WASHINGTON — With thinly veiled attacks and sharply contrasting views, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton gave a preview of what could be a long, contentious presidential race this fall in their speeches Monday to America’s most powerful Jewish group.
Trump and Clinton, the two leading candidates for the White House, clashed over each other’s abilities, the effectiveness of the Obama Administration’s Iran nuclear deal and U.S.-Israel relations as they sought to win over members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee at its annual convention here.
Trump called Clinton “a total disaster” as secretary of state under President Barack Obama, whom he called possibly “the worst thing that has happened to Israel” during his half hour evening address, with a few audience members walking out amid protests outside the hall.
“My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” Trump said, saying the deal gave $150 billion to Iran with nothing in return. “I have been in business a long time. I know deal making. And let me tell you this deal is catastrophic.”
Clinton hammered Trump, without mentioning his name, for changing his positions on his statement in a debate that he’d be a “neutral broker” in negotiating a Middle East peace, and for rhetoric she said encouraged violence and bigotry, during her half hour speech in the morning.
“Yes, we need steady hands, 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 said. “Well my friends, Israel’s security is non-negotiable.”
Clinton acknowledged her role in creating international sanctions on Iran to bring it to the negotiating table for the deal, and said under it Iran’s enriched uranium is all but gone, thousands of centrifuges have stopped and a verification regime is in place to stop cheating.
“The United States, Israel and the world are a safer as a result,” Clinton said.
The annual convention of AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobbying and support group, is a rite of passage for presidential candidates every four years, drawing pledges of support for the state of Israel by all White House hopefuls.
Trump and Clinton were joined by Republican candidates Ted Cruz and John Kasich and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in addressing the convention, with an estimated 18,000 people in attendance at the Verizon Center, including 900 delegates from Long Island.
Clinton rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), did not appear at the convention.
As Trump mounted the circular stage for his address, a few audience members silently walked out in protest over Trump’s rhetoric and conduct at his rallies, especially what they called his wholesale attacks on Muslims and encouragement of violence.
Rabbi Irwin Zeplowitz, rabbi at the Community Synagogue in Port Washington, said he decided to stand up, turn his back and walk out in protest because “the kind of rhetoric and kind of political stands that Donald Trump has taken have no place in American political discourse.”
Still, Trump spoke to what appeared to a mostly full house that applauded and cheered during his speech.
Trump sought to establish his credentials and history of support for Israel, saying he had been grand marshal at a pro-Israel parade and that his daughter, who he said is pregnant, had converted to Judaism, and to show he would be a president who got things done.
“I did not come here to pander to you about Israel. That’s what politicians do. All talk no action,” he said as he stressed his skill as a negotiator.
But he did make promises advocated by AIPAC, including moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and rejecting any peace settlement between Israel and Palestinian leaders imposed by the United Nations.
Clinton, meanwhile, decried events on the campaign trail - in an oblique reference to Trump - which she said included “encouraging violence, playing coy with white supremacists, calling for 12 million immigrants to be rounded up and deported, demanding we turn away refugees because of their religion and proposing a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.”
Clinton said, “America should be better than this. If you see bigotry, oppose it. If you see violence, condemn it. If you see a bully, stand up to him.”