WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton on Monday attacked Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who has taken heat in pro-Israel circles for arguing that he would be “neutral” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Without naming him, Clinton repeatedly knocked Trump for his position on Israel and other issues during a speech in front of nearly 18,000 people at the annual Washington gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group.
“We need steady hands, not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who knows on Wednesday,” Clinton said to applause. “Israel’s security is non-negotiable.”
She continued, “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. Some things aren’t negotiable, and anyone who doesn’t understand that has no business being our president.”
Speaking hours before Trump himself addresses AIPAC, Clinton didn’t just knock Trump for his positions on Israel, but also criticized the Republican front-runner and her potential opponent in the 2016 general election for his calls to temporarily ban all foreign Muslims from entering the U.S. and “playing coy with white supremacists” — a reference to Trump’s failure to immediately condemn the support he’s received from white supremacist groups.
“We’ve had dark chapters in our history before,” Clinton said before pointing to America’s refusal to allow a ship packed with Jewish refugees to dock in the U.S. in 1939.
“But America should be better than this, and I believe it’s our responsibility as citizens to say so. If you see bigotry, oppose it. If you see violence, condemn it. If you see a bully, stand up to him,” Clinton said.
While a group of rabbis and other pro-Israel leaders are planning to protest Trump’s speech later Monday at AIPAC, Clinton’s speech Monday was well-received as the audience of Israel supporters loudly cheered throughout her address — and not just when she reamed Trump.
Clinton also laid out the shared challenges that the U.S. and Israel face in the Middle East and pledged to take the relationship between the two countries “to the next level” if elected president.
“While the turmoil in the Middle East presents enormous challenge and complexity, walking away is not an option,” Clinton told the conference, adding that those threats make “the U.S.-Israel alliance more indispensable than ever.”
The former secretary of state and senator from New York pointed to her longstanding commitment to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and took the opportunity to condemn the spate of terrorist attacks that have plagued Israel in the last year, calling on Palestinian leaders to “stop inciting” violence and rewarding the families of terrorists.
Though she has deep ties to Israel and the Jewish community, she has also been part of an Obama administration often at odds with that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Some in the pro-Israel community have knocked her for her part in several years of frosty relations as the country’s chief diplomat.
Clinton, however, suggested on Monday that she would take a different course were she elected to replace President Barack Obama. She said soon into her time in the Oval Office she would look forward to receiving the Israeli Prime Minister there.
Clinton also vowed to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region and also spoke to her longstanding commitment to Israel, noting that she feels a “deep emotional connection with Israel” stemming from her first visit to the Jewish nation 35 years ago.
Clinton, whose role in laying the groundwork for the Iran nuclear deal during her time in President Barack Obama’s administration may be a sore point for some pro-Israel leaders, also addressed her plans to enforce the agreement.
“It’s not good enough to trust and verify. Our approach must be distrust and verify,” Clinton said, repeating a line she used last year in a speech at the Brookings Institution aimed at reassuring pro-Israel supporters of her commitment to protecting Israel’s security.
Calling on Palestinian leaders to stop fostering and instead condemn terrorism, Clinton also said “everyone has to do their part by avoiding damaging actions,” which Clinton said included Israel’s continued settlement construction in the West Bank.