BY JACK JENKINS – – – –
A growing chorus of Jewish voices are blasting a major Israel lobbying group for inviting Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump to speak at its annual conference, arguing his inflammatory rhetoric and sometimes anti-Semitic supporters are out-of-step with the values of Judaism.
Last Friday, the influential Jewish and Israel lobbying organization American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) announced that it was inviting Donald Trump to speak its annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., on March 20-22. The group regularly invites major political players to its conference (Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden are also slated to speak), and Trump is already building hype for the speech, citing it as his excuse for skipping out on the now-canceled Fox News Republican debate originally scheduled for March 21.
“I’m making a very major speech in front of a very important group of people,” Trump told Fox & Friends, who later confirmed he was referring to AIPAC.
But a number of American Jews are expressing outrage over Trump’s scheduled address, saying his campaign doesn’t represent their concerns or their faith.
“…AIPAC misjudged,” Rob Eshman, editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal, wrote on March 13. “By extending an invite to Trump with no additional comment, no caveats, no reproach, AIPAC is helping Trump erase the many lines he has crossed.”
“By giving Trump a platform without taking a stand on outright hate speech, AIPAC is helping to fuel this discord. That’s the core moral mistake AIPAC is making,” he added, noting that Trump’s proclivity for anti-Muslim statements should be a red flag for conference organizers — especially since roughly 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Muslim.
Atlantic Contributor and Haaretz senior columnist Peter Beinhart was one of many who reacted negatively to the announcement, asking on Twitter whether AIPAC would invite a candidate to speak if they had advocated banning all Jewish immigration into the United States — a reference to Donald Trump’s infamous proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States in December of last year.
A group calling itself Jews Against Trump also launched an online petition calling for AIPAC to rescind its invitation to the real estate mogul.
“A person so diametrically opposed to Jewish values has no place on a stage championing Jewish causes,” the petition, which currently has over 200 signatures, read. “As an organization which is not tax-exempt, AIPAC has no obligation to provide Trump with a platform upon which he will surely embarrass the Jewish people and the Jewish state. We therefore call upon AIPAC to rescind its invitation immediately.”
Another online petition from a different group has also accrued several hundred signatures from those opposing The Donald’s visit to AIPAC. Signers include actor Mark Ruffalo (who does not appear to be Jewish himself), known for playing the Incredible Hulk in The Avengers and a Boston Globe journalist in the Oscar-winning film Spotlight.
Meanwhile, the Union for Reform Judaism — the largest Jewish group in the United States — passionately condemned Trump’s rhetoric in a statement on Monday, but stopped short of calling on AIPAC to revoke his invitation. Instead, Reform Jewish leaders declared they intend to engage Trump in an unspecified way at the conference.
“Jewish history is replete with times when political leaders, both at home and abroad, demonized the Jewish community much as Mr. Trump now demonizes Muslims, Hispanics, and African-Americans. We, the leadership of the Reform Jewish Movement, believe we must speak up against such hate speech,” the statement read. “The Reform Movement and our leaders will engage with Mr. Trump at the AIPAC Policy Conference in a way that affirms our nation’s democracy and our most cherished Jewish values. We will find an appropriate and powerful way to make our voices heard.”
“Mr. Trump is not simply another candidate,” they noted.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former president of the Union for Reform Judaism, repeated the call to speak out against Trump at AIPAC on Wednesday, and some are planning to distribute “Rabbis against Trump” buttons at the conference. Meanwhile, a student activist group Come Together Against Hate also planned to protest the event, but expressed frustration when AIPAC officials reportedly sent them an email prohibiting all demonstrations during Trump’s address. Advocates were told that those who do protest will be removed, have their credentials revoked, and banned from all future conferences. AIPAC later clarified that they historically prohibit protests in general, not just those directed at the GOP frontrunner.
An AIPAC source explained to ThinkProgress that the organization invited all of the presidential candidates (Ted Cruz is also scheduled to attend), and that the conference is meant to function as a forum for those running for office to discuss their Israel-related policy positions in detail. Trump’s statements regarding Israel have been somewhat vague thus far, other then to repeat the axiom that he is the most most “pro-Israel” candidate running.
Still, Trump’s opponents insist his uniquely volatile campaign is reason enough to either protest him or exclude him from the assembly. His speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) December, for instance, was heavily criticized for being insensitive to Jews, with Zack Beauchamp of Vox describing it as “filled with anti-Semitic stereotypes” that cast Jews as “money-grubbing merchants.”
“Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t negotiate deals? Probably more than any room I’ve ever spoken,” Trump, whose daughter Ivanka converted to Orthodox Judaism in 2008, said in the address.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) disagreed that the RJC speech was intended to be offensive, but has chastised Trump repeatedly throughout his campaign, including his comments on immigration— especially his assertion that Mexican immigrants were “rapists and criminals.” They also condemned his call to ban all Muslim immigrants, saying the plan was “antithetical to American values,” and blasted Trump when he initially refused to disavow an endorsement from Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke, who ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called “perhaps America’s best known racist and anti-Semite.”
Many Jewish critics of Trump have also noted that anti-Semitism is alarmingly common among his core supporters, such as when a man leaving a Trump rally in Cleveland shouted at a group of protestors “Go to Auschwitz! Go to f***ing Auschwitz!” The next day, pastor and Trump surrogate Rev. Mark Burns told a crowd at a Trump rally that Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-I) has “gotta get saved, he gotta meet Jesus,” implying he should abandon his Jewish identity. And on March 2 — Super Tuesday — prominent anti-Semites and white nationalists used radio shows to encourage their supporters to “get out and vote” for Trump, with Duke lauding him for generating “way more” interest in his hateful ideology.
“There are a lot of folks who are, to be charitable, into white identity politics, and to be uncharitable are outright racists, who are supporting Trump,” Nathan Wurtzel, a Jewish Republican political consultant and principal at The Catalyst Group, told the Jewish Daily Forward. “It’s very off-putting and disturbing.”
In addition, Trump’s insistence that he will remain “neutral” regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a position sparse on details but seemingly in line with most administrations over the past few decades — has caused what some call an “unprecedented crisis” on the Jewish right, as many desire a more hawkish stance toward Palestinians living in the Israeli occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Conversely, a separate movement has called on Bernie Sanders — the only Jewish candidate running for president — to ignore AIPAC’s request to attend the gathering, saying the Vermont senator should take a stand against the organization’s support for “militaristic” Israeli policies.
AIPAC is also under fire for inviting Steve Emerson to the conference, a self-declared “terrorism expert” who has been roundly condemned for inaccurate claims and spouting anti-Muslim rhetoric. He was also listed as a “misinformation export” and a key part of the “Islamophobia network” by the Center for American Progress in 2011.
This post was updated to further clarify the nature of the Union for Reform Judaism’s statement.