Today is Not Enough

Jewish Light Editorial

Could Donald Trump read a prepared speech? Would Bernie Sanders take Israel to task from a distance? Would Hillary Clinton carve out some turf for herself independent of President Barack Obama? Would anyone pay particularly close attention to Ted Cruz or John Kasich?

The answers — relating to presidential candidates appearing Monday (or in Sanders’ case, not appearing) before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference, are:

Yes, yes, yes and not so much.

But maybe the most welcome words of the conference came from AIPAC itself, and rendered abundantly clear to attendees and the world the true purpose of the organization.

By Tuesday morning, as the maniacal bombings in Brussels took the world’s center stage, the AIPAC event appeared to be, both literally and figuratively, yesterday’s news. And rightly so — no number of political words can erase the destruction wrought by the pure evil that manifested itself in Belgium, now being claimed by ISIS.


In terms of the future relationship of America’s next leader to the State of Israel, Monday cleared up some matters that could be quite germane leading into November’s general election. Were the words meaningful, or simply plays to the candidates’ respective bases of support?

That remains to be seen.

So we learned, for instance, that Trump could mouth the right pro-Israel words in front of the 18,000 attendees. That despite his previous comments calling for “neutrality” in Israeli-Palestinian matters. And even earlier the same day, some of his words before the Washington Post’s editorial board suggested a markedly anti-interventionist philosophy — one that might even imply dissociation from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

And we learned that Sanders may have chosen not to attend AIPAC because of his fairly critical words toward the Israeli government’s policies. While he had reportedly offered to appear by video, a proposal rebuffed by AIPAC, his prepared statement was laced with empathy for Palestinian suffering and chastisements about settlements, and so his comments might well have played better from afar than in person.

And we learned that Clinton was far more emphatic on Israeli issues, at least in rhetoric and tone, than Vice President Joe Biden, who also addressed the gathering. And Times of Israel Editor David Horovitz found some of her comments to be a deliberate, though subtle, distancing from the current administration:

“ ‘If I am fortunate enough to be elected president,’ she promised, ‘… we will never allow Israel’s adversaries to think a wedge can be driven between us. When we have differences, as any friends do, we will work to resolve them quickly and respectfully.’ ”

But then Tuesday came perhaps the most important of utterances, this one from AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus. In responding to Trump’s battering of the outgoing American president (“He may be the worst thing that ever happened to Israel”) and the resultant audience cheers, Pinkus said, speaking on behalf of the lay and staff leadership of the organization: “We say unequivocally that we do not countenance ad hominem attacks and we take great offense at those that are levied against the president of the United States of America from our stage.”

And this: “Let us take this moment to pledge to each other that in this divisive and tension-filled political season, we will not allow those who wish to divide this movement from the left or from the right to succeed in doing so.”

Pinkus, who spoke with obvious emotion, received a standing ovation for her words, and rightly so. For while candidates for office have one agenda, AIPAC’s mission is quite something else — the safety, security and thriving of the State of Israel.

This doesn’t mean AIPAC supports everything every administration says or does. The organized Israel lobby has gotten quite frustrated with American presidents of the past as well; lest Trump wasn’t focused on it at the time, the Republican administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush received significant scorn for some of their actions and positions toward Israel.

AIPAC was notably upset with the Iran agreement negotiated by the Obama team. But it has always made patently clear that its focus lay not in who or which party fills the presidency (or other offices, for that matter), but in what the group believes is in the best interests of Israel. Agree or disagree with its conclusions as you will, but party preference is not part of AIPAC’s mission or tactics.

It was essential that Pinkus spoke to this point firmly and without reservation, and it was equally important that the attendees responded vibrantly to the message. For political leaders will come and go, but Israel must be forever.