attempted to use her platform at the conference to exploit this ambiguity in Trump’s rhetoric, painting his stated inclination towards neutrality as a security risk for Israel. Invoking both the perennial menace of a genocidal, nuclear-armed Iran and the mounting successes of the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, she questioned Trump’s ability to lead “an America able to block efforts to isolate or attack 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.”
Iran and BDS are two of Israel advocates’ favorite bogeymen, and the former Secretary of State lingered on both (along with, of course, ISIS) while she tried to carve out space to Trump’s right. Even after President Obama’s nuclear agreement, she said, Iran “remains an extremist regime that threatens to annihilate Israel,” and the United States will punish violations of the deal “with force if necessary.” She continued to make appeals to conservative supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, making one lonely, passing reference to his government’s policy of ramping up illegal settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank. Pledging to increase U.S. support and block any attempt by the United Nations and other international bodies to “impose a solution” in Israel-Palestine, Clinton made it clear that, in an arena dominated by the right-wing politics of militarism and apartheid, Clinton had come to play.
But so, too, did Trump—after a last-minute uptick in suspense. At a press conference shortly after Clinton’s speech, Trump voiced support for ending foreign aid to Israel (among other U.S. allies like South Korea).
“I want them to pay us some money!” he exclaimed, arguing that the U.S. should be compensated for its financial and military support of allied countries with viable economies.
Fortunately for the Trump Campaign, during his AIPAC speech, he continued his streak of contradicting himself, outdoing even Clinton’s warmongering with a veritable tour de force of anti-Iran, pro-Israel bluster.
He toed the Republican party line on the Iran deal, pledging to “dismantle” it.
“I’ve studied this issue in great detail,” he assured the initially skeptical audience. “In fact, I would say, greater by far than anyone else.”
Not to be outdone by Clinton, Trump covered all her bases: threatening military action against Iran, pledging to veto any UN-imposed settlement for Israel-Palestine, his victim-blaming references to “Palestinian terror.” He also went further on several points, including an announcement that his administration would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal capital,” a far-right notion that would be as impossible to implement as it would be antithetical to the so-called “two-state solution.”
Trump ended his speech with a splash of tokenism, going off-script to boast that his daughter Ivanka is “about to have a beautiful Jewish baby.” He received a standing ovation.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz spoke shortly afterwards, essentially promising to be Trump, only more so. Of the remaining contenders from the two major parties, only Bernie Sanders bucked the bipartisan consensus on presidential candidates.
Sanders declined AIPAC’s invitation, citing campaign events in western states, but offered to give thisMiddle East policy speech via video message. The conference organizers refused. Though Sanders’ has been critical of Israeli policy, he does believe the state formed in 1948 on Palestinian land has the right to defend itself.