During the most recent Republican debate, all four of Donald Trump’s rivals for the position of Republican presidential candidacy criticized Trump’s claims that he would remain neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as the position would require someone to be an honest broker.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is competing with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, gave one of his most expansive answers thus far about his Jewish identity during a Chicago town hall.
Sen. Marco Rubio introduced the idea of Trump’s neutrality early on in the debate, saying that Trump, who has won three of the four early nominating contests, is closer to the Democrats than the Republicans. “He says he’s not going to take sides in the Palestinians versus Israel,” Rubio said.
At an MSNBC town hall on February 17, Donald Trump said about his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “Let me sort of be a neutral guy, I don’t want to say whose fault is it, I don’t think it helps.”
The CNN moderators asked Trump about Israel, and Trump proceeded to list what he said were his pro-Israel credentials, including once acting as grand marshal in the Salute to Israel parade in New York, giving to unspecified Israeli charities, and receiving the Jewish National Fund “Tree of Life” award.
Trump continued to say that it would not be smart to reveal his hand before attempting to make a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. “It doesn’t do any good to start demeaning the neighbors,” he said. “With that being said, I am totally pro-Israel.”
The other candidates then went on the attack. Palestinian terrorists “are not equivalent to the IDF officers protecting Israel,” said Sen. Ted Cruz.
“The position you’ve taken is an anti-Israel position,” Rubio said, saying that while Israel has sacrificed for peace, “the Palestinian Authority has walked away from multiple generous offers.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich shared his own pro-Israel record, which dates back to the 1980’s and 1990’s, when he was a congressman. “I’ve been a strong supporter of Israel longer than anyone on this stage,” he said.
Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, discussed his own visit to Israel last year, and said that while it “doesn’t mean we can’t be fair to other people,” the United States should treat Israel like its favored child.
Trump fired back by saying that he has stronger negotiation skills as a longtime businessman, Rubio interjected, “The Palestinians are not a real estate deal … a deal is not a deal when you’re dealing with terrorists, have you negotiated with terrorists?”
Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, has also attacked Trump for his claims of neutrality. When speaking with CNN on February 21, Clinton said that U.S. policy should take into consideration both the close U.S.-Israel relationship and the need for a two-state solution. She also added that Trump had “missed the mark” by professing neutrality.
“First of all, Israel is our partner, our ally,” Clinton said. “We have longstanding and important ties with Israelis going back to the formation of the state of Israel.
“I will defend and do everything I can to support Israel, particularly as the neighborhood around it seems to become more dangerous and difficult,” Clinton said.
Clinton said that this position and bringing the sides towards peace “are not mutually exclusive.” She explained, “I happen to think that moving toward a two-state solution, trying to provide more support for the aspirations of the Palestinian people is in the long-term best interest of Israel as well as the region and the people themselves.”
Trump has said numerous times in recent days that he would be a “great friend” of Israel and has criticized the Obama administration for last year’s Iran nuclear deal, which Israel opposed.
In an interview on February 26 with Israel Hayom, a mass circulation daily newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson, a major Republican donor, Trump said that he was Israel’s “best friend.”
At a University of Chicago town hall on February 25 that was broadcast by MSNBC, Sanders was asked by a Jewish student to talk about his faith. The student explained that Sanders had been reluctant about discussing his Judaism.
“Obviously, being Jewish is very, very important to me,” Sanders said. “I am very proud of my heritage. And what comes to my mind so strongly as a kid growing up in Brooklyn and seeing people with numbers on their wrists — you probably have not seen that — but those were the people who came out of the concentration camps. And knowing that, my — a good part of my father’s family was killed by the Nazis. And that lesson that I learned as a very young person is politics is a serious business. And when you have a lunatic like Hitler gaining power — 50 million people died in World War 2. So I am very, very proud to be Jewish and I’m proud of my heritage.”
Additional, the Anti-Defamation League called on Trump to distance himself from white supremacists who have intensified their call for his election in recent weeks.
“Mr. Trump may have distanced himself from white supremacists, but he must do so unequivocally,” said a statement issued on February 25 in the name of Marvin Nathan, ADL National Chair, and Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “It is time for him to come out firmly against these bigoted views and the people that espouse them.”
David Duke, a white supremacist, said earlier this week that voting against Trump was tantamount to treason. In addition, a supremacist political action committee has been making recorded calls that urge people to vote for Trump.