Sunday, March 20, 2016

Could AIPAC Be Trump's Toughest Room Yet?

In a conference meant to convey unity in the pro-Israel community, nothing has been more divisive for AIPAC than Monday's scheduled speech by Republican front-runner Donald Trump. I don't necessarily fault AIPAC for extending the invitation (as it does to all significant presidential candidates), but I also agree that his speech cannot be an occasion for business as usual. And many in the Jewish community -- ranging from Jane Eisner to Liel Leibovitz to Todd Gitlin -- have been urging a forceful response by conference attendees to emphasize that Trump values are not Jewish values.

Which raises the question: Will AIPAC be the toughest venue Trump faces?

In a sense, it won't be simply because many AIPAC attendees will be walking out before or during his speech -- they won't be in the room at all.

But that reaction -- the breadth of it and the strength of it -- demonstrates the more general point. AIPAC is far less friendly terrain for someone like Trump than many imagine. Contrary to the tired stereotypes, AIPAC is not a particularly conservative organization -- liberal or liberal-leaning organizations are well represented among its membership and advisory council. What is fair to say is that these groups have often been too fragmented or passive to really make a mark; and more conservative voices have accordingly set the agenda with relative impunity. But Trump has, finally, unified progressive elements within the AIPAC tent and motivated them to plant their feet a bit. Among the groups that have directly or indirectly condemned Trump are the Reform Movement, the Reconstructionist Movement, the AJC, and the ADL. Together, those encompass a huge swath of the organized Jewish community. And if Donald Trump is what prompts these groups to finally unify and start insisting on a louder voice in determining what "pro-Israel" means, I'm all for it.

Much of these groups' antipathy stems from Trump's abhorrent rhetoric directed at Muslims, Latinos, and pretty much any other outgroup that he can blame for America's ills. But let's be clear --  Trump is not afraid to engage in Jew-baiting either (remember "You're Not Going To Support Me Because I Don't Want Your Money"?). In general, Donald Trump has been the best thing to happen to American anti-Semites in recent memory -- it's no accident they've rallied to his side.

Trump is used to friendly audiences who are there to go gaga over him, with a few protesters mixed in that he can bully out of the room. Whatever criticisms one has of AIPAC -- and there are plenty of grounds for criticism -- its conference is not on his home turf. And I both expect and hope that it is the Jewish community -- and the pro-Israel community no less -- that is the first to get the opportunity to show just how unwelcome he is up close and in person.

1 comment:

Mordy said...

Two quibbles. 1. Though distaste for Trump unifies those disparate groups it's hard to imagine that these moderate (left-leaning) institutions agree about enough else for their de facto alliance to impact other issues. 2. Trump is supposedly preparing a more serious, nuanced speech for the meeting which suggests he recognizes that a) more is expected here than "build a wall" red meat and b) that there are high stakes. If he can't win over AIPAC (or at least defuse its growing resistance to his candidacy) it will make it much harder for him to represent the Republican party - something that with all his talk of "party unity" he recognizes he will need if he hopes to contest in November.