The Candidates at AIPAC: Pandering by Numbers

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Donald Trump addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) afternoon general session in Washington March 21, 2016.
Trump at AIPAC: 'Children are being taught to hate the Jews, it has to stop.'Credit: Reuters

Here’s a fun game. Which of these statements made at the AIPAC conference in Washington yesterday, were said by Donald Trump, and which by Hillary Clinton?

Quote 1: “Palestinian leaders need to stop inciting violence and stop celebrating terrorists as martyrs and stop paying rewards to their families.”

Quote 2:  "Children are being taught to hate the Jews, it has to stop. You cannot achieve peace if terrorists are treated as martyrs.”

Need a little assistance? Well, here are two more:

Quote 1: “And let me be clear—I would vigorously oppose any attempt by outside parties to impose a solution, including by the U.N. Security Council.”

Hillary Clinton addressing AIPAC, March 21, 2016: 'Palestinian leaders need to stop inciting violence and stop celebrating terrorists as martyrs and stop paying rewards to their families'.Credit: Reuters

Quote 2: "An agreement imposed by the UN would be a total and complete disaster.It's not up the United Nations to impose a solution. The parties must negotiate a resolution themselves.”

No? Let’s make the game more interesting:

Quote 1: “Iran is a problem in Iraq, a problem in Syria, a problem in Lebanon, a problem in Yemen, and will be a very major problem for Saudi Arabia. Literally every day, Iran provides more and better weapons to their puppet states. Now they're in Syria trying to establish another front against Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights”

Quote 2: “We cannot forget that Tehran’s fingerprints are on nearly every conflict across the Middle East, from Syria to Lebanon to Yemen. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies are attempting to establish a position on the Golan from which to threaten Israel, and they continue to fund Palestinian terrorists.”

Technically, the correct answers are: Clinton, Trump; Clinton, Trump; and Trump, Clinton.

Meanwhile, anti-Trump protesters rally outside the AIPAC conference.Credit: Reuters

Really, though, all are re-purposed talking points borrowed from the oeuvre of Benjamin Netanyahu. 

The AIPAC conference that wound up yesterday was sad, in that nothing substantive whatsoever was said by any of the presidential hopefuls. Moreover, the platitudes they offered sounded eerily similar.

Ted Cruz attacked Trump over his earlier promise to remain “neutral” between Israelis and Palestinians by saying: “Let me be very, very clear: As president, I will not be neutral. America will stand unapologetically with the nation of Israel.” Clinton, too emphasized her non-neutrality when it comes to Israel. “America can’t ever be neutral when it comes to Israel’s security or survival,” she said, before pulling an Elie Wiesel quote on the harms of neutrality.

Trump, of course, didn’t exactly espouse neutrality, saying: “The Palestinians must come to the table knowing that the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable.”

And the crowd goes wild

If only the similarities ended with non-neutrality. But the conference revealed just how indistinguishable American politicians are when it comes to Israel. 

Trump says “unbreakable,” and Clinton replies “non-negotiable.” Clinton says Israel is “a light unto the nations,” and Ted Cruz calls it a “beacon of light unto the world.” Trump talks about his daughter’s “beautiful Jewish baby,” Clinton spoke at length about Purim (implying than in a real-life version of the story, she would, presumably, be cast as Esther), and Ted Cruz (in what was surely the most shameful moment of the night) came out with “Am Yisrael chai!” as if his life depended on it.

The word “pandering” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Throughout the night, all four candidates courted applause by prating of sanctions on Iran — even Clinton, who had been forced to embrace the Iran deal by virtue of her affiliation with Obama, all but shied away from it.

Ted Cruz, after his remarks to AIPAC.Credit: Reuters

All the candidates admonished the Palestinians for fostering a “culture of hatred and death,” but not one mentioned the occupation of the West Bank, or the unremitting humanitarian crisis that is Gaza. It was Jewish pandering by numbers, and it won them all uproarious applause and standing ovations.

Remind you of somebody?

In the process of sounding like each other, though, all four sounded like Netanyahu, who was truly the winner of the evening.

After the Iran deal, some depicted Netanyahu as a loser who gambled on the Republicans' ability to stop the deal, and came up short. With the rise of Donald Trump, some shrugged that Netanyahu had bet on the wrong horse again.

Not so. Once again, Bibi is the unheralded winner. If the four near-identical speeches given by four very different presidential candidates yesterday proved anything, it is the enormous level to which Netanyahu (aided by lobby groups like AIPAC, of course, not to mention big-time donors like Sheldon Adelson) has shaped the limits of American discourse on Israel.

Clinton and Cruz both rebuked the BDS movement, one of Netanyahu’s pet nemeses, which happens to be a completely made-up threat that in more than a decade, hasn't even dented Israel’s economy. Clinton spoke at length about anti-Semitism and efforts “to malign, isolate and undermine Israel and the Jewish people.” Cruz went off on another tack, comparing the Iran deal to Munich, 1938. Both sounded as if they shared a speechwriter with Netanyahu. Or a mouth.

There was one presidential candidate, of course, who chose to skip the AIPAC conference in favor of a Salt Lake City high school. Ironically enough, it was the only Jewish candidate currently running for president.

Opting for Utah instead of Washington, Bernie Sanders managed to make a substantive, thoughtful speech about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was anything but pandering. He was the only one to acknowledge the occupation, and Palestinian suffering. Instead of pandering to AIPAC’s right-leaning crowd by promising to invite Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House on his first day in office, Sanders heavily criticized the Netanyahu government for its policies in the West Bank and Gaza.

Sanders’ speech, of course, drew about 0.01% of the coverage devoted to Trump’s and Clinton’s statements at AIPAC. Maybe if he had just talked a bit about Purim.