Inside the Pro-Israel Conference That Welcomed Trump
For AIPAC’s Jewish critics, though, the Trump invitation was just another layer on an already troubling agenda. “Trump or no Trump, we think AIPAC is worthy of protest,” said Simone Zimmerman, one of the founders of If Not Now, a grassroots group galvanizing young Jews, mostly under 35, against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. AIPAC’s invitation to Trump, said Zimmerman, was a “motivator to organize much more forcefully than we probably would have otherwise.”
Allowing Trump to speak, said Zimmerman, “is not being neutral. It’s providing legitimacy to the ideas he’s espousing.” The group drew about 200 protesters outside the Verizon Center Monday night.
Although several AIPAC attendees declined to speak to a reporter as they were exiting the arena at the conclusion of the evening, those who did reflected differences of opinion on Trump. Still, there appeared to be agreement that AIPAC speakers should be treated respectfully, something they said AIPAC organizers diligently enforced.
Rabbi Mario Rojzman, of Miami, said that while he has “disliked most of [Trump’s] positions,” including “how he treats minorities,” he was “thankful” that he came to AIPAC to state his position on issues related to Israel. As to the audience’s positive reaction, Rojzman said, “I think people love to be entertained. He develops entertainment.” Rojzman said he was “not a Trump guy.”
Susan Feldman, with AIPAC’s Palm Beach delegation, said that the AIPAC leaders “at every session made a statement that we are bipartisan,” and “stressed we were to be respectful of everybody’s point of view.” Asked about the rabbis who had said they would protest Trump’s speech, Feldman said, “I think the leaders got to them.” She said the leaders of AIPAC and of the individual state and city delegations that were at the conference “made sure that during the private parties they discussed it with them to be respectful, and as a bipartisan organization we’re interested in America and Israel together, that’s what we’re here for.”
Feldman added, though, that she was “shocked” that the audience “stood more with him [Trump] than any other candidate.”
Carole Shnier, who had traveled from Los Angeles for the conference, praised Trump’s “charisma,” “passion” and “fervor” and his “no-nonsense approach.” She said she had been on the fence, but “was overwhelmed in a positive way” by his speech. Now, she said, “there’s no question my feelings are Trump and Cruz, that to me would be the ideal ticket.”
Shnier added that she was “unbelievably disgusted” by the rabbis who planned to protest the speech, calling their action “despicable.”
“The fact that a rabbi, a leader of the Jewish people, would incite clearly bad behavior, disrespectful behavior, and to suggest to rally support of other Jews to be disrespectful is completely antithetical to the principles of Judaism,” said Shnier.
The divide between Shnier and If Not Now’s Zimmerman could not be more stark. “The fact that there are people at this conference who are expecting him to come prove that he’s a better friend of Israel and of the Jewish community, when they’ve heard him say these terrible, terrible things,” said Zimmerman, “just really makes me question the moral code that is guiding our community right now.”