Lillian Pinkus, the new president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), on Tuesday morning slammed Republican presidential primary front-runner Donald Trump’s on-stage rhetoric about President Barack Obama the previous day as well as the AIPAC conference crowd’s reaction to Trump’s words.
Trump had earned a standing ovation on Monday for saying, “President [Barack] Obama in his final year. Yay.”
Without mentioning Trump by name, Pinkus said Tuesday that AIPAC takes “great offense” to verbal attacks that are levied against the president of the United States from the stage of the pro-Israel lobby’s annual policy conference.
“While we may have policy differences, we deeply respect the office of the president of the United States and our president, Barack Obama,” Pinkus, whose emotion was palpable, said.
“There are people in our AIPAC family who were deeply hurt last night,” she said, lamenting that “so many applauded a sentiment that we neither agree with or condone.”
“Let us close this conference in recognition that when we say, ‘Come ‘Together,’ we still have a lot to learn from each other, and we still have much work to do, because broadening the base of America’s pro-Israel movement and unity is our strength,” said Pinkus, mentioning this year’s AIPAC conference tagline.
Also speaking at the conference on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) said he “will not be neutral” on Israel as president, taking a swipe at GOP opponent Donald Trump’s past statements about being a neutral broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“America will stand unapologetically with the nation of Israel,” said Cruz, who also mocked Trump’s use of the term “Palestine” in the preceding speech at the same AIPAC session. “Palestine” has not existed since 1948, Cruz said upon arriving on stage.
Cruz said America needs a president “who will be a champion for Israel,” noting his actions in the Senate such as staunchly opposing the Federal Aviation Administration’s 36-hour ban on flights to Israel during the 2014 Gaza war. Cruz recalled that at the time, he raised the question, “Did this [Obama] administration just launch an economic boycott against the state of Israel?” Ukraine, noted Cruz, had just seen a passenger airline shot down by a Russian missile but experienced no flight ban, yet Israel received such a ban when one rocket fell a mile from “one of the safest airports in the world.”
Offering specifics on how he would stand with Israel as president, Cruz said he would rip the “catastrophic” Iran nuclear deal to shreds.
“Here are my words, [Iranian Supreme Leader] Ayatollah Khamenei: ‘If I am president, and Iran launches a missile test, we will shoot that missile down,” said Cruz, referring to the recent Iranian missile test included a missile inscribed with a threat to wipe Israel off the map.
“Either you will shut down your nuclear program, or we will shut it down for you,” said Cruz, further addressing Iran.
Cruz promised to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and to veto any U.N. resolution that imposes an Israeli-Palestinian conflict settlement on Israel.
“Indeed, I tell you today, I will fly to New York to personally veto it myself,” Cruz said, referencing the city that is home to U.N. headquarters.
“The way you avoid conflict is to stand up to bullies,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ohio Governor John Kasich, who labels himself as a moderate Republican presidential candidate with a “positive message,” held true to form at the conference.
“I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land. I will not do it,” Kasich told the AIPAC crowd.
“We need to work together with Congress on an agenda that serves the nation as a whole. We are Americans more than we are Republicans and Democrats,” he said, echoing AIPAC’s organizational calling card of bipartisanship.
Kasich used a significant portion of his speech to tout his ties to the Jewish community, including his relationship with the late Gordon Zacks, an influential Ohio Jewish businessman and Republican activist; his advocacy for the release of famed refusenik Natan Sharansky from Soviet prison; and his work on establishing the state of Ohio’s official Holocaust memorial.
“They told me it could not be done and I told them, ‘You watch me, it will be done,’” Kasich said of the Holocaust memorial.
Kasich called his support for Israel “firm, and unwavering for more than 35 years of my professional life.” The governor, who formerly served on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee for 18 years, noted that during that time “we assured Israel’s qualitative military edge by offering the initial $10 million” for the Iron Dome missile defense system.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in Congress about the Iranian nuclear threat last year, Kasich said he flew to Washington for the address to “show my personal respect to the people of Israel.” Now that the Iran nuclear deal is in place, Kasich has called for the suspension of U.S. participation in the deal due to Iran’s recent ballistic missile test, which he called a violation of the spirit of the nuclear deal and a provocation that cannot be ignored. If Iran further violates the deal, he said, “we must put the sanctions back on them.”
When it comes to foreign policy, Kasich said, “I don’t need on-the-job training [as president]. I will not need to learn about the dangers facing us and our allies.” He said his national security appointees “will work tirelessly with Israel” to counter Iran’s regional aggression. He lamented that the U.S. is “not part of this new web of relations” between Israel and Arab Gulf states, and that his administration would work to expand those ties as well as provide support to common American-Israeli regional allies such as Jordan and Egypt.
Kasich also vowed that his administration would work to eliminate all bigotry, including anti-Semitism, particularly in international bodies. He said he is “very concerned about rising attacks on Israel and Jewish students on our college campuses,” and that he would make sure students gain the tools to combat hate speech.
The governor called the current wave of Palestinian terror in Israel “the outcome of a culture of death that the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its forebears have promoted for over 50 years,” slamming Palestinian school textbooks that are filled with “vile anti-Semitism,” PA stipends for imprisoned terrorists, and the Palestinians’ naming of public squares and streets after terrorists.