The Candidates at AIPAC

Candidates at AIPAC

AIPACI am troubled by the pending appearances of the presidential candidates at the AIPAC conference. It is important to hear from them. However, the value is in the substance of the presentation, not the celebrity surrounding it. We do not need a beauty pageant. I am concerned about the substance.

Candidates appear in venues like AIPAC order to get votes, hoping to share a message that appeals to the group. Unfortunately, in these constricted spaces it is unlikely that they will deliver a complete message and will instead present little more than some populist pandering to the voting block represented by AIPAC. I expect that each candidate will offer some rhetoric about his/her commitment to a strong and secure Israel. But we need more than words. Each candidate needs to elaborate a thoughtful policy of both a strategic and tactical process to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the United States and secure stability in the region. A single speech at the AIPAC conference cannot do this. Platitudes and promises whether eloquent or crass are worthless.

We in the rabbinic community are struggling with Donald Trump’s appearance in particular at the AIPAC conference. The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) have taken a stand to express deep discontent with the hatred, bigotry and bullying that seems to characterize much of Trump’s message. The URJ and the CCAR are stating core Jewish principles. But this statement raises important overall questions about appearances at the AIPAC conference by the candidates.

The last time Mr. Trump publicly referenced Jews, we saw anti-Semitic canards played out on the public stage in the form of jokes. Jews in the room laughed nervously and uncomfortably at the joke, but it was not funny. Such words combined with other inflammatory divisive speech leads me to reluctantly conclude that this forum is not the appropriate place for Trump or his rhetoric. But such a position stands in direct opposition to my belief in free speech and the open exchange of ideas.

It is unrealistic to call upon AIPAC to rescind the invitations to the candidates. AIPAC needs to remain nonpartisan and promote its pro-Israel agenda. Conference attendees should be respectful of all speakers. No one, however, should be swayed by a single speech. It is critically important we look to the individual’s corpus of speeches and the existing records of each candidate to truly determine where they stand on Israel as part of a cohesive vision of American leadership and on the fundamental principles that we hold sacrosanct. Then we all must vote.