Washington / AFP
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump exchanged jabs as they separately courted a massive crowd of pro-Israel lobbyists, putting their differing views on supporting the Jewish state front and center in their White House battle.
Democrat Clinton positioned herself as an unwavering friend to Israel, while bashing her rival as prejudiced and insufficiently supportive of one of America’s closest allies.
It was a sign of likely points of attack should she face the Republican frontrunner in November’s US presidential election.
“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,” the Democratic frontrunner told nearly 18,000 attendees at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference.
“Israel’s security is non-negotiable.”
Trump traded the guerrilla tactics of his campaign for a day of more strategic political positioning, making three separate stops in Washington in a bid to look and sound more presidential as he and Clinton appeared to shift from their primary contests toward the general election.
At AIPAC, he dismissed the former secretary of state as “a total disaster,” and proclaimed his own “lifelong” love and support for Israel.
“When I become president, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on day one,” Trump told America’s most influential pro-Israel lobby in a speech notable in part because it had been crafted in advance and he read off teleprompters. Trump’s appearance was a point of contention for some, including a number of rabbis who vowed to walk out in protest. His address went ahead uninterrupted.
Clinton earlier implored the crowd: “If you see a bully, stand up to him.”
Republicans Ted Cruz and John Kasich also addressed the meeting, while Clinton’s Democratic nomination challenger Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, declined citing a heavy campaign schedule.
Trump has stressed in the past he wanted to be a neutral broker between Israel and Palestinians and not take “sides” when it came to peace talks.On Monday, he seemed to change tack. “We will move the embassy (from Tel Aviv) to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem,” he said to a standing ovation. “And we will send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel.”
Clinton said she would forcefully counter anti-Semitism, thwart Iran’s proxies like Hezbollah and fight against a movement to boycott Israeli products. But where she supported President Barack Obama’s historic nuclear deal with Iran, Trump insisted his “number one priority” would be to dismantle the agreement.