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The moral crisis exposed at AIPAC

What happened at AIPAC was shameful and frightening. Liberal Jews are horrified and the ones who are not seem pretty smug in their lack of self awareness. Welcome to the schism.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the 2016 AIPAC Police Conference in Washington D.C., March 21, 2016. (Photo courtesy of AIPAC)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the 2016 AIPAC Police Conference in Washington D.C., March 21, 2016. (Photo courtesy of AIPAC)

On Monday night 18,000 Israel supporters, mostly Jews, sat in a Washington D.C. stadium and applauded for Donald Trump, a man whose candidacy for president of the United States is supported by neo-Nazis.

Let’s leave aside Trump’s misogyny, his vulgarity, his racism against non whites and his encouragement of violence. Let us leave aside, for a moment, the point that he is unabashedly a spectacularly ignorant man who has the attention span of an adolescent with an  addiction to junk food and first-person shooter video games. Let’s just focus on one salient, astonishing and monumentally shameful fact: a stadium full of Jews sat, (and sometimes stood) and applauded for a man who does not deny that he sleeps with a book of Hitler’s speeches next to his bed, and who refuses to disavow his neo-Nazi supporters.

The organized, actively pro-Israel American Jewish community has been teetering on the edge of a full blown crisis for many years. You can’t vote Democrat, recycle your waste, buy your kids gender-neutral toys, advocate for immigration, and look the other way as the Israeli army kills over 500 children in Gaza — and not be at serious risk for a moral crisis. But, let’s say these Progressives Except for Palestine (PEPs) are just misguided. Because they don’t speak Hebrew and never lived in Israel and are badly informed. For the sake of argument, I will cut them that slack.

But not for those who sat and let Donald Trump speak.

The excuse of ignorance or having been misguided does not work for the educated American Jews who sat and applauded for Donald Trump at the AIPAC conference. And when you suspend not only your liberal social values but also your basic self respect (Jews who sat and listened to a man who won’t disavow his neo-Nazi supporters! Jews who gave a standing ovation to a man whose followers give Nazi salutes and tell opponents “go to fucking Auschwitz!”) — all in the name of nationalism and Zionism, you have at the very least a moral disgrace. But I think what we really have here is a crisis. The “leaders” of the Jewish community have lost their way and they have led astray those who look to them for guidance.

The truth is that Donald Trump’s speech was not significantly different from those delivered by Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan or John Kasich. They all followed the AIPAC template: some of my best friends are Jewish; I cry at Holocaust memorials (never again!); I was so moved when I visited Israel; and let’s not forget that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel is America’s best friend; our two countries have an unshakeable bond, etc. etc.

The only thing different about Trump’s speech was his style — including his tendency to blurt out whatever spontaneous remarks he doesn’t really believe —  just because his sociopath’s sixth sense informs him that the audience will like them. Hence, he got a standing ovation for saying, “Obama is the worst thing that ever happened to Israel”; and another standing ovation when he wrapped up with a reminder that his daughter Ivanka would soon give birth to a “beautiful Jewish baby” (um, mazel tov?). And, truthfully, I thought Ted Cruz was more sinister than Donald Trump. Cruz is demonstrably more intelligent and undeniably better educated than Trump, and he seems to truly believe the extremist views he expresses. Cruz even pronounces his Hebrew words with a perfectly comprehensible accent; the man came well prepared.

But overall, all the candidates read from variations on the standard AIPAC speech. And that includes Hillary Clinton, who should be truly embarrassed at having debased herself with a shamelessly sycophantic keynote address. Even the promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (which will never happen) is one that we have, as Israeli political analyst Tal Schneider reminds us, heard from every U.S. president and presidential hopeful since the early 1970s — including Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and even Jimmy Carter.

This is what happens when the most powerful lobby in  Washington and the biggest political donors give orders to politicians. They pander. And, embarrassingly, a lot of people are quite happy to be pandered to. Maybe it makes them feel important.

According to received wisdom, the ascendance of Donald Trump is rooted in the rage and despair of the hollowed out middle class and the impoverished working class, as well as the racism that continues to bubble so close to the surface of American society. I believe this is true. Disappointed nationalism and poverty caused by the great depression were certainly major factors in the rise of Hitler during the Weimar era. Which led to the Holocaust. Which wiped out two thirds of the Jews of Europe. And became the single most important issue influencing Jewish identity since 1945.

And yet, 18,000 Jews heeded the conference organizers’ admonitions and sat politely and/or applauded for Donald Trump, the man who reads Hitler’s speeches for inspiration. They did not protest that the only Jewish candidate, who also happens to be the only candidate to have expressed criticism of the Netanyahu government’s policies, was denied the opportunity to speak via video hookup. But they were polite to a Nazi sympathizer. And the only thing that upset the Democrats at AIPAC was the insult to Obama. Not even the fact that Trump’s neo-Nazi followers have been sending death threats laced with anti-Semitic language to his Jewish critics.

So Lillian Pinkus, the president of AIPAC, wept as she read out a statement about how sorry the organizers were over the fact that audience members applauded Trump’s insulting remarks about Obama. But Pinkus did not even have the courage to say Trump’s name. She did not say “We reject the statements made by Donald Trump.”  Instead she made the relatively anodyne statement: “We are deeply disappointed that so many people applauded a sentiment that we neither agree with or condone.” If you didn’t know who had made the statements that upset Pinkus, you would have no way of learning that information from her statement.

What happened on Monday at AIPAC was shameful and frightening and I don’t really see how the organized Jewish community in the United States can recover from this. Liberal Jews are horrified and the ones who are not horrified seem pretty smug in their horrific lack of self awareness. Welcome to the schism.

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    1. px fragonard

      Sad to hear people lie when they’re losing. Trump’s daughter is Jewish.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Average American

      I read Trump’s speech to AIPAC. It was the standard checklist of “correct” things to say about the great and wonderful Israel in front of a great and wonderful narrow little minority. I hope, I deeply hope, that Trump is not just grovelling to a narrow minority but is really looking at the entire region and all its countries and inhabitants, in a strategic manner, for the benefit of the USA, and for Israel only to the extent that it is useful to USA.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Bruce Gould

      Speaking of moral crises, you can do no better that Shir Hever’s book “The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation” to reveal interesting details about the Occupation. We all know, for example, that Yasser Arafat was skimming money off the top, but he was aided by Israel. From page 15: “During the early PA years, Israel transferred many of these funds directly to a bank account belonging to Yasser Arafat, then chairman of the Palestinian Authority. Israel did this because Israeli officials were hoping that Arafat would use these funds to cement his leadership and purchase political support that he needed in order to make significant concessions in the negotiations.”

      Reply to Comment
      • betz55

        @bruce gould: In a hundred years the Palestinians couldn’t get their hands as deep into the American pocket as Israelis have been for the past 60 years.

        Oh, don’t forget to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars tucked into the State Department budget since 1973 for “refugee” resettlement in Israel.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      An appalling, dishonest spectacle. Lillian Pinkus publicly made a show of weeping because that well trained AIPAC audience’s roar of approval, when Trump threw them red meat and attacked the president of the United States, let slip the mask, the pose, of “bipartisanship.”*

      * Peter Beinart:

      ” Thank you, Donald Trump. Unwittingly, you’ve done something important. You’ve exposed AIPAC’s indifference to the well being of the country in which it thrives. My country. The United States…. Some journalists were surprised. They should not have been. The crowd had been taught well. Moral indifference to what happens inside the United States is the AIPAC way….”


      Reply to Comment
    5. Benaiah

      Having been in the audience at AIPAC for all the speeches, I could understand that you would have seen a different speech via webcast than you saw in person. In the section we were in, there was lots of applause and even standing ovations for some of the things Mr. Trump said, all of them regarding support for Israel. For example, saying that the JCPOA is a bad deal even if Iran doesn’t cheat produced loud applause and some standing while applauding. When Mr. Trump said anything about being president, you could hear a pin drop.

      Many people during the day said they would walk out on Trump during the evening session. Four teenagers left our area and they obviously had somewhere where they were going. That was it. So much for making a statement. Admittedly, AIPAC leaders did ask for us to show proper respect for all the speakers.

      The scary part for us was the number of times Mr. Trump said “Believe me.” Obviously people do not and he knows it. There was at least some laughter every time Trump said it.

      Mrs. Clinton, at the morning session, also said some things that were not very kind to the current administration including that the first thing she is going to do is invite the Israeli PM to the White House. That also achieved a loud ovation.

      Our favorite speaker was Paul Ryan. Full disclosure, we are from Wisconsin. We were shocked him taking the time for a several paragraph shout out to the Wisconsin delegation at the end of his speech. Speaker Ryan (I just love putting that in writing) said that as he travels his home state, the most frequently asked question is what is he doing to support Israel. The backdrop is in addition to the strong, mostly pro Israel Jewish community centered in SE WI, the African American churched community is strongly pro Israel and has been very active in sharing (in a very kind and loving manner) the need for the rest of Wisconsin’s Christian community to be doing the same.

      It is hard for me to read that the received wisdom is that the hollowed out middle class is his main base. It is hard for me to read this article and others that imply if people were only more educated or well read they would see though all this. Why? Because we tend to vote conservative because we are very well read and are fortunate enough to hold post graduate degrees. That does not mean we are for Trump in the least bit. Any of the other candidates can run the country and if you come to your vote honestly, we are thankful you live in a country where you can and that you do vote.

      The missing dynamic of this election that seems to escape mention by AIPAC attendees, the MSM and pundits of every sort is naming who is voting for Trump. More and more evidence points to crossover voting by progressives as the engine behind Trump’s margin of victory. It does not take many Democrats coming over and voting for Trump to push him past the rest of the Republican field and thus paving the way for Mrs. Clinton to win the presidency. One article I would point to is from the Washington Post; Trump’s reliance on non-Republicans by Jennifer Rubin March 8 in the March edition. I would encourage to read it and would like to know what your think.

      Wisconsin is going to be a real test of this theory. The vote tallied as winner take all electoral ballots by congressional district rather than by taking the whole state. Wisconsin has eight congressional districts. Based on historical voting patterns, Trump should win two. Although I have not yet seen any Progressives [voting] for Trump bumper stickers, the theory would say that Trump will walk away with six or seven of the districts. This means the prime mover behind four or five of district wins will be due to the crossover vote.

      Finally, what happened at AIPAC was neither shameful or frightening. What we heard was each candidate’s stump speech. Liberal Jews are horrified fairly frequently in the articles I read. And the ones who are not (not sure if that means not liberal or not horrified) may seem pretty smug, but smug they are not. All groups present know this election is critically important and will vote based on their best consideration and analysis. Among those I talked with at the conference, most all said a Trump presidency is not a good outcome. I’m believing that holds true regardless of what lines were applauded for and what lines were not even acknowledged. But lack of self awareness? Although not meant to be hurtful (I hope), hurtful it is. Especially if you agree with that and were not there with us.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Decent Average American

      Lisa, Why do you keep trying to turn 972 mag into a partisan outfit?
      It should not be the function of this magazine to support the Democrats or Republicans.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        No, Goldman should not be silent. Though you would like her to be. As Peter Beinart said, “At the March on Washington, Rabbi Prinz said that, “When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.” More than fifty years later, the most dangerous bigot and demagogue in modern American history is on the verge of claiming a major party’s presidential nomination. And America’s most powerful Jewish organization is silent because it was built to be silent. We American Jews owe our country better than that.”

        Reply to Comment
    7. Eliza

      ‘…..the ascendancy of Donald Trump is rooted in the rage and despair of the hollowed middle class and the impoverished working class…’ Maybe we should also factor in failure of the political process within Washington; the Congress that almost brought the USA to the point where it may not have been able to meet Government debts; the knowledge that both Republicans and Democrats rolled over and gave approval for the invasion of Iraq with as much thought as most give to what pizza to have on a Saturday night.

      The fact that Trump and Sanders are having such an impact is an indictment of the US political elite. OK, Sanders probably won’t make it but in what universe does a 74 year old democratic socialist stand a chance in the USA. Clinton is otherwise unopposed and as a seasoned politician backed by the establishment, she should be romping home in all the primaries. And she is not.

      I would say that American Jews are just as susceptible to Trump’s mumbo jumbo as any other group within the USA. Those who bother to attend AIPAC conferences will cheer any Israel good type senseless feelgood tripe from any candidate – as they have in the past. But the real problem is that sans Sanders, would it really make much difference if Clinton, Trump or Cruz was President? Would any of these candidates really do anything different re Israel? Clinton is even more fawning towards Zionism and Israel than Trump – and at least with him, there’s every chance he is just saying it to prepare for the deal.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Poor old extreme lefties. They are desperately trying to conflate Donald with AIPAC and Israel. What next? Nah don’t tell me, Donald is AIPAC’s stooge LOL.

        Reality check: Donald said he wants to be neutral on the question of Israel and the Arabs.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Reality check: Trump, who you affectionately call Donald, is a notorious liar who says one thing one day and denies it the next. (“I didn’t say I’d like to pay the sucker puncher’s legal fees….I didn’t say I’d like to punch that protester in the face…I didn’t hem and haw about David Duke….”) He did say that thing about being neutral, which disturbed AIPAC, whereas nothing else he ever said visibly disturbed AIPAC.

          Reality Check: What horrified AIPAC was that they got caught on camera roaring approval of Trump’s vicious attack on U.S. President Obama. Trump sure did not say the neutrality thing in front of AIPAC. Quite the opposite. He pandered to and fawned over AIPAC with gusto worthy of Hillary. (This from the man who vulgarly mocked Mitt Romney as being someone who he could command to “get on your knees.”) The only man or woman still standing is Bernie Sanders:

          Reality Check: The reality show guy’s uncharacteristic obsequiousness toward AIPAC and AIPAC alone is reality showing.

          To be continued…

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            LOL. Why is criticism of Obama so shameful that it would embarrass AIPAC to be caught approving it?

            LOL. What? Obama is a latter day saint who should be beyond being criticized?

            Only according to the Bennies of this world who never stop criticizing us…

            Reply to Comment
    8. Margot Dunne

      It seems to this observer, who is thankfully about as far away from both the US & Israel as you can get on this planet, that it would benefit us all if Israel became a state of America. At least we would all know where we stood geo-politically.
      Now – who will be the first among you to have a go at me – again.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav


        Reply to Comment