It is very tempting to dismiss US presidential candidates’ speeches to the annual AIPAC convention during an electoral year as meaningless words designed to please the audience.
After all, didn’t Democratic candidate Barack Obama tell the AIPAC crowd on June 4, 2008, during the heat of that year’s presidential campaign: “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”
Didn’t candidate Obama say regarding negotiations he envisioned at the time with Iran that “We will present a clear choice. If you abandon your dangerous nuclear program, support for terror and threats to Israel, there will be meaningful incentives — including the lifting of sanctions and political and economic integration with the international community. If you refuse, we will ratchet up the pressure.”
Yet, neither of those principles were exactly guiding lights for the Obama administration’s policies over the last seven years. On Jerusalem, the president criticizes every new building project in any Jewish neighborhood beyond the Green Line, and regarding Iran, negotiations with Tehran were conducted completely divorced from that country’s support of terrorism and continued threats against Israel.
So, the first instinct is to take candidate Hillary Clinton’s strongly pro-Israel speech to AIPAC on Monday with a healthy dose of “Let’s wait and see.”
But, at the same time, there were some significant components in that speech.
First and foremost was that she delivered such a pro-Israel address at all.
Of the five candidates still in the presidential hunt, only Clinton’s Democratic rival for the nomination, Bernie Sanders, opted not to speak to the fervently pro-Israel crowd. And his no-show is extremely telling.
His strongest support comes from the progressive flank of the party – one that polls consistently show is growing more distant from Israel.
As Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin suggested in an article on Sunday: “It should hardly be considered surprising that Sanders would choose to avoid an appearance that could only alienate some of his most ardent followers.”
Clinton deserves credit, therefore, for willing to give a strongly pro-Israel speech to AIPAC, even though it is probably not music to the ears of a not insignificant sector of her party.
Then, there is the speech itself and what it says of the type of policy toward Israel one could expect under a Clinton presidency.
Clinton did two things in her speech. One was to distance herself from Donald Trump, and the other was as to let the audience know that she knows what bothers them about Obama – and that she would do things differently.
This is why she stressed in the speech, to applause, that: “One of the first things I’ll do in office is invite the Israeli prime minister to visit the White House.”
This is why she stressed in the speech, to the applause of an audience that remembers Obama’s comment about a need for some daylight between Israel and the US, that “we will never allow Israel’s adversaries to think a wedge can be driven between us.”
And this is why she stressed, to applause, that, as president: “I would vigorously oppose any attempt by outside parties to impose a solution, including by the UN Security Council.”
This line was particularly significant given media reports earlier this month that the Obama administration was considering one last stab at Israeli-Palestinian peace, perhaps using the UNSC as a vehicle to change the paradigms, much to Israel’s chagrin.
Regarding Trump, Clinton slammed him by saying the US needs “steady hands” at its helm, “not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who knows what on Wednesday, because everything’s negotiable. Well, my friends, Israel’s security is non-negotiable.”
While the policies toward Israel of a president Hillary Clinton, who did serve four years as Obama’s secretary of state, would probably not be that dramatically different from Obama’s, she wanted her audience on Monday to believe that her tone would be significantly more pleasing to their ears.