(March 21, 2016 / JNS) As Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican contender Donald Trump emerge as the clear front-runners for their respective parties’ nominations, Clinton on Monday told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference that she is a “steady” alternative to Trump when it comes to Israel and the Middle East.
“We need steady hands. Not a president who said he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday, and who knows what on Wednesday…Israel’s security is non-negotiable,” Clinton said, referring to Trump’s recent comments that he would be a “neutral” peace broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump’s Republican rivals have also targeted those remarks.
Clinton also used her AIPAC speech to condemn Trump for encouraging violence, “playing coy” with white supremacists, and proposing policies such as a ban on Muslim immigration.
“Will we as Americans and as Israelis stay true to the shared democratic values that have always been at the heart of our relationship?” Clinton asked, adding that values such as a thriving immigrant culture, tolerance, and pluralism make both the U.S. and Israel a “light unto the nations.”
“We cannot rest on what previous generations have accomplished. Every generation has to renew our values, and yes, even fight for them,” she said.
Referencing this week’s upcoming Jewish holiday of Purim, Clinton said Queen Esther “refused to say silent in the face of evil,” and so should Americans.
“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim,” she said, quoting famed Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Earlier in her speech, Clinton said that America’s next president “will walk into the Oval Office next January and immediately face a world of both perils we must meet with strength and skills, and opportunities we must build on.” She told the crowd of AIPAC supporters that they would understand how “walking away is not an option” in the Middle East, and that presidential candidates who think America no longer has an interest in that region are “dangerously wrong.” America, said Clinton, can’t “cede the mantle of leadership for global peace and security to anyone else.”
“We have to combat all these trends with even more intense security and diplomatic cooperation. The United States and Israel must be closer than ever, stronger than ever, and more determined than ever to overcome our common adversaries and advance our shared values.”
Clinton criticized Palestinian leaders for inciting violence and praising terrorism, while praising the effectiveness of Israel’s U.S.-funded Iron Dome missile defense system.
“We will never allow Israel’s adversaries to think a wedge can be driven between us,” she said, explaining that when the U.S. and Israel have differences, she would work quickly to resolve them.
Clinton said America and Israel “must take our alliance to the next level” through reaching a new 10-year memorandum of understanding on defense “as soon as possible.”
“That will also send a clear message to Israel’s enemies that the United States and Israel stand together, united,” she said, adding that she would make a “firm commitment” to ensure Israel maintains its qualitative military edge, as well as work to bolster Israeli missile defense and technology to detect terror tunnels.
Clinton also said that “one of the first things” she would do in office is “invite the Israeli prime minister to visit the White House,” a remark that was met with a standing ovation.
The presidential candidate and former secretary of state said she has been “sounding the alarm for a while now” about the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, She urged the college students in the crowd, “Don’t let anyone silence you, bully you, or try to shut down debate.”
“Anti-Semitism has no place in any civilized society. Not in America, not in Europe, not anywhere,” she said.
Reiterating the theme of taking U.S-Israel ties to the “next level,” Clinton said other presidential candidates have “very different visions” of American leadership on foreign policy—policies that would “insult our allies, not engage them,” and embolden America’s enemies.
Clinton touted her leadership of diplomacy to impose “crippling sanctions” that forced Iran to the negotiating table on its nuclear program, and also noted her support of last summer’s Iran nuclear deal, saying the deal “put a lid” on the Iranian nuclear program by increasing Iran’s potential breakout time and creating new verification measures. Yet the approach to Iran, she said, should be “distrust and verify.”
“This deal must come with vigorous enforcement…and a broader strategy to confront Iran’s aggression across the region,” said Clinton. “We cannot forget that Tehran’s fingerprints are on almost every conflict across the Middle East….There’s a big difference between talking about holding Tehran accountable and actually doing it….The United States will act to stop [Iranian violations of the nuclear deal] and we will do so with force if necessary.”
Regarding the Iranian-funded Hezbollah terror group, Clinton said, “If the Arab League can designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, surely it is time for all of our friends in Europe and in the international community to do so as well.”
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Clinton said she remains convinced that peace is possible and that a two-state solution is Israel’s only option for remaining a Jewish and democratic state. “Inaction” is not an option in the peace process, she said.
“If we look at the broader regional context, converging interests between Israel and key Arab states could make it possible to promote progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue,” said Clinton.
Both sides in the conflict should take “positive actions that can rebuild trust,” such as the recent meetings between Israeli and Palestinian finance ministers, Clinton said. Terrorism “should never be encouraged” and children should not be taught hate in schools, she said, referencing Palestinian actions. But she added that Israel should also avoid “damaging” actions, “including with respect to settlements.”
Following the address, Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks said Clinton’s speech “rings hollow.”
“Actions speak louder than words and Hillary’s words can do little to paper over her disastrous tenure as secretary of state,” Brooks said in a statement. “Under Secretary Clinton, the U.S.-Israel relationship reached its lowest point and she supported the United States-brokered, ill-conceived, and disastrous nuclear deal with Iran. At every turn when her actions could achieve real results and speak louder than words, Secretary of State Clinton chose instead to sit and do nothing. Pro-Israel voters have learned from painful experience that there is a difference between political speeches and governing priorities. Hillary Clinton has proven time and again that talk is cheap, and today was no different.”