Donald Trump’s much-anticipated address to a leading pro-Israel lobbying group Monday evening was light on his trademark improvisation and full of standard rhetoric favoring the U.S. ally.
In a departure from his shambolic, off-the-cuff approach at his campaign rallies, Trump mostly stuck to prepared remarks read from a teleprompter, declaring at the outset that he’s “a newcomer to politics but not to backing the Jewish state.”
Playing to his image as the anti-politician, Trump asserted that he “didn’t come here tonight to pander about Israel. That’s what politicians do — all talk, no action,” he told the assembled members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
But his relatively staid speech stuck largely to themes tailored to appeal to the pro-Israel crowd, including bashing President Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran as “disastrous” and decrying Palestinians for “glorifying terrorists.”
He also vowed to move the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a goal of pro-Israel advocates.
Trump, who has been criticized for lacking specificity in his policy proposals, peppered his address with details on ballistic weapons, terrorist groups and Middle East geography.
He said he had studied the “catastrophic” Iran nuclear deal “in great detail — actually, I would say, greater by far than anybody else,” an assertion that prompted laughter from the audience. AIPAC helped lead a massive but ultimately unsuccessful effort to stop the deal last summer.
Trump, who had said during a Republican debate that he would want to appear “somewhat neutral” in order to negotiate a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, sided decisively with Israel in his remarks Monday night.
“The Palestinians must come to the table knowing that the bond between the United States and Israel is absolutely, totally unbreakable,” he said.
He kept references to 2016 electoral politics relatively light, save for a quick jab at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, whom he called “a total disaster.”
“She and President Obama have treated Israel very, very badly,” Trump said.
Earlier in the day, Clinton took several pointed, if veiled, swipes at Trump, for both his campaign rhetoric and his self-described neutrality on Israel-Palestinian relations.
“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,” Clinton said in her speech Monday morning. “Well, my friends, Israel’s security is non-negotiable.”
Trump did insert some of his signature unconventional rhetorical flourishes into the speech’s traditional format.
He noted, as he has before, that he served as grand marshal in a 2004 pro-Israel parade in New York — a time of violent clashes in the Gaza Strip that, Trump claimed, risked the safety of supporters of Israel in the United States.
“Many people turned down this honor,” he said. “I did not. I took the risk and I’m glad I did.”
He closed his remarks noting that his daughter, Ivanka, whose husband, Jared Kushner, is Jewish, had converted to Judaism and is expecting “a beautiful Jewish baby.”
“In fact, it could be happening right now, which would be very nice, as far as I’m concerned!” he said.
Follow @melmason for more on the 2016 presidential race.