Israel policy and AIPAC are always heated topics among U.S. Jews but Donald Trump’s fiery speech to the powerful AIPAC lobby Monday elicited intense debate outside the downtown area, inside the hall and on social media. People were contesting not only the meaning of Trump’s words but also that of the huge roars and standing ovations he got from many in the massive audience.
Slams on Iran, President Obama and Hillary Clinton triggered applause. But not only that. Hundreds of rabbis and others stood in separate groups once Trump took the podium and simply walked out in protest, activists said. Many went directly to locations at the Verizon Center to pray and study Torah.
A D.C. Orthodox rabbi in a prayer shawl who was seated six rows from the front was carried off by security moments after he shouted out once Trump began speaking.
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, leader of a prominent D.C. Modern Orthodox synagogue, told the Post that he immediately stood, put on a tallis — or prayer shawl — and shouted: “Do not listen to this man. He is wicked. He inspires racists and bigots.” Herzfeld did not resist security’s efforts to remove him, he said.
“With every cell in my body I felt the obligation as a rabbi to declare his wickedness to the world,” Herzfeld put on Facebook minutes after he was carried out, setting off dozens of comments from across the spectrum.
“How can you call him wicked? Using that standard, you should call Obama wicked for signing the Iran deal,” wrote one commenter. “Shame,” wrote another. “Thank you for your courage and moral clarity,” was yet another.
On social media Jews — including advocates and members of the Jewish media — seemed taken aback at the roars of support from many at AIPAC. Ben Silverstein, a digital writer for the left-leaning pro-Israel group J Street wrote:
This crowd was supposed to be unfriendly to Trump. ROARING with applause as he slams Obama, who has very high approval rating w US Jews.
— Benjamin Silverstein (@bensilverstein) March 21, 2016
Some suggested the crowd was a poor indication of U.S. Jewish voters, who lean heavily democratic:
This Trump speech is a pretty good indication of how out of touch AIPAC is with the American Jewish community
— Michael Cohen (@speechboy71) March 21, 2016
Trump has elicited strong reaction from many U.S. Jews, who are divided about how to respond to a candidate who has set off so much concern about racism and xenophobia — causes Jewish leaders say are of particular alarm to their communities.
Among the hundreds who waited to get into the Verizon Center before the talk were Debbie Kurinsky and Jacquelyn Furman, who came from Needham, Mass. They had no problem with the organization’s decision to invite Trump to speak.
“I don’t understand it. I think it’s not respectful of what the organization is trying to achieve,” Kurinsky said of people who planned to walk out.
Furman said attendees should listen to Trump regardless of their own politics.
“I personally think he’s a bigot. I’m not planning to endorse him. I plan to welcome him civilly.”
Milling around with those waiting to get in and a few protesters was a man selling $15 yarmulkes with the candidates’ names on them.
Among those who walked out was rabbinic student Rena Singer. Before the event, waiting in line, said she and her classmates at Hebrew Union College in New York had discussed how to handle the AIPAC talk. Some wanted to listen, saying that AIPAC had as much of a duty to invite Trump as any other candidate, or that the Jewish community needs to be able to work with any politician.
Singer said that at first she was unsure. “But then I thought about the reason I decided I wanted to be a Reform rabbi in the first place,” she said. “It’s a movement that has historically stood up to hatred and injustice.”
So as she waited in a long line to enter the Verizon Center, she didn’t plan to stay inside long. “I look forward to walking out.”
Waiting just behind Singer, David Rubin, 18, of Woodbine, N.Y., said he planned to stay for the speech. “Whether I agree with him or not, he is running for president.”
Jews are hardly the only faith group interested in Israel. As involved — and much larger — is the U.S. evangelical community, which has traditionally been more hard-line, but seems to have a growing, if small, even-handed camp. Among those assessing Trump Monday was David Brody, who covers the the White House for the Christian Broadcasting Network:
Reality: Trump doesn't have to prove he has more substance than others. Has to prove that he's serious. AIPAC speech helped him. #AIPAC2016
— David Brody (@TheBrodyFile) March 21, 2016