Trump Defies Expectations at AIPAC
Defying dire predictions of booing, walkouts and even demonstrations, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump continued to surpass expectations by receiving multiple standing ovations Monday evening in a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Trump, whose campaign style has been characterized by many as heavy on insults, short on substance, chose the AIPAC Policy Conference, the nation’s largest yearly gathering of Israel-supporters, to deliver his most detailed foreign policy speech in nine months on the campaign trail.
Addressing some 18,000 citizen activists, or delegates, as those who travel as part of the policy conference from across the US are called, Trump opened his speech by declaring that his “number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”
Yet he also spoke of a three-pronged strategy for dealing with Iran that included vigorously enforcing the terms of the nuclear deal: “…[A]t the very least, we must enforce the terms of the previous deal to hold Iran totally accountable. And we will enforce it like you’ve never seen a contract enforced before, folks, believe me.”
Trump also spoke of pushing back against Iran’s efforts to dominate and destabilize the region, and dismantling Iran’s global terror network.
Other topics Trump dealt with in his speech included the murder, by a Palestinian terrorist this month, of American graduate student and US Army veteran Taylor Force, and Palestinian anti-Israel incitement.
“In Palestinian textbooks and mosques, you’ve got a culture of hatred that has been fomenting there for years,” he said. “And if we want to achieve peace, they’ve got to go out and they’ve got to start this educational process. They have to end education of hatred. They have to end it and now.”
He also tackled the United Nations, saying, “When I’m president, believe me, I will veto any attempt by the UN to impose its will on the Jewish state. It will be vetoed 100 percent. “
In one of the largest applause-gathering lines of the evening, he said, “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.”
Early reaction from both delegates and Jewish communal leaders outside the Verizon Center, a Washington DC sports venue where the speeches took place, seemed tentatively positive. Observers noted this was Trump’s most detailed foreign policy speech yet.
Israeli Knesset member and former ambassador to the US Michael Oren, interviewed following Trump’s speech, noted that Trump used the word “dismantle” when talking about the Iranian nuclear deal. “I think it’s interesting [Trump] chose this venue to come out with a foreign policy speech that had more specificity,” Oren said.
Regarding how Trump was received, Oren said, “On the pure policy level, he played to a very receptive audience. I don’t think anybody in this hall will object to the idea that the US should respond forcefully to Iranian security violations.”
Oren went on to say that Trump steered clear of the type of remarks he has made in the past, including about a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, that “are sensitive to US Jews.”
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of several dozen books on Jewish spirituality and relationships — and a leader in the US human rights community –remarked, “I think the real story tonight is that Donald Trump was warmly received at AIPAC and the dire predictions about how he would be received — fears of demonstrations and booing — were inaccurate, and that Trump has, as he has many times, defied expectations.”
“Trump clarified that he supports Israel without any ambiguity and dismissed any inference that he’s ‘neutral,'” said Boteach. “He gave a strong speech, the finest foreign policy speech he’s given so far in this race.”
While few AIPAC citizen activists interviewed following the speeches by Trump and Ted Cruz and John Kasich said they had changed their minds about whom they plan to vote for, most left impressed with all three Republican candidates.
“The Democrats are better on social issues, but we trust the Republicans on Israel,” said Nadine Gano, a teacher from Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, who was attending the conference with her spouse, Alexandra Lasevich, also a teacher.
“Donald is fighting for people who are fed up with the system,” said Sabrina Zamel, 34, a real estate broker from Los Angeles. “I think he took a big stand tonight against terrorism. It won’t be tolerated and you can’t negotiate with terror.”
“I think Trump surprised us with how clear, concise, passionate and mostly presidential and respectful he was,” said Sean Cooper, 19, a student at DePaul University in Chicago.” Adding that he is not a Trump supporter, Cooper said, “He was very compelling in his unconditional support of Israel.”