I was there when Donald Trump addressed the 18,000 attendees of AIPAC’s Policy Conference this past week in Washington, DC. Leading up to Monday night, much had been written about his boorish accusations and vile stereotypes, his inaccurate statistics, and his off-the-cuff bigoted remarks that foster xenophobia and hatred. It was abundantly clear that his views and words were not in line with Jewish values, and many rabbis and other attendees turned and walked out while he was being introduced (several Reform rabbis studied text on leadership together). I remained in the arena for the same reason many others, who do not condone Trump’s attitude or words, did: We had invited him, and, for me, one doesn’t invite a guest and then ignore or run out on him, no matter how much I may disagree with him. Every presidential candidate was invited, as is AIPAC’s tradition during an election year, to speak in front of this religiously diverse group with one thing in common: a desire for the United States–Israel relationship to be as strong as possible.
It wasn’t surprising then, that even Trump, who said at the start of his speech (supposedly the first speech of his campaign that was indeed thought out and written down), “I’m not here to pander,” did exactly that, and said what the pro-Israel group wanted to hear. He talked about Iran destabilizing the region and proliferating terror, about working a deal for a two-state solution, and about Israel’s need to achieve a military edge. He espoused the strong relationship between the United States and Israel, and praised himself for being supportive of Israel throughout his business career. I sat with my hands by my side, listening to him voice the same pro-Israel rhetoric that was delivered by Vice President Joe Biden the night before, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton earlier in the day, and John Kasich, Ted Cruz, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan that same evening.
But, what separated him from the other speakers was a tonal difference, and his specific word usage, and how he said what he said. His speech was peppered with negativity and disdain, and his face was red and angry. In most of his descriptions about what was happening in the world, he often used words like dangerous, disastrous, catastrophic, and complete disaster. Without citing any examples, he criticized the United Nations as utterly weak and incompetent, Hillary Clinton as a “total disaster,” and President Obama as “maybe the worst thing ever to happen to Israel.” This last phrase, to my astonishment, embarrassment, and sadness, elicited a standing ovation from much of the crowd. I was not alone in my disappointment, for on Tuesday morning, President of AIPAC Lillian Pinkus stated, “We say, unequivocally, that we do not countenance ad hominem attacks, and we take great offense to those that are levied against the president of the United States of America from our stage. While we may have policy differences, we deeply respect the office of the president of the United States and our president, Barack Obama. We are disappointed that so many people applauded a sentiment that we neither agree with nor condone.”
In listening to Trump’s remarks, he felt to me like a person who is just about to begin working for a company, and before stepping one foot in the building criticizes everyone who works there, and all of the people who built the company, claiming that he could, and will, do better; but, yet he doesn’t tell you how… only that they were a disaster, he knows better, and you should believe him. In his 24-minute speech, he said “believe me,” 10 times.
I did believe him. When talking about treating terrorists as martyrs and heroes, he said, “When you live in a society where the firefighters are the heroes, little kids want to be firefighters. When you live in a society where athletes and movie stars are heroes, little kids want to be athletes and movie stars.” I might add, when you live in a society where presidential candidates spread fear and hatred, little kids…