Donald Trump’s speech to AIPAC was a departure for his campaign: He spoke from prepared notes and dealt with policy specifics.
But his address of the pro-Israel lobby’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., Monday was still, well, Trumpian.
True to form, Trump was unafraid to place himself at the center of events, however consequential — from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to Israel’s second intifada. And he delighted in delivering biting critiques of the likes of Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate for the presidency, and the United Nations.
Among the presidential hopefuls who accepted invitations to the confab (only Clinton’s party rival, Jewish Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., declined), the Grand Old Party front-runner took the stage second to last, before Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is a distant second in the Republican contest. Trump was undoubtedly the main event.
There had been much speculation about how he would play with a non-Trump-rally crowd. But the thousands of Jewish activists in the arena seemed won over surprisingly easily — repeatedly interrupting the real estate magnate with applause. Despite planned walkouts in protest of Trump, most of the some 18,000 attendees remained glued to their seats.
Trump rewarded his audience by softening two positions that have caused unease among some Israel supporters — his insistence on remaining “neutral” in brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace and his refusal to commit to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
It didn’t hurt when he threw in a Jewish life-cycle announcement, saying: “My daughter, Ivanka, is about to have a beautiful Jewish baby. In fact, it could be happening right now, which would be very nice as far as I’m concerned.”
The audience erupted in cheers.
Here’s a sampling of Donald Trump’s most effective lines from the night, all of them delivered in signature Trump style, and some with substance too.
Sept. 11? He made sure America’s mayor got to Israel in style: “In late 2001, weeks after the attacks on New York City and Washington – attacks perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists, Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani visited Israel to show solidarity with terror victims. I sent him in my plane because I backed the mission 100 percent.”
Second intifada? Trump didn’t cower, he took to the streets, of Manhattan’s Upper East Side : “In Spring 2004, at the height of violence in the Gaza Strip, I was the grand marshal of the 40th Salute to Israel Parade, the largest single gathering in support of the Jewish state. It was a very dangerous time for Israel and frankly for anyone supporting Israel – many people turned down this honor – I did not, I took the risk.”
Trump does not pander: “I didn’t come here tonight to pander to you about Israel.”
He knows the Iran deal better than anyone: “I’ve studied this issue in great detail — I would say greater by far than anyone else.”
He has a dealmaker’s understanding of the Iran nuclear agreement. Seriously: “We must hold Iran accountable by restructuring the terms of the previous deal. Iran has already – since the deal is in place – test-fired ballistic missiles three times. Those ballistic missiles, with a range of 1,250 miles, were designed to intimidate not only Israel, which is only 600 miles away but also intended to frighten Europe and, someday, the United States … The deal is silent on test missiles but those tests do violate U.N. Security Council Resolutions. The problem is, no one has done anything about it.”
Remember Trump’s pledge of neutrality in Israel-Palestinian peacemaking? Neither did the audience: “The Palestinians must come to the table knowing that the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable. They must come to the table willing and able to stop the terror being committed on a daily basis against Israel and they must come to the table willing to accept that Israel is a Jewish State and it will forever exist as a Jewish State.”
He’s steeped in peace process lore: “We know Israel is willing to deal. Israel has been trying to sit down at the negotiating table, without preconditions, for years. You had Camp David in 2000, where Prime Minister Barak made an incredible offer – maybe even too generous. Arafat rejected it. In 2008, Prime Minister Olmert made an equally generous offer. The Palestinian Authority rejected it. Then John Kerry tried to come up with a framework and Abbas didn’t even respond, not even to the secretary of state of the United States of America!”
He does not trust the United Nations: “The United Nations is not a friend of democracy. It’s not a friend to freedom. It’s not a friend even to the United States of America, where as all know, it has its home. And it surely isn’t a friend to Israel.”
He loves Jerusalem, and has overcome his reservations about calling it Israel’s capital: “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”
He wrote a book, about deals. You may be familiar with it: “You see, I know about deal-making. That’s what I do. I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’ One of the best-selling, all-time — and I mean, seriously, I’m saying one of because I’ll be criticized when I say ‘the’ so I’m going to be very diplomatic — one of … One of the all-time best-selling books about deals and deal-making. To make a great deal, you need two willing participants. We know Israel is willing to deal. Israel has been trying.”
Trump has humor: “With President Obama in his final year – yay! He may be the worst thing that ever happened to Israel … former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who is a total disaster by the way …”
The one thing he didn’t mention, which every other candidate did: U.S. defense assistance to Israel, the 3.1 billion a year that Israel currently gets, and that Israel hopes to increase to close to $5 billion a year. Defense assistance is AIPAC’s basic test for whether to add the adjective “pro-Israel” to a politician’s name.
Just hours before his speech, Trump publicly contemplated making Israel pay for its defense assistance.