NEW YORK: Hillary Clinton launched a withering attack on Republican frontrunner Donald Trump Monday at an appearance before thousands of Jewish voters, saying America’s next president cannot be “neutral” when it comes to Israel.
Clinton’s broadside, in which she implored to the crowd, “If you see a bully, stand up to him,” comes as perhaps hundreds of people attending Washington’s most influential pro-Israel lobby’s annual conference, including rabbis, plan to walk out in protest when Trump takes the stage.
“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,” the Democratic frontrunner told more than 15,000 attendees at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee confab.
“My friends, Israel’s security is non-negotiable.”
US presidential hopefuls routinely make pilgrimages to AIPAC during an election year. Republicans Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Trump all are scheduled to address the powerful pro-Israel lobby’s confab later Monday.
Trump, who hails from New York, has raised eyebrows in the Jewish community for stressing he wanted to be a neutral broker and not take “sides” between Israel and the Palestinians when it came to peace talks.
In a December debate, the billionaire real estate magnate described the Israel-Palestinian relationship as “the toughest negotiation there probably is of any kind.”
He has also set off alarm bells with his rhetoric about Muslims, Mexicans and refugees, and his refusal to directly demand an end to violent skirmishes which keep breaking out at his campaign rallies between protesters and his supporters.
Clinton stressed the importance of “electing a president with a deep personal commitment to Israel’s future.”
“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,” Clinton said.
Trump, the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination, has insisted he is a steadfast Israel supporter and that no US president would be stronger on US-Israel ties than him.
But he has made some Jews and Israel backers bristle, as he did last year when he spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition.
“I’m a negotiator, like you folks,” he told the group, before launching into criticism of President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, which has been strongly opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Is there anybody that doesn’t renegotiate deals in this room?” Trump asked. “Perhaps more than any other room I’ve ever spoken in.”
– ‘Unthinkable’ alternative –
Clinton stressed that Israelis and Palestinians “can’t give up” on hopes for peace, but she put forth a hard line against perpetrators and supporters of violence recently in the Jewish state.
“These attacks must end immediately,” Clinton said, receiving a standing ovation.
“Palestinian leaders need to stop inciting violence, stop celebrating terrorists as martyrs, and stop paying rewards to their families.”
Republicans swiftly criticized Clinton’s comments, with the party saying in a statement that her speech “was an attempt to whitewash a record of undermining Israel’s interests when she was secretary of state.”
In her comments, Clinton kept alluding to her Republican rivals and particularly Trump, warning against a US foreign policy “that would insult our allies, not engage them, and embolden our adversaries, not defeat them.”
“For the security of Israel and the world, we need America to remain a respected global leader… able to block efforts to isolate or attack Israel,” she said.
“The alternative is unthinkable.”
AIPAC has said it was not taking a position on the candidates addressing the conference.
But many rabbis and other attendees are expected to walk out on Trump during his remarks.
AIPAC’s policy historically has been to invite all candidates.
“At the same time, those people who attend, if they so choose, have every right to walk out on his remarks,” the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, told AFP.
Trump’s appearance before AIPAC comes as the ADL, furious over what it called his “penchant to slander minorities… and cheer on violence,” announced it was redirecting all funds contributed to the group by Trump and his foundation over the years to anti-bias educational programs.
One rabbi said he was aware of several colleagues preparing to walk out on Trump, but that he was going to listen to the address.
“If Donald Trump were to become president, as worst-case scenario as that would be, we have to be able to deal with him,” said the rabbi, who asked that he not be named so he could speak freely about the matter.
Clinton’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, declined AIPAC’s invitation, citing a rigorous campaign schedule. – AFP