Will Trump Blow it?
Trump's speech at AIPAC is about more than AIPAC, Jews and the Mideast:
Is he a serious candidate?
This morning Hillary Clinton is speaking at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. As President Barack Obama's secretary of state, Hillary felt comfortable with Arabists at the State Department, and she seamlessly undermined Israel. But she will not be held accountable. Many Democrats in the AIPAC audience remain in denial. Others, knowing she is a good friend of Jewish campaign bundlers, but only a Fair Weather Friend of Israel, will be pleasant. She might be president.
Democrats are no longer the party of mainstream John F. Kennedy who blockaded Cuba, but the party of leftist Barack Obama who enshrines Cuba. Just as Obama apologized to the Arab world, he now, hat in hand, ups the ante and takes his family to Cuba. Obama, a lightweight, compares his Cuba gambit to foreign policy chess grandmaster Richard Nixon's rapprochement with China, which was too big to ignore, and a chess move by Nixon to destabilize the Soviet Union, which fell about a decade and a half later, thanks also to Ronald Reagan. Cuba is a thorn in our side, a cancer to be excised from the hemisphere. The gangsters running the island should be overthrown, not glamorized. The dumbed-down Obama talks about the "people of Cuba"; Nixon knew he was not dealing with the "people of China." America is, after all, in Obama's view, just another country. Communists, Muslims, Christians, Jews, it's all about diversity.
The nonpartisan AIPAC now tilts Republican, because the Left, historically scapegoating Jews, necessarily champions the anti-Israel movement, here and abroad. And the Left controls the Democratic Party. Michael Oren, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, started out as an admirer of Obama. In his book Ally, Oren explains his disillusionment as Obama assiduously sought to undermine Israel while he also undercut moderate Arab nations and peaceful Muslims in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists.
As for Bernie, he is a Jew by birth who converted to socialism. Bernie, a fan his whole adult life of Castro, is ecstatic about Obama's celebration of Cuban thuggery. Jews had to flee Castro's Cuba. For decades, Bernie supported Jew-hating communist tyrants while claiming to be only a "democratic socialist." Before the Yom Kippur War, and again in later years, Bernie publicly opposed U.S military aid for Israel. Bernie's Marxist allies see Israel as the embodiment of Western imperialism, colonialism, and racism. Many of his student groupies confront Jews on campus. Even if Bernie favored Israel, which he does not, supporting Israel would be a liability for him among activist thugs on campus, an inbred network involving Boycott/Divest/Sanctions (BDS) movement, Students for Justice in Palestine, and cooperating allies like Black Lives Matter.
Bernie is the only presidential candidate to boycott AIPAC. Sen. Ted Cruz and Governor John Kasich will speak tonight. Both are literate on foreign policy and national security and believe Israel is an ally, not an albatross.
Donald Trump also will address tonight's general session. A record 18,000 people are attending the three-day conference, with its theme of "Come Together." In turn, "Rock N'Roll" Rabbi David Paskin of Palm Beach (Trump's second home is there at Mar-a-Lago) has organized a "Come Together Against Hate" boycott and promises a walkout on Trump. To Rabbi Paskin's credit, he says the protest will be respectful, and the protesters will retreat to study sacred texts that underscore mutual respect and civil discourse.
The Union for Reform Judaism, which represents the most liberal rabbis, has issued a statement against Trump because he "has chosen to take the low road, sowing seeds of hatred and division in our body politic." It is not unreasonable for them to take on Trump. Sadly, the URJ has little credibility, because it has never challenged, for example, Barack Obama, the seemingly mild-mannered but in fact the most divisive president in modern American history, who has disgraced his office in many ways, including the elevation of rabble rousers like Jew-hater Al Sharpton.
The old-line American Jewish Committee, which includes among its donors many of Mr. Trump's Jewish real estate colleagues, issued a statement not naming Trump but analogizing "presidential campaign violence" to "the rise of communism and fascism." Trump's several statements that taken together would condone violence now seem worse with Trump's gratuitous praise of his unlikely campaign manager, the strangely pugnacious Corey Lewandowski.
The far-left Jews not only oppose Trump, they have no use even for AIPAC. Simone Zimmerman, writing in the liberal Forward, said sarcastically that Trump and AIPAC are a great "shidduch" -- the Yiddish word for a "match" for marriage. Zimmerman and other liberal Jews see AIPAC as a right-wing front against President Obama's "diverse progressive coalition." She says don't dump Trump, dump AIPAC.
Rob Eshman, a nice man, is the liberal editor from Central Casting for the Jewish Journal. Eshmanfaults AIPAC for inviting Trump "with no additional comment, no caveats, no reproach." Did AIPAC reproach candidate Barack Obama in 2008 for his long association with his anti-Israel mentor (and admirer of Jew-hating Farrakhan), the Rev. Jeremiah Wright? Trump, after all, recently committed the cardinal act of political incorrectness in saying, "I think Islam hates us." Perhaps overdrawn and inelegant, but bigoted? Perhaps AIPAC should have provided a disclaimer about Hillary, for example, her email exchanges about pressuring Israel, with her anti-Israel buddies like self-hating Jew Sidney Blumenthal.
Trump last week cited this three-day AIPAC conference as reason to skip a scheduled Fox debate. Kasich then backed out of the debate, so Fox News canceled it, with Cruz the real loser. AIPAC in fact would have scheduled Trump at his convenience, but Trump did not want the debate. Lewandowski and team will not brief their candidate on issues, so Trump is increasingly vulnerable on basics, including Israel, which he will discuss tonight at AIPAC.
"We have a deal instinct, a lot of us," Trump last year told the Republican Jewish Coalition. "Is there anybody that doesn't re-negotiate deals in this room? Perhaps more than any room I've ever spoken to." Speaking candidly, Trump told the RJC crowd, "You're not going to support me because I don't want your money," and, making sure to insult conclusively, then added offensively, "You want to control your own politicians, that's fine."
Trump's arrogance is hardly mitigated, even if the Jewish stereotype in this case fits. In reality the RJC indeed is the Jewish version of the Republican Establishment. In existence for nearly a generation, it is Sheldon Adelson's toy, involving not particularly grassroots Jews, among whom its impact has been marginal, but focusing mainly on Jewish donors, wealthy like many of Trump's Jewish colleagues in real estate. The RJC originally tilted toward Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, and certainly Chris Christie and John Kasich, but even Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul, but especially its popular stalwart Ted Cruz, and also Mike Huckabee, and Scott Walker, way back. But there was no groundswell for Trump who was not taken seriously, a potential unforgivable offense for Trump. His Jewish Republican support, such as it was in the RJC, is likely to be among insurgents, who have been close to Cruz.
Last year the RJC booed Trump when he would not commit to recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump tried to rationalize by saying he would "talk to Bibi." The reality is that Trump is not informed on the Mideast; for example, last year he could not distinguish between Hamas and Hezbollah. The author of The Art of the Deal simply did not know that Jerusalem as Israel's capital is non-negotiable. Like any dealmaker, Trump knows that a rejected deal may be off the table. In real life Trump does his homework before negotiating; but not, so far, in grave policy matters involving war and peace. So he does not know that the Palestinians have at least twice rejected generous offers that, given continued Palestinian-funded hatred and Palestinian-enabled terrorism, will not likely be repeated. Trump was not humbled last year by his ignorance; will tonight's speech show he has read the history, learned the basics, before pronouncing himself the Superman-Negotiator?
"I'm leaving for Israel in a very short period of time," Trump last year had told the RJC. But the trip did not materialize, in part because Israeli officials worried about the volatility. Trump's AIPAC speech tonight also could set the tone for next month's RJC meeting at Adelson's Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. Adelson's wife is thought to favor Cruz, but Adelson is warming up to Trump as a "businessman who creates jobs."
But Trump's AIPAC appearance is a microcosm for his candidacy. As his speech goes, so may go his credibility as a candidate.
The indictment of Trump by his Jewish detractors is polemical. "These are the darkest days for Republican Jews like myself," wrote former George W. Bush speechwriter Noam Neusner in the Forward. Neusner compared Trump's following to "a European nativist working-class political movement." Neusner is right that "such movements have never been good for the Jews or allies of free thought or the free market." But a far greater danger to liberty is the mild-mannered, soft-spoken Bernie, a pleasant sounding seemingly harmless old man, who is in fact a demagogue who has barely held down a job, ever, and feeds class hatred, jealousy, and envy.
Trump is no more anti-Jewish than he is anti-black, anti-Mexican, or anti-immigrant, which is to say, none of the above. At the very least he is insensitive, but probably worse. For example, when he just said in Arizona, Cruz is "not good on immigration," he didn't even say "illegal immigration." He thus crosses a line. He is not historically grounded; no one in his entourage of sycophants can stand up to him, a sign that he relies on weak people, not the way he built his business.
Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union represents traditionally religious Jews; that is, they are politically conservative. Tonight's speech is important for Trump, Diament cautions, because Trump "won't just be improvising an answer to a question on a debate speech. This is a planned speech... to a sophisticated audience... looking for Trump to be specific."
In other words, Trump cannot be patronizing. During the Miami debate Trump noted he has Jewish grandchildren, since daughter Ivanka converted to Orthodox Judaism when she married Jared Kushner. At the RJC last year he joked that he could not reach Ivanka on Shabbat. And he keeps referring to his Tree of Life Award in 1983 from the Jewish National Fund. But the JNF's real estate division honored Trump partly because so many of his vendors would buy tickets to the dinner. This is not to dismiss Trump's generosity. And the reality is that Trump feels kindly toward Jews and Israel, but Jewish Republicans would scorn his public pronouncements, if made by John Kerry.
Trump has only a surface understanding of the Mideast, and where Israel fits. In an interview before last year's RJC meeting, he echoed the narrative of ("F--- the Jews") Jim Baker, Secretary of State for George H.W. Bush: "A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal, whether or not Israel's willing to sacrifice certain things." The facts do not support that Israel, which has made decades of concessions, is an obstacle to peace.
Trump doesn't understand that language matters, especially in diplomacy, particularly abroad. When he favors an "even-handed" approach about "Israel and the Palestinians," he doesn't realize these are nostalgic code words for not only Jim Baker but for Jimmy Carter, and certainly for the bumbling John Kerry and the calculating Barack Obama. "I love Israel," Trump proclaims, but "I want to remain as neutral as possible." That's what they all said.
Trump the Dealmaker elaborates: "If you're not somewhat neutral, the other side is never going to do it." And then he adds, paraphrasing Obama, "But just remember, Israel. I love you." These are the famous last words, each time John Kerry sticks the knife in; for example, when Obama stopped American flights to Tel Aviv, until Congress, Democrats and Republicans, challenged our incompetent commander-in-chief.
Trump most offends everyone with this statement from the Miami debate: "I'm a negotiator. If I go in, I'll say I'm pro-Israel and I've told that to everybody and anybody that would listen. But I would like to at least have the other side think I'm somewhat neutral as to them so that we can maybe get a deal done."
So Trump publicly says he is really on Israel's side but will pretend to be neutral, and Arabs don't watch the presidential debates and will believe it? Let's get real. South Korea, for example, is an ally. Do we pretend we are "even-handed" between South Korea and North Korea? That's not what Republicans do.
Trump's AIPAC speech is not about Israel or Jews or politics. It's about whether he is a serious candidate who can go beyond platitudes. Here is a rough summary of just some of the points Trump should cover -- obviously he would need more detail -- and how he might phrase them:
- 1. AIPAC is the Insurgency against The Establishment. The State Department and the universities, liberal think tanks, and the mainstream media, Wall Street and Big Oil, the Obama Administration and Hillary/Bernie, the United Nations and America's enemies, are against Israel.
This originally appeared in The American Spectator.