Looking for Glimmers of Light Amidst the Darkness and Shame of Trump at #AIPAC

AIPAC logoFor much of the last decade, I have enjoyed
attending the AIPAC Policy Conference in DC.  The politicians, the speeches, the excitement and the sheer number of people who love Israel have all been draws.  This year, I could not attend as I had major surgery a week ago, but I was thankful that my daughter and my shul – Temple Emunah – has such a nice delegation.

Temple Emunah logoAfter watching the major addresses this year through the internet, I feel differently.

Trump – I am embarrassed by the support he received at the AIPAC Policy Conference; frankly, I hoped more people would sit in respectful silence.  But, I should have known better.  The same mob mentality that animates sporting events and Trump’s other rallies, animated this one.  Reflexively, Israel supporters stand and cheer about moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.  It’s our capital, for goodness sakes!

I was thankful that  there were groups that left his speech and protested by studying texts about loving our neighbors (including my daughter).  But there were far too few who left, and those who sat in silence were drummed out by those who chose to stand and cheer.  And the cheering against President Obama was despicable.  Thankfully, AIPAC’s leadership apologized for that this morning.

I want to ask each of the Trump supporters at AIPAC: what were you thinking?  Is it OK to support a demagogue who spouts classic pro-Israel lines?  Do we care about our support if it comes from people like him?  Do you care about immigrants?  People from Mexico?  Women?  Muslims?  People with Disabilities?

I want to understand the people who support him; they must be filled with incredible fear. The fact that he has such support among Americans is troubling, as it is among supporters of Israel. I am proud of the Conservative and Reform Movements and many other colleagues who have come out against his non-stop hate speech.

While I understand his presence at the Policy Conference, I pray that those who are supporting him look inside and try to understand why they feel compelled by his rhetoric. Let me add that Trump’s words are an anathema to Judaism. His hatred of other groups is disgusting. His followers threaten others and practice violence – it is not a good day when this man receives a standing ovation from the Jewish community. A man endorsed by David Duke no less!   A man who has his followers take fascist oaths! It is a sad day for the Jewish people.

Yasher koah to colleagues like Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld who stood up, put a tallit over his head and shouted: “Do not listen to this man. He is wicked. He inspired racists and bigots.” There should have been more voices of protest and fewer cheers of support. This is a shameful day.

On the other end of the spectrum, Joe Biden is a super-mensch. His 45-minute speech on Sunday night was personal, thoughtful and right on target. He was able to express strong support for Israel, while, like a good friend, calling Israel out in areas like the settlements where that criticism is merited. His powerful ending moved me to tears. I kind of wish he were running for President, but I am still hopeful that his thoughtful, nuanced words will be the kind our next president will preach.

And finally, my overall feelings towards AIPAC, are changing.  I have heard from some about how AIPAC is the same as Bibi and the GOP and Trump.  As a proud left-wing member of AIPAC, I take issue with that. I support AIPAC and the New Israel Fund. I meet with my Senator to ask for stronger support for Israel, even as I meet with Imams and Muslim leaders to build bridges between our communities. I do not agree with everything that AIPAC does. And I surely do not agree with all those who support AIPAC, especially the Trump enthusiasts.

But I do believe in AIPAC – it is the address that strengthens the U.S.-Israel relationship in a bipartisan fashion. Its work – taking political and student leaders to Israel, supporting those who work for Israel, and making sure that whoever is in power – in the U.S. or Israel – has Israel’s back is fundamental. I know that for many on the right it is not enough. They fear that Israel’s existence is at stake and that AIPAC’s positions do not sufficiently protect Israel. And I hear very loudly from those on the left who feel that it enables immoral positions like supporting the occupation. I hear both of these critiques and they are why I do not support more extreme groups like the Zionist Organization of America. I still believe that AIPAC can stand strongly for Israel while continuing to support a two-state solution.

It will be important to see how AIPAC moves forward in the coming days and weeks.  Does it try to move to become a more centrist organization or does it continue its right-wing tilt?  And moving forward, how can it prevent itself from being shamed by the behavior of its members at a future Trump or Trump-esque speech?

It will need to start by spreading more light into the darkness.

For more on my perspectives on Israel and AIPAC, see these blog posts on Times of Israel:

Jerusalem, We Have a Problem

These and Those Words: Bibi, AIPAC, Iran, and Purim

And for a vision of a better tomorrow:

Baseball, Lakin, Rabin, and Peace

And this piece, Israel at Sixty-Five: A Complex Birthday

About the Author
Spiritual leader of Temple Emunah, Lexington, Mass. since 2004, David Lerner also serves as the immediate past president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis. He is one of the founders of Community Hevra Kadisha of Greater Boston and ClergyAgainstBullets.org. After his ordination at Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was a Wexner Graduate Fellow, Rabbi Lerner served at NSS Beth El in Highland Park, IL.