I have always intended this blog to be about synagogue matters related in some way to money. So my apologies upfront for what I hope is a one-time change.
Last week’s AIPAC conference and all of the controversy whether or not Donald Trump should have been invited to speak, and whether people should walk out in protest when he speaks reminds me of a similar event almost 30 years ago. Back in the late 1980s, the Washington Conference sponsored by the UJA Young Leadership Cabinet was the place to be when it came to Israel and politics. The first Intifada was in its infancy. Yitzhak Shamir was Israel’s Prime Minister. On his way to meet with President Ronald Reagan, he was going to address the 3000 young adults who were gathered at the Washington Hilton.
I was the Young Leadership Director at the MetroWest Jewish Federation and staffed our delegation.
Most of the press reports were about how Reagan was going to read Shamir the riot act. Israel had to be more flexible with the Palestinians. AIPAC staff were working collaboratively with the UJA Staff on various aspects of the conference. For the two days leading up to Shamir’s address, conference attendees were told repeatedly by whoever was at the podium to show Prime Minster Shamir the respect he deserves as the leader of the state of Israel, even if you might disagree with his views.
Five minutes into his speech, Shamir received the first of several standing ovations. At the end of his speech, it was like a Bar Mitzvah or a wedding. People would have carried Shamir on a chair if the Secret Service and Mossad agents had let them. The reception that Shamir received empowered him to stand up to President Reagan and say that he has the support of the American Jewish community.
This was also the view that several of my Israeli friends had shared with me a few months later when I visited Israel.
Fast forward to last week. The presidential campaign has been pretty crazy. Whether you like or dislike any of the candidates really doesn’t matter. Trump should have been invited to the AIPAC Conference. Similar to Shamir, conference attendees were told several times to show respect for Donald Trump. Jerusalem should be the capital; the Iran deal was a bad deal. The list goes on. Trump knew his audience and spoke to the issues of importance to them regarding Israel. And this led to many standing ovations.
Israel will always remain important to synagogue life in North America. Look at our liturgy. Look at our history since Israel’s creation. Teenagers and adults continue to go and tour and study. So we all have a stake in what happens at a conference like AIPAC, and JStreet also.
How the presidential candidates view Israel has become a litmus test for election. That is why they are invited to AIPAC and address so many questions about Israel in media interviews throughout the campaign.
Like Shamir, Mr. Trump now feels emboldened and that he has the support of the American Jewish Community regarding his views on Israel.
Maybe AIPAC should have asked Mr. Trump to show the same respect it had asked of the conference attendees. Maybe this should have been part of Mr. Trump’s introduction before his speech. Although I am not sure it would have made a difference
The apology by AIPAC’s leadership for Mr. Trump’s comments about President Obama seemed sincere. And while it was reported in many media reports, it wasn’t covered live like Mr. Trump’s speech on cable TV.