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Clinton takes aim at Trump, says Israel's security 'non-negotiable'

Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 06:27

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Hillary Clinton charged that Donald Trump's inconsistency on Israel makes him unfit to be commander-in-chief as she laid out her case for the presidency Monday to an influential pro-Israel group.

[NEW YORK] Hillary Clinton charged that Donald Trump's inconsistency on Israel makes him unfit to be commander-in-chief as she laid out her case for the presidency Monday to an influential pro-Israel group.

"We need steady hands and not a president who says he's neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who knows what on Wednesday because everything's negotiable," she told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington. 

"Well, my friends, Israel's security is non-negotiable."

Although she never mentioned his name, the Democratic front-runner's comments were a direct rebuke to Mr Trump's suggestion last month that he would be "neutral" in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He's followed that by insisting that he's pro-Israel.

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The speech marked a pivot to the general election for Mrs Clinton. She delivered an address designed to appeal to conservatives in both parties for whom national security issues are at the forefront and took aim squarely at candidate leading the Republican nomination race.

In a nod to Mr Trump's often-controversial rhetoric and to the protests planned around his Monday evening speech to the conference, Mrs Clinton implored the crowd to stand up to bullies, invoking the story of Wednesday's Jewish holiday of Purim and its villain, Haman, whose name is booed when read.

"Let us never be neutral or silent in the face of bigotry," she said.

"Together, let's defend the shared values that already make America and Israel great."  Mrs Clinton also indirectly criticized her opponent for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, in asserting that the US must maintain its leadership role in the Middle East and elsewhere.

"It would be a serious mistake for the United States to abandon our responsibilities or cede the mantle of leadership for global peace and security to anyone else," she said.

Mr Trump will get his chance to respond during an evening session, as will the other two Republican presidential hopefuls left in the race - Texas senator Ted Cruz and Ohio governor John Kasich. Not surprisingly, it's Mr Trump's appearance that is expected to draw much of the attention. 

"Invitation is not endorsement" of the conference's speakers, Aipac managing director Richard Fishman said, noting that the group may not agree with the "substance, tactics or tone" of everyone who takes its stage. 

"If you agree, clap. If you disagree, don't. No policy position was every improved by booing," he added.

Multiple groups, including one organized by two rabbis, plan to protest Mr Trump from inside the conference halls. Others are planning to gather outside the Verizon Center in Washington's Chinatown, where Mr Trump will be speaking.

Jane Eisner, editor of The Forward, offered conference attendees a list of ways to diminish Trump's appearance, including not attending the speech or attending but responding to his applause lines with silence. Michael Koplow of Israel Policy Forum wrote that "Aipac cannot be seen as legitimizing Trump, even if it provides him with a pulpit" and encouraged attendees to boo the candidate's speech. 

Appearing Sunday on ABC's This Week, Mr Trump said "there is nobody more pro-Israel than I am" and added that Jews support a peace agreement.

"I'll tell you what, I don't know one Jewish person that doesn't want to have a deal, a good deal, a proper deal, but a really good deal," he said, hinting that while "it's probably one of the toughest deals" to make, he could be the right person to get it done.

Mrs Clinton's support of the Obama administration's agreement with Iran puts her at odds with Aipac, which coordinated ultimately unsuccessful efforts to block the Senate from approving the nuclear deal reached last year. With the agreement in place, Aipac is focused on pushing lawmakers to keep the pressure on Tehran and to vote to keep the Iran Sanctions Act in place past the end of the year, when it's set to expire.

Mrs Clinton vowed she would be dogged in enforcing the deal as president and in taking further steps against Iran and its allies if they violate the agreement or fail to step back from creating turmoil in the Middle East. She also used the issue to take a swipe at both Mr Trump and Mr Cruz.

There's a "big difference" between talking tough about holding Tehran to the terms "and actually doing it," she said.

In defending the agreement, Mrs Clinton said enforcing it is part of a broader strategy to confront Iran's behavior.

Part of that is the US continuing to ensure that Israel has a qualitative military edge over its adversaries as well has providing missile defense programs and intelligence sharing. Mr Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to ever win a presidential primary, is the only major candidate who won't be at the conference. In a letter to Aipac president Robert Cohen, Mr Sanders said that campaigning on the West Coast would keep him from the conference, and he promised to send a written speech.

"This is the speech he would have given to Aipac," Michael Briggs, Sanders' campaign spokesman, said in an e-mail. 

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