In her early-morning address to the AIPAC Policy Conference, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton launched an effective preemptive strike against the Republican presidential hopefuls lined up to speak later in the day, as well as her absent rival for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders.
Some particularly well-trained missiles were aimed at the speaker who the 18,000 AIPAC delegates were anticipating with mingled excitement and dread - frontrunner Donald Trump. While not naming him, it was clear to whom she was referring when she predicted that in the evening, her audience would “get a glimpse of a potential U.S. foreign policy that would insult our allies, not engage them, and embolden our adversaries, not defeat them.”
Again and again, Clinton brought up pet Trump phrases that the businessman likes to invoke when asked about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians - neutrality, negotiations and deal-making.
“America can’t ever be neutral when it comes to Israel’s security or survival. We can’t be neutral when rockets rain down on residential neighborhoods, when civilians are stabbed in the street, when suicide bombers target the innocent. Some things aren’t negotiable,” she said, adding for emphasis that “Whoever doesn’t understand that has no business in being our president”
While she didn’t explicitly compare Trump by name to the racist and murderous Haman, the villain of the tale in the imminent Jewish holiday of Purim, she certainly made the implication when praising the heroine of the Purim tale, Queen Esther.
Esther “refused to stay silent in the face of evil and by speaking out, she risked everything,” said Clinton. “But as (her cousin) Mordecai reminded her, we all have an obligation to do our part when danger gathers. And those of us with power or influence have a special responsibility to do what’s right. As Elie Wiesel said when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” So, my friends, let us never be neutral or silent in the face of bigotry.”
In addition to invoking Esther and Wiesel, Clinton invoked Israel’s former Prime Minister Golda Meir in relation to her own candidacy, joking that a woman led Israel “decades ago” and “some of us .. wonder what’s taking us so long here in America?”
Her speech was peppered with the catchphrases that a pro-Israel audience wants to hear in a political speech, including a denouncement of the current wave of terror and the Palestinian “incitement” and expressing a commitment to Israel’s “qualitative military edge,” repeatedly saying she wanted to take the U.S.-Israel relationship “to the next level” she called for the two countries to be “a light unto the nations.”
In what appeared to be a subtle dig at Sanders reluctance to dig into foreign policy matters- she said that “candidates for president who think the United States can outsource Middle East security to dictators, or that America no longer has vital national interests at stake in this region are dangerously wrong. 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 successfully walked the delicate tightrope between standing behind the Democratic president for whom she served as Secretary of State while sending signals promising that she will thaw the frosty relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that the first thing she will do as president would be to extend an invitation to the White House to the Israeli Prime Minister.
Perhaps the weakest applause came during her defense of the Obama administration’s Iran deal, which, like Biden, she defended as the right choice, but said needed to be carefully monitored for compliance. "It's not good enough to trust and verify with Iran. We must distrust and verify," she said.
Praise for the speech by audience members, commentators and observers came swiftly and strongly and enthusiastically across social media.
If the speech is reflective of the future trajectory of her campaign for president, such full-throated support of Israel combined with her long record of commitment to progressive causes may mean that Clinton is set up to garner American Jewish support in greater numbers than any presidential candidate in recent memory with the possible exception of one: her husband Bill.
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