Hillary Clinton forcefully rebuked Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump without naming him onstage at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday, suggesting that he lacks the "steady hands" necessary to manage the U.S.-Israel relationship in the future.
With Trump slated to speak hours after her appearance, Clinton set the table by focusing on the challenges awaiting the next U.S. president and implied that Trump’s policy view on Israel is “dangerously wrong.”
“The next president will sit down at that desk and start making decisions that will affect both the lives and livelihoods of every American and the security of our friends around the world. So we have to get this right,” Clinton said. “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.”
Trump’s impending speech at AIPAC has a been a source of controversy, largely due to the businessman’s rhetoric singling out immigrants and calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
A group of Jewish rabbis called for a boycott of Trump’s speech, and the prominent Jewish civil rights organization, the Anti-Defamation League, strongly denounced Trump’s rhetoric and said it would “redirect” all of his past donations to its organization.
At the outset, AIPAC's managing director, Richard Fishman, cautioned that while the day would bring several political figures and presidential candidates, an invitation was not "an endorsement" of the candidates.
"It’s not our role to get involved in the shouting match," Fishman said, urging the audience to respond to speakers without boos. "We don’t drown out opposing views with noise, and we won’t engage in angry rhetoric."
On Sunday, when pressed on ABC News’s “This Week” about how he would approach Israel as president, Trump offered few details but insisted he would push for a “deal.” Last month, at a MSNBC town hall forum, Trump insisted that he would be a "neutral guy" in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
In a forceful denunciation, Clinton seized on the suggestion that Trump would negotiate on U.S.-Israel foreign policy.
“We need steady hands,” Clinton said. “Not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who knows what on Wednesday because everything is negotiable,” Clinton said. “Well, my friends, Israel’s security is nonnegotiable!”
In her remarks, Clinton used the speech as a campaign platform, both declaring her commitment to Israel and its security interests and denouncing her political opponent’s policy platforms, which she said would weaken America and Israel’s standing in the world.
Clinton is the only Democratic candidate who will speak at AIPAC; Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is Jewish, bowed out of an appearance in favor of campaigning in Western states. He is scheduled to deliver a foreign policy speech Monday afternoon in Salt Lake City that aides say will touch on issues he would have discussed if addressing the conference.
The three Republican presidential candidates — Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — are expected to speak later in the afternoon. However, Clinton reserved her firepower for Trump alone.
“You’ll 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,” Clinton said in reference to Trump’s upcoming remarks. “For the security of Israel and the world, we need America to remain a respected global leader, committed to defending and advancing the international order.”
Clinton denounced Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims and immigrants, his “encouraging” of violence and willingness to play “coy with white supremacists.” She drew parallels between today's political times and dark times in America’s past, when some Jews were sent back to the prospect of death and concentration camps in Europe.
“We’ve had dark chapters in our history before. We remember the nearly 1,000 Jews aboard the St. Louis who were refused entry in 1939 and sent back to Europe,” Clinton said. “But America should be better than this, and it is our responsibility as citizens to say so.
“If you see bigotry oppose it, if you see violence condemn it, if you see a bully stand up to him,” she added.
The tenor of Clinton remarks reflects a strategy to condemn Trump and paint him as unprepared and unfit for the presidency. Although Clinton remains locked in a primary contest against Sanders, she has increasingly pivoted to Trump, who looks poised to secure the Republican nomination.
But even if he does not, Clinton has sought to use Trump as a foil to raise her own stature.
She recalled her efforts as secretary of state to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders to the negotiation table. She forcefully defended the Iran nuclear deal, declaring that it has made “the United States, Israel and the world safer.” And she said that as president she would support a two-state solution but would reject attempts by outside parties to impose a solution — including the United Nations Security Council.
Clinton implicitly compared herself to Golda Meir, the former female prime minister of Israel, and joked that some wonder “what’s taking us so long here in America.”
Days away from the Jewish holiday Purim, Clinton reached for another analogy aimed squarely at Trump. She noted that Esther faced a choice and “risked everything” to speak out against Haman, the Jewish people’s Persian antagonist.
Esther, Clinton said, “refused to stay silent in the face of evil.”
“It wasn’t easy, she had a good life, and by speaking out she risked everything. But as Mordecai reminded her, we all have an obligation to do our part when danger gathers,” she added.
“Let us never be neutral or silent in the face of bigotry,” Clinton said. “Together let us defend the shared values that already make America and Israel great.”