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Making Their Case

Binyamin Rose, Washington, D.C.

Who is the best candidate for Israel? That’s hard to say, given all the empty promises delivered on the campaign trail. But it was heartening to see all the major candidates express their love of Israel before thousands of Aipac attendees. How did they rate? Mishpacha reports from the press gallery.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Ask almost anyone who attends any type of conference anywhere in the world to critique the event. The universal answer will be: I’m glad I went, I learned a lot, there were good networking opportunities, but there were too many speeches. It’s tough to sit tight and listen to someone else for hours on end, especially if you’re both knowledgeable and opinionated, like most of the 18,000 delegates, including 4,000 college students, who attended this year’s AIPAC policy conference. Yet except for a few handfuls of people who headed for the exits just as Donald Trump was making his grand entrance, attendees listened closely and respectfully to the four presidential hopefuls who all delivered major foreign policy addresses to America’s largest and most influential pro-Israel lobby. Anticipating what was advertised as an embarrassing and noisy walkout of Trump’s address, AIPAC had attempted to preempt trouble the night before by assembling a half-dozen clergy members of all faiths and races to exhort delegates not to interrupt or heckle. With the exception of authorized floor photographers, all print media and the major television networks were consigned to nosebleed territory on the sixth and highest floor of the sprawling Verizon Center, a sports arena that holds more than 20,000. Widescreen videos were positioned strategically at upper levels, with surround sound that was never precisely synched with the delivery of the speakers below. Candidates stood at the podium on a round stage that rotated, providing everyone with a head-on glimpse of the candidate at some point during his or her address, each one lasting about 20 minutes. Hillary Clinton was the only one who insisted that for her, the stage remain static. AIPAC delegates hail from all 50 states. This year, almost one-quarter were college students, including more than 300 student government presidents and more than 100 national and state leaders of both College Democrats of America and College Republican National Committee. This is part of a longstanding principle of AIPAC to scout out tomorrow’s potential political leaders today. With each annual policy conference, the numbers of Orthodox Jewish attendees rises. Some congregational rabbis lead delegations from their synagogues. There have always been minyanim, but this year’s conference had a decidedly more shtiebel-like feel, with Minchah nonstop between 2–4 p.m. Maariv was held on the street level at Verizon Center at The Greene Turtle pub, which closed its doors both nights to accommodate private gatherings, in addition to Maariv. Washing stands for netilas yadayim were emplaced in all of the food courts at the main venue of the conference, the Washington Convention Center, where a range of soups, salads, and sandwiches were offered under the kashrus supervision of Capitol K, Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington. The food was plentiful, but it was the candidates’ fare that drew the most interest among delegates looking to glean clues as to which of the presidential hopefuls, who have been slugging it out publicly for months in televised debates, would be the “best friend” for Israel. Politics, being a game of nuance, often means that what is left unsaid is as important as what is said. What follows is Mishpacha’s “scorecard” of how the candidates fared with their audience. The candidates are listed in order of their appearance and graded on crowd reaction to their entrance, exit, and content on a scale of 1 to 10. Hillary Clinton Even Marco Rubio, who quit the race before he could make it to AIPAC, admitted in an early Republican debate that if r?sum?s counted, Hillary Clinton’s was the best of the batch. The former secretary of state, US senator from New York, and first lady is a walking political atlas, having dealt with most of the world’s hot spots firsthand. In her address, Hillary covered the gamut of the Middle East’s woes, mainly Iran and ISIS. She rebuked Palestinians for publicly celebrating terrorism. She reserved her strongest denunciations for Donald Trump, never mentioning his name, but blasting him for suggesting US neutrality in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere and accusing him of playing coy with white supremacists. Once again, as we saw in Iowa, Hillary’s appearances are punctuated by a lack of enthusiasm, at least at the outset. Her AIPAC address was delivered early in the morning, and followed Israel’s opposition leader, Isaac Herzog. He and Hillary might be on the same left-of-center geopolitical wavelength, but Herzog gives new meaning to the word bland, and as such, was an unsuitable warm-up act for Hillary, who is actually quite combative. She ripped Republicans for policies “that would insult our allies, not engage them, and embolden our enemies, not defeat them.” Addressing delegates’ concerns, she said America needs to work with Israel to cut the flow of arms from Iran to Hezbollah and that America should adopt an approach of “distrust and verify” with Tehran. However, in the same breath, Hillary defended the Iran deal in front of the organization that put all of its energies into defeating it and whose delegates vigorously applauded every line in every other candidate’s speech blasting the agreement. That was one of Hillary’s off-moments. Another was her announcement that “one of the first things I’ll do in office is invite the Israeli prime minister to visit the White House.” Israeli prime ministers are not strangers to the White House, and especially at the beginning of a new term, an invitation is not something to be dangled as a reward, or punishment, for complying or not with American wishes. She might have scored more points by offering to visit Israel, and to see the facts on the ground firsthand. She also hit a sour note, at least with religious attendees, citing the Purim story, noting Queen Esther’s bravery in refusing to stay silent in the face of evil. It wasn’t easy for her, Hillary opined. “She had a good life.” The Gemara and midrashim tell a different tale of Queen Esther’s life in the palace of the wicked Achashveirosh. If anything, Hillary’s remark speaks volumes about her own drive to enjoy the privileges of power. Overall, she scored more points than she lost, with her emphasis on shared US-Israeli values and a promise to supply Israel with the most sophisticated defense systems. It’s standard fare but always a crowd-pleaser, and Hillary left the stage to a warmer response than her lukewarm entry. 

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