In a combative speech before a massive crowd of pro-Israel lobbyists, Hillary Clinton attacked her chief Republican rival, Donald Trump, as dangerously bigoted and insufficiently pro-Israel, providing a preview of how the Democratic front-runner would likely combat the populist real estate tycoon in a general election.
In her Monday remarks, Clinton sought to undermine Trump’s appeal among Jewish voters just hours before he was expected to take the same stage at Washington’s cavernous Verizon Center for the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a gathering of 18,000 pro-Israel advocates.
Without mentioning his name, Clinton criticized Trump’s proposals calling for illegal immigrants to be “rounded up and deported,” and “proposing a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.”
“If you see bigotry, oppose it. If you see violence, condemn it. If you see a bully, stand up to him,” she said to thunderous applause.
In attacking Trump, who has expressed a desire to remain “neutral” between Israelis and Palestinians, Clinton also positioned herself to the right of President Barack Obama’s policies and previous Democratic and Republican administrations that have avoided officially picking sides in the decades-long conflict.
“We need steady hands, not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday, and who-knows-what on Wednesday, because everything’s negotiable,” she said.
“We can’t be neutral when rockets rain down on residential neighborhoods, when civilians are stabbed in the street, when suicide bombers target the innocent,” she added. “Some things aren’t negotiable.”
In February, Trump said he would be “sort of a neutral guy” when brokering peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in order to secure the “deal of all deals.”
“It’s probably the toughest negotiation anywhere in the world of any kind,” Trump has said.
Though the position does not stray from official U.S. policy on the Middle East conflict, Trump’s Republican rivals repeatedly criticized him for the remarks and equated Palestinians with terrorists who are not fit for negotiations.
“The position you’ve taken is an anti-Israel position,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in a recent televised debate.
AIPAC seeks to project a bipartisan image, but has gotten in the middle of heated partisan debates, most recently involving the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, and has spent spent millions of dollars trying to block it in Congress.
Clinton defended the deal while promising to come down hard on Iran if it violates any aspect of the international agreement, which traded economic sanctions relief for strict curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program.
“This deal must come with vigorous enforcement, strong monitoring, clear consequences for any violations, and a broader strategy to confront Iran’s aggression across the region,” she said. “We cannot forget that Tehran’s fingerprints are on nearly every conflict across the Middle East, from Syria to Lebanon to Yemen.”
Trump has criticized the nuclear agreement as a “very bad deal” and said he couldn’t believe Secretary of State John Kerry “didn’t walk from that negotiation.” But unlike other Republican rivals, such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, he has not pledged to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that would be a break with longstanding U.S. policy.
In her speech, Clinton tried to convey that U.S.-Israel relations would significantly improve under her leadership, noting that one of her first actions would be to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House.
“We will never allow Israel’s adversaries to think a wedge can be driven between us,” she said.
She lightly criticized the Israeli government’s policy allowing settlement construction across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, considered by most world leaders as a violation of international law that inhibits the peace process. “Everyone has to do their part by avoiding damaging actions, including with respect to settlements,” she said.
At the same time, she garnered a wave of applause by promising to “vigorously oppose any attempt by outside parties to impose a solution, including by the U.N. Security Council” to the Israel-Palestine conflict, a proposal floated by some Obama administration officials but never acted upon.
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