One of the strangest things in a strange campaign year was to watch the two outsider candidates yesterday deliver written speeches. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are both known for impromptu speaking styles, but Sanders actually published a lengthy speech obviously not written by him and Trump gave his speech, also obviously not written by the candidate, in Washington using Teleprompters. Why such formality? The two anti-establishment candidates were addressing the heart of the establishment, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, and wanted to be on their p’s and q’s. Though Sanders did take the revolutionary step of not actually giving his speech at AIPAC but in Utah, to signal his distance.
Trump had to overcome the fact that he has said he would be “neutral” in the Israel Palestine conflict, which is anathema to AIPAC and Israel-lovers in the US elites, and he did so by not saying so last night. His unscripted moments included repeated professions of love. “I love the people in this room, I love Israel, I love Israel.” And he closed by saying that his daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism, is about to have a “beautiful Jewish baby.”
Most of his speech consisted of denunciations of Iran and the United Nations and the Obama administration. Hillary Clinton was a “total disaster” as secretary of state, and she and President Obama had “treated Israel very very badly,” Trump said. The two felt it was necessary to apply pressure on Israel to get peace, but the opposite was true. “When I become president, the days of treating Israel as a second class citizen will end, on day one…. I will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately.”
Trump echoed Netanyahu when he called for the US Embassy to be moved to Jerusalem and for Palestinians to recognize that “Israel is a Jewish state– and it must forever exist as a Jewish state.”
On MSNBC later various Democratic Israel lobbyists were saying that Trump was piping the talking points but you can’t trust him to actually believe them, whereas you can believe Hillary Clinton in your Zionist bones (to paraphrase Amb. Marc Ginsberg). I found that persuasive. Trump was, for once, a bit mechanical; and also he left out boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Clinton, Ted Cruz, and even Bernie Sanders (on Chris Hayes’s show) opposed BDS yesterday. Clinton has been sounding the alarm on BDS for a long time, she bragged. Cruz wants to criminalize some forms of BDS advocacy. Trump probably doesn’t know what BDS is. He began his speech by saying he wasn’t pandering; but he clearly was, in all that Jewish state stuff.
Many rabbis walked out on Trump ahead of time; but the hearty applause he got has upset, and surprised, many.
I never thought I'd see fellow Jews–even right-leaning ones–fall for a bigoted demagogue like I did tonight. I'm truly shocked. #AIPAC2016
— Dylan Williams (@dylanotes) March 22, 2016
And today Brian Lehrer pointed out that Trump flipflopped on tearing up/enforcing the Iran Deal in the space of two minutes, while Jane Eisner said he had flipflopped on moving the embassy to Jerusalem between December (against) and now (for).
People are hailing Bernie Sanders’s speech because of its avowed neutrality: Though Sanders said we are bound politically and culturally to Israel, he repeatedly criticized Netanyahu over settlement construction, expressed concern for Palestinians living under occupation (or actually “what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory”), criticized the Israeli slaughter in Gaza two years ago and the bombing of schools and hospitals, affirmed the Iran Deal, spoke of the desperate conditions in Gaza and said that he cared about both Israelis and Palestinians.
to be successful, we have also got to be a friend not only to Israel, but to the Palestinian people, where in Gaza unemployment today is 44 percent and we have there a poverty rate which is almost as high.
So when we talk about Israel and Palestinian areas, it is important to understand that today there is a whole lot of [word missing] among Palestinians and that cannot be ignored. You can’t have good policy that results in peace if you ignore one side.
He also spoke of Israel’s theft of Palestinian water. Amazing.
Has any mainstream presidential candidate ever called 4 the Palestinian right to security, water, civil rights AND slammed the Israeli govt?
— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) March 22, 2016
For my money the best part of the speech was what Sanders didn’t say. Didn’t mention Jerusalem, didn’t even use the word Jewish. He did refer to his time on a kibbutz in the 60s, and he said that Israel has a right to exist:
Peace will require the unconditional recognition by all people of Israel’s right to exist.
But he didn’t say what that Israel is that has a right to exist. Didn’t call it a Jewish state, didn’t refer to his own Jewishness. Didn’t slam the U.N.
Sanders’s speech counts as a landmark, I guess, because in the middle of a presidential campaign he called for evenhandedness. In all the borders he is establishing for the left-mainstream discourse, maybe this is another one. We don’t have to pander to AIPAC. “Bernie is going further on settlements and Gaza than any other politician past or present,” writes Hazel Kahan. “Who knows what the future will bring.” Look how ABC News played it.
— ABC News (@ABC) March 22, 2016
That ought to feel “yuge” but it doesn’t. Because Sanders himself has been so reluctant to make political hay of it. He has done nothing to call Hillary Clinton out for her cozying up to neoconservatives, done nothing with her repeated invitations to Netanyahu to come to the White House. On this issue, the American people still come in last.
Thanks to James North and Adam Horowitz.
Update: WSJ says Trump’s speech was written by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, rightwing Zionist (who forced me out at the NY Observer).