(December 11, 2019 / JNS) Most of the media—and the Jewish media, in particular—roundly criticized President Donald Trump’s 45-minute speech before 4,000 Israel supporters at the Israeli-American Council National Summit in Florida on Saturday night. Headlines focused primarily on Trump’s off-color, tangential remarks, intentionally overshadowing the substantive ones that highlighted the president’s overwhelmingly pro-Israel policies.
Yet the speech was anything but a negative diatribe, from a president who proudly proclaimed that “after eight long years in which our alliance was undermined and neglected, I am happy to report that the United States-Israeli relationship is stronger now than ever before.”
The energy in the room at the conference, among a crowd of Israelis who have made their homes in America and continue to share a love of their Jewish homeland, was electric. Even those that disapprove of the president’s unorthodox style were appreciative of the fact that the most powerful man in the free world, who proclaimed that “the Jewish state has never had a better friend in the White House,” would address their group.
For Trump, the decision to speak at the IAC, which he called “the fastest-growing Jewish organization in the nation,” was strategic on several levels. With more than 4,000 attendees, this conference represents the largest overwhelmingly supportive Jewish crowd Trump could hope to assemble. Perhaps more importantly, the summit took place in southern Florida, an area with a high concentration of potential Jewish voters. In the 2020 elections, Florida may once again turn out to be the single most important state.
Excerpts from Trump’s address were broadcast on national and local news channels, and viewers could see the obviously warm welcome the president received from a large Jewish audience. If a few thousand Jews, who in the past voted for Democrats, instead decide to cast their support for Trump amid fears over waning support for the Jewish state in an increasingly progressive Democratic Party, that could potentially swing the entire election in Trump’s favor.
Moreover, Trump’s speech, and the rousing ovations that met it, were delivered in front of mega-philanthropists and Trump supporters Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.
Indeed, Miriam Adelson introduced Trump to the crowd. During her remarks, she paused after the first time she mentioned the president by name. Music started and the president came onto the podium, believing it was his cue, but Miriam had not yet concluded her speech. She told the audience—in front of the president—that she needed “five more minutes,” and then continued with her speech while Trump stood patiently behind her. As Trump will be dependent on contributions from the Adelsons in 2020, this address is likely to have aided Trump’s upcoming campaign financing.
In his address, Trump combined the roles of president, reelection candidate and professional entertainer. It was unlike any other speech a pro-Israel audience has ever heard from a nation’s head of state. Yet instead of reporting on the positive energy and warm reception, and the strengthening of the alliance between the current administration and the State of Israel, most outlets either focused on what the president did not say, or on the less polished, unscripted remarks that make the Trump presidency unlike any other before it.
The Jerusalem Post, for example, published an editorial headlined ‘Trump’s rhetoric,” proclaiming that the president’s “remarks smacked of classic stereotypes of Jews,” and both the Post and Times of Israel focused coverage on comments that made for negative headlines, including Trump’s statement that some American Jews “don’t love Israel enough”—a sentiment many Jews in both America and Israel share with the president.
Below is a short selection of remarks picked up by most media outlets, followed by a much longer list of comments that were glossed over by the media, but which provide a better insight into the content and mood of a speech that represented the state of the union between the American Jewish community, the State of Israel and the current U.S. administration.
Regarding declining support for Israel within the organized Jewish communal world: “We have to get the people of our country, of this country, to love Israel more. … Because you have people that are Jewish people, that are great people—they don’t love Israel enough. You know that.”
On why Jews may decide to switch their party allegiance in 2020: “You have to vote for me; you have no choice. You’re not going to vote for Pocahontas [referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren], I can tell you that. You’re not going to vote for the wealth tax. ‘Yeah, let’s take 100 percent of your wealth away.’ No, no. Even if you don’t like me; some of you don’t. Some of you I don’t like at all, actually. (Laughter.) And you’re going to be my biggest supporters because you’ll be out of business in about 15 minutes, if they [the Democratic candidates] get it.”
Trump often went off-script to talk about himself: “I’m really a good builder. I really probably do that the best. Some people said, are you a better builder or a better politician? And I thought I was going to say builder, because I really was good, you know? I built good. And then I said to myself, ‘Well, let’s see: I was a good builder. I was very successful. I did a great job. Know how to build. But then I got into politics. And I only ran once, and I became president, so I guess I’m a better politician.’ I don’t know. Maybe I’m a better politician. I don’t know, maybe I’m a better politician. I don’t know. But I’m a good builder.”
On the strength of the U.S.-Israel alliance: “I have to say, on behalf of everyone here today, I want to thank Miriam and Sheldon for the extraordinary commitment they make to fostering an unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel. It’s unbreakable. Unbreakable.”
As well as: “It’s truly my honor to be here this evening to celebrate our progress to deepen the incredible partnership between the United States and Israel. And it suffered very gravely in the last administration. I don’t know if you know that. So many of you voted for people in the last administration. Someday, you’ll have to explain that to me, because I don’t think they liked Israel too much. I’m sorry. I don’t think they liked Israel too much. After eight long years in which our alliance was undermined and neglected, I am happy to report that the United States-Israeli relationship is stronger now than ever before.
“America and Israel are woven together by history, heritage, and the hearts of our people. We share a love of freedom, democracy, religious liberty, the rule of law, and national sovereignty. And we share that. The friendship between our countries is essential to achieving a more safe, just and peaceful world. That is why every single day since I took the Oath of Office, I have stood firmly, strongly, and proudly with the people of Israel. You know that.”
Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority
On his recognition of Jerusalem and moving the embassy: “For over 20 years, every previous president promised to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. And they never acted, they never did it. They never had any intention of doing it, in my opinion.”
On defunding of the Palestinian Authority: “To combat these wicked extremist organizations, I signed legislation to withhold U.S. taxpayer dollars from the Palestinian Authority until they stop rewarding terrorists with blood money.”
Explaining the decision to withhold funds prior to the release of an upcoming peace proposal: “I went back and spoke to negotiators, because for years and years, they’ve been trying to make this deal. I said, ‘Did you ever hold back the money?’ They said, ‘No, why? We didn’t think it was right to do.’ I said, ‘I do.’ … If they’re going to say bad things about us, if they’re going to do evil acts, we’re not paying it. And that’s the way it is. That’s the way it is. It’s a lot of money. Almost $600 million a year. So we withhold it. And hopefully, we’ll work a deal and everybody will be happy. But I don’t know how the hell you negotiate a deal when you’re paying them money.”
On the fight against Islamic extremism in the Middle East: “Today, the ISIS caliphate has been 100 percent obliterated. One hundred percent.”
Islamic Republic of Iran
On Iran and breaking up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal: “My administration is also confronting the world’s No. 1 state of terror. You know who that is: the state sponsor of terror, the brutal dictatorship in Iran.”
Trump added that perhaps the “biggest thing” he did for Israel “was breaking up and terminating the horrible, one-sided, catastrophic deal that was made by President [Barack] Obama.’ … We paid $150 billion to Iran; $1.8 billion in cash. We got nothing.”
On Iran’s nuclear ambitions: “The Iranian regime routinely traffics in the most toxic and heinous anti-Semitism. You know that better than anybody. Last year, the country’s supreme leader, as they call him, said Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor that has to be removed and eradicated from the face of the Earth… we can never give them a nuclear weapon. We can never do that. We can never do that. … We must never allow a regime that chants ‘Death to America’ or ‘Death to Israel’ to obtain a nuclear weapon.”
On the international Iran sanctions regime: “They have riots all over their country. They don’t have money. We put sanctions on them; the strongest sanctions ever imposed on a country. And let’s see what happens. Their GDP went down 25 percent this year. Twenty-five. Nobody has ever even heard of that. So we’ll see.”
On America’s support for the Iranian people: “The regime funds violence and chaos and mayhem throughout the region, but the greatest victims are its own people. In recent weeks, we’ve seen the Iranian people rising up to reclaim the noble destiny of their nation. In response, the dictatorship has killed hundreds and hundreds and probably thousands of those people. Probably thousands. You know they turned off the Internet. There’s no Internet. There’s no form of communication. I believe thousands of people have been killed. Thousands and thousands of people have been arrested. America will always stand with the Iranian people in their righteous struggle for freedom.”
On generations of anti-Semitism: “Throughout history, anti-Semitism has produced untold pain, suffering evil and destruction. We must not ignore the vile poison or those who spread its venomous creed.”
On the fight against anti-Semitism: “My administration is committed to aggressively challenging and confronting anti-Semitic bigotry in every resource, and using every single weapon at our disposal. I said in my State of the Union address last year, ‘With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere that it occurs. … We’re grateful to be joined tonight by our new Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Elan Carr.’ ”
Carr then came on stage to explain the efforts he is making internationally to “roll-back anti-Semitism” and thanked the president for “making this fight a top priority for our country.”
On anti-Israel bias at the United Nations: “Roughly 80 times this past decade, the United Nations Human Rights Council has denounced Israel while ignoring many of the worst human rights abuses anywhere in the world. To call out this egregious hypocrisy, I withdrew the United States from the U.N. Human Rights Council.”
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)
On Israeli rights to live and do business in Judea and Samaria, commonly referred to as the West Bank: “Recently, the European Union Court of Justice has also tried to discriminate against products made in Israeli settlements, advancing the agenda of [the] anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement … commonly known as BDS. My administration has now corrected a long-standing injustice by officially declaring that international law does not prohibit civilian settlements in the West Bank.”
On BDS efforts at American universities: “I want to be very clear: my administration vigorously condemns the BDS campaign against Israel. But sadly, BDS has also made disturbing headway on American college campuses. You know that, don’t you?”
On increasing attacks on Israel from within the Democratic Party: “Shockingly, a number of far-left members of Congress have also recently joined the international effort to bully, attack, and denigrate Israel. … Earlier this year, a number of prominent Democrat lawmakers sponsored legislation to support the BDS movement. You know that, right?
“Outrageously, the resolution compared boycotting Israel to boycotting Nazi Germany, a grave insult to the memory of the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. … Make no mistake: Radical lawmakers who support the BDS movement are advancing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda. And Americans will not stand for it. We’re not going to stand for it. … My administration strongly opposes this despicable rhetoric.”
Trump ended the address by inviting the heroic Shalva Band—a musical group comprised of Israelis with special needs and fronted by two visually impaired singers that has become a symbol of Israeli inclusion and charitable spirit—to sing a powerful rendition of “God Bless America,” saying, “I also want to recognize the Israeli Shalva Band for their amazing performance tonight. … Millions of people watched their terrific appearance at Eurovision earlier this year. They were incredible, and they are an inspiration to the entire world.”
Following the speech, in an unscripted and truly genuine moment, members of the band went over to embrace the president, who was smiling and gracious, and posed for pictures together with the band.
The speech received numerous standing ovations, and there was much laughter and booing of Israel’s enemies. The audience waved American and Israeli flags. Much of the crowd stood throughout the entire speech. Occasional chants of “four more years” peppered the speech. Those who dislike the president kept their jeers to themselves and afterwards readily acknowledged that the speech’s pro-Israel content was undeniable, and that the president’s performance was entertaining.
Several of the self-professed liberals and Trump-haters in attendance, including some who chose to boycott the president’s speech, even told JNS that given a choice between particular Democratic candidates and Trump, they would likely see no choice but to vote for Trump in 2020.
To conclude, Trump’s address at the IAC conference was an unmistakably positive event, even for those who dislike the president’s style. However, that fact, and most of the quotes included here, were not reported on by much of the media. Instead, reporters searched for the asides they could spin to promote an anti-Trump agenda.
It is fortunate for the Jewish nation that the current president’s policies on Israel and the Jews are not guided by those who criticize him or the government of Israel.
Alex Traiman is the managing director and Jerusalem Bureau Chief of the Jewish News Syndicate.
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