Reform Movement prayer service at the Western Wall .
(photo credit: Y.R)
NEW YORK – The Union for Reform Judaism came out swinging against Republican front-runner Donald Trump on Monday, accusing the candidate of “hate speech” and “naked appeals to bigotry” following his invitation to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington next week.
AIPAC, the largest pro-Israel lobbying group in the United States, invited Trump to its annual policy conference, which is being held from March 20-22, at which he is expected to clarify his views on Middle East policy. Prominent political figures on both the left and the right frequently address the gathering, which is seen by many as a necessary prerequisite to garnering Jewish electoral support.
All of the candidates were invited, an AIPAC spokesman told The Jerusalem Post, with Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and US Vice President Joe Biden also slated to attend.
In a statement the respective heads of the Reform Movement and its Central Conference of American Rabbis explained that, while they understand AIPAC’s “responsibility” to engage with candidates and determine their views on Israel, they could not ignore Trump’s record and feel that they must make their views known.
Accusing the real estate tycoon of “naked appeals to bigotry, especially against Hispanics and Muslims” as well as insulting statements against women and the African American community, the Reform leaders said that Trump appears to have “gone out of his way to encourage violence at his campaign events.”
Tensions between Trump supporters and opponents, which have escalated into violence on several occasions, continued to rise on Saturday when a supporter of the Republican front-runner was caught on video screaming at protesters outside a rally to “go to f---ing Auschwitz” this week.
Several days ago a Trump supporter was charged with assault after punching a protester in the face as he was being escorted out of a rally, while a reporter for Breitbart News last week filed criminal charges against Trump’s campaign manager for grabbing her arm as she attempted to ask the candidate a question.
The Trump campaign denies the incident took place.
While the campaign has taken to playing a recorded message calling for calm before rallies, rhetoric such as a recent statement that Trump would like to “punch [a protester] in the face” has raised concerns among opponents that he is fanning the flames of violence.
“At every turn, Mr. Trump has chosen to take the low road, sowing seeds of hatred and division in our body politic,” the Central Conference of American Rabbis wrote, adding that his “extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric reminds us that our own ancestors’ access to American shores of freedom and promise were once blocked, with deadly consequences.”
Trump’s previously stated support for torture, since walked back, and his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States “are all anathema to our fundamental values,” they continued.
“The values we hold most dear – justice, mercy, compassion, peace – are altogether absent from Mr. Trump’s statements.”
And while the Reform movement does not endorse or oppose any candidates and does not do so now, they stated, “Trump is not simply another candidate.”
“In his words and actions, he makes clear that he is engaging in a new form of political discourse, and so the response to his candidacy demands a new approach, as well. The Reform Movement and our leaders will engage with Mr. Trump at the AIPAC Policy Conference in a way that affirms our nation’s democracy and our most cherished Jewish values. We will find an appropriate and powerful way to make our voices heard.”
The Reform heads were not the first Jewish leaders to speak out against Trump. Late last month a senior leader of the Conservative Movement, in a personal statement unconnected to his organization, accused the candidate of “using racism and fear mongering” and blasted him for declining to condemn the Klu Klux Klan.
During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union in late February, host Jake Tapper repeatedly asked Trump if he would distance himself from the white supremacist organization, prompting the candidate to respond that he did not know “anything about David Duke.”
He subsequently blamed his answer on a broken earpiece.
That incident led the to a condemnation by the Anti-Defamation League, which subsequently sent out information packets on hate groups to the leading presidential candidates.
While Trump has come under fire from various Jewish groups, however, he seems to be popular among America’s ultra-Orthodox, many of whom have said that they support him. Speaking to Vice News, one ultra-Orthodox reporter said that “support for Trump is widespread” among hassidim.
All of the candidates were invited, with Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton also supposed to address the gathering.