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Blue State Blues: Boycotts are Wrong for Israel — and for Donald Trump

Dozens of left-wing rabbis will boycott Donald Trump’s speech next week at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C.

One, Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, wrote: “We have been urging rabbis to simply not attend the Trump speech — to let our absence be felt and noted. Yes, AIPAC must be hospitable to Trump, but that does not mean that AIPAC participants are hospitable to the candidate’s ideas and candidacy.”

There is also talk of silent protests, and perhaps more.

Liel Leibovitz of Tablet Magazine — which has been running an incendiary “Trump Watch” column, headlined in German Gothic script — is urging AIPAC participants to walk out. Trump, he says, “is appealing to sheer and unmasked bigotry to fuel his incendiary political campaign,” and pro-Israel activists should not tolerate Trump’s “repeated and vile denigration of immigrants, Muslims, and others.”

Six years ago, there was also talk of boycotts — against Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who addressed AIPAC on the heels of a totally pointless diplomatic spat that began after Israel announced new construction in a Jewish neighborhood of East Jerusalem during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit.

The Obama administration went out of its way to inflame the crisis; Clinton berated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone for 45 minutes.

AIPAC reminded everyone to be polite: Hospitality to both parties is the organization’s most basic strategy (albeit one that failed to stop the Iran deal).

I happened to be at that 2010 conference, and chose to skip Clinton’s address rather than feel compelled to clap for someone who had just knifed our closest ally on the international stage.

(Those who attended kept their tempers in check. This year, she is back, seeking to make amends and win their support.)

But Trump has done nothing even close to what Clinton did. His only missteps are suggesting he would be “neutral” in negotiations, not in general, between the Israelis and the Palestinians — which is basically the historic U.S. posture, even if it is arguably a misguided one — and showing some initial reluctance to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (a promise that is routinely made, and later broken, by presidents of both parties).

The resistance to Trump has to do with extraneous issues, such as Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration; or the politically incorrect, even somewhat incendiary tone of his campaign. And much of it is simply partisan politics.

Rather than reward Trump for his pro-Israel posture — which even some Israelis have noticed, and have reciprocated with their support — some of AIPAC’s activists are determined to use his appearance to punish and humiliate him.

In a sense, they are treating Trump the way Israel is treated by the international community, i.e. focusing myopically on his flaws. Rather than being celebrated as the only democracy in the region, Israel is singled out for errors made in its defense against Palestinian terror and hostile neighbors. The so-called “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) movement sweeping across university campuses is not aimed at Israeli policies, but at Israel’s existence itself.

Legitimate criticism of Israel is often eclipsed by radical BDS rhetoric. And serious criticisms of Trump’s truly bad behavior — such as his recent comments about a Hispanic judge — are often lost amidst hysterical comparisons to Hitler.

The last thing pro-Israel activists should do is establish boycotts as a legitimate means of opposing shortcomings of an otherwise legitimate candidate or country.

Leave such drastic tools for humanity’s truly reprehensible cases.

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