Donald Trump’s remarks in an Associated Press interview echoed the president’s often-expressed sentiment that Israel is responsible for and lacks a commitment to peace:
“I have a real question as to whether or not both sides want to make it,” Trump said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The Republican front-runner said his concerns are greater regarding “one side in particular.” While Trump wouldn’t say whether he was referring to the Israelis or the Palestinians, he said the chances for a lasting peace rest with Israel.
“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,” Trump said. “They may not be, and I understand that, and I’m OK with that. But then you’re just not going to have a deal.
That is an anathema to most Republicans and has been the basis of much intense criticism from conservatives of the president. Once again we see that when Donald Trump is forced to articulate positions on issues or speak intelligently before an informed crowd he is at a loss. That was nowhere more evident than at the Republican Jewish Coalition when he was booed for refusing to say definitively that he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, an issue near and dear to the RJC’s members and beyond them Christian Zionists.
The unfortunate woman asked to introduce Trump told the crowd “He is a mensch with chutzpah.” He showed exactly why he is about the farthest thing from a mensch (Yiddish for a real person, a decent human being). Throughout his remarks he talked to the crowd as if its members were all practiced negotiators, as if the only Republican Jews are rich deal-makers, a stereotype familiar to many Jews. (“I’m a negotiator — like you folks”; “Is there anyone here who doesn’t negotiate deals?”) Moreover he repeatedly said that because the crowd would not give him money they would not support him. This was an even more cringe-worthy sentiment, suggesting once again that Jews are obsessed with money.
As he did in the AP interview he asserted at the RJC, “I don’t know that Israel has the commitment to make peace.” There is virtually no sympathy for that sentiment in the GOP. It will no doubt be a point in the debate, if Trump shows up.
Some attendees did not interpret Trump’s comments about money and negotiation as anti-Semitic. They offered that his wife and daughter are Jewish, a point Trump made. But there were many annoyed audience members. After the event an attendee cracked sarcastically, “I threw up in my mouth so many times I need a mint. Trump will probably sell mints. We Jews are good at buying things.” A middle-aged woman from New York, said, “Jackie Mason. Jackie Mason lite. Not a mensch.” Another gentleman commented, “As a stand-up [comedian], he’s a natural. But on Jerusalem — that was a mistake.” The man standing next to him offered, “How to put this nicely? I very much admire his confidence and humor. But not answering on Jerusalem directly when asked . . . Will that worry the Jewish people?” He did not answer his own question.
A Christian Zionist shook his head, incredulous that Trump missed so badly on this point. “All he had to do was shrug his shoulders and say,’You know me! Who thinks I’m not going to get that?!'”
In a tweet after the speech former White House spokesman and longtime RJC mover Ari Fleischer tweeted, “‘You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.’ What the hell does that mean?”
Aside from all that, Trump went through his familiar routine. He read poll numbers from a New Hampshire robo-poll showing him leading. He bragged about all the awards he has gotten from Jewish groups and environmentalists. He criticized the Iran deal, insisting he would fix it. Lacking was any command of the issues or serious policy discussion. In a rowdy crowd of his base (dominated by white males with a high school education or less) this works; with the RJC crowd it was greeted by some with amusement and by others with incredulity.
In the question portion of the event, in addition to what should have been a softball on Jerusalem, he was asked which Arab leaders he knows and could work with. He managed only to compliment the king of Jordan and then digressed into his usual patter.
Trump’s appearance showed his potential vulnerability when cornered on serious issues. He’s gotten away with bluster, but his lack of knowledge can cause egregious missteps. That deficiency coupled with his cartoonish narcissism has not doomed him yet, but then for many voters the race has not even begun.