WASHINGTON – All three Republican presidential hopefuls and House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke Monday at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference about their commitment to the state of Israel.
The speeches were strikingly similar: They all expressed their complete support for continued close relationship with Israel and condemned the country’s enemies, which included Hamas, ISIS and Iran. They even used some of the same examples. Both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump referred to the fatal stabbing of a West Point graduate in the Israeli city of Jaffa earlier this year.
With every clear celebration of Israel and every renewed commitment made by the candidates, the crowd of thousands at Washington’s Verizon Center gave the candidates a standing ovation. However, by the time Cruz, the last speaker, took to the stage, the excitement was muted and many in the audience began to leave.
Hillary Clinton spoke in the morning and criticized Republican front-runner Donald Trump for saying he was neutral on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But when it was his turn to speak, he read from prepared remarks and joined the other candidates in offering his support for Israel. Trump usually speaks without notes.
He launched attacks at Clinton and President Barack Obama’s administration.
“Obama applies pressure to our friends and rewards our enemies,” Trump said. “That pattern, practiced by the president and his administration, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is a total disaster, by the way – she and President Obama have treated Israel very, very badly.”
As the evening proceeded, candidates seemed determined to one up each other, as if the event was a “who loves Israel more” competition.
Clinton said she would change the terms of the Iran nuclear deal if Iran failed to comply on time, and won applause.
Trump said that, having written one of the world’s best books on deal making, he would reach a better deal with Iran. And finally, Cruz said he would rip the deal apart on his first day in office. They all got applause.
The candidates spoke more broadly about Middle East policy. Cruz said his job as a senator had taken him to Israel more than once. Ohio Gov. John Kasich spoke about his first visit to the country in 1983. Trump, criticized frequently for his lack of knowledge in foreign policy, claimed superiority.
“I’ve studied this issue greater than anybody else, believe me,” the Republican front runner said. The audience responded with sustained laughter.
“I don’t need any on-the-job training,” Kasich said about his foreign policy credentials. “I will have an educated, experienced team of people with me.”
While all candidates expressed their condemnation of the acts of terrorism by Hamas and Palestine against Israel, the speeches also escalated in intensity as the night went on.
“Palestine has not existed since 1948” Cruz said.
Reach reporter Karina Meier at [email protected] or 202-408-1491. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
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