WASHINGTON (JTA) – Hillary Clinton derided Donald Trump as a feckless negotiator and told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that “walking away” from the Middle East was not an option for the United States, a broadside against the Republican front-runner that signaled her general election strategy.
“We need steady hands, not a president who says he is neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who knows what on Wednesday,” the former secretary of state and front-runner for the Democratic U.S. presidential nod said Monday addressing the annual AIPAC conference.
“American can’t ever be neutral when it comes to Israel’s security and survival,” Clinton said, to repeated cheers and applause. “Some things aren’t negotiable and anyone who doesn’t understand that has no business in being our president.”
Trump, a real estate magnate, has staked much of his candidacy on his skills as a negotiator, and has made that the centerpiece of his pledge to seek Israeli-Palestinian peace. He also has said he would be neutral when brokering peace.
Clinton’s speech, running more than 30 minutes, made clear she would cast her experience, as chief diplomat, senator from New York and first lady, against Trump’s bid to stake his claim to the presidency based on his success as a businessman.
Clinton’s campaign has in recent days pivoted toward a strategy of challenging Trump’s self-presentation, as the candidates have emerged as their party’s likely candidates in the general election.
Clinton also took aim at calls to decrease American involvement in the region. “Candidates for president who thinks the United States of America can outsource Israel’s security to dictators or that America no longer has vital interests in this region are dangerously wrong,” she said.
Two of the Republican candidates, Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as well as Clinton’s Democratic rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have called for a decreased American profile in the region and greater reliance on regional armies.
Clinton listed Trump’s more controversial calls, including a ban on Muslim entry into the United States and the violence he has at times encouraged at his rallies.
“Tonight, you will get a glimpse of a potential U.S. foreign policy that would insult our allies, not engage with them and embolden our adversaries, not defeat them,” she said, referring to Trump’s AIPAC speech scheduled for Monday night.
She recalled the U.S. failure to take in Jewish refugees from Nazi occupied Europe and noted the forthcoming Purim holiday, when Esther risked her life to speak up against oppression of Jews.
“If you see bigotry, oppose it; if you see violence, condemn it; if you see a bully, stand up to him,” she said to a standing ovation. “Let us never be neutral or silent in the face of bigotry.”