Trump aims to woo pro-Israel donors at Aipac despite their lingering worries

Republican frontrunner reportedly consults with prominent GOP fundraisers for help with crafting remarks but many still fear his divisive ‘dog whistle’ rhetoric

As Donald Trump prepares to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), the Republican presidential frontrunner is facing mounting criticism from pro-Israel leaders for his incendiary rhetoric and policy stances.

Meanwhile, after months bashing other candidates for their links to big donors, Trump appears to be making inroads wooing some staunchly pro-Israel megadonors, including billionaire Sheldon Adelson – though other big check-writers still have huge concerns about his candidacy.

Despite awards Trump has received from pro-Israel groups and his boast that he would “do more for Israel than anyone else”, many Jewish leaders both conservative and liberal have found much to criticize about Trump.

The anti-Trump sentiments have targeted his numerous comments on the campaign trail that are perceived as anti-immigrant, anti-women and anti-Muslim, raising the stakes for the real estate billionaire in his Aipac speech on Monday evening.

“Anybody who is lauded by David Duke, Vladimir Putin and Jean-Marie Le Pen, I can’t support,” said former US senator Norm Coleman, a board member of the conservative pro-Israel Republican Jewish Coalition, of which Adelson is the lead funder. “They’re listening to his dog whistles and responding favorably, which frightens me.”

Coleman’s critique of Trump is only one of many from Jewish conservatives, religious leaders and some donors.

Pre-Aipac political fireworks began last week when a few dozen rabbis announced they intended to boycott Trump’s speech because of moral concerns about his inflammatory comments about Mexicans, Muslims and other issues.

“We object to Trump’s message,” said Jeff Salkin, a rabbi and Aipac member from Hollywood, Florida, and one of the boycott organizers. “It’s a message of division, bigotry and xenophobia. He’s threatened violence against protesters. This is about who and what we want America to be.”

Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator with the US State Department and now a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center thinktank, said: “In my experience dealing with the pro-Israel community in the US, there has never been a presidential candidate or a politician speaking at Aipac who has been more a source of division and fundamental opposition than Donald Trump.”

Trump sparked other concerns among conservative Jewish groups and donors late last year when he talked to a candidate forum organized by the hawkish Republican Jewish Coalition. In his remarks, Trump spoke of his desire if elected to be a “neutral” player in fostering peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

“We don’t want to be even-handed,” one RJC board member told the Guardian about Trump’s idea of being a neutral peace negotiator.

Trump has won plaudits in some conservative pro-Israel quarters for attacking President Obama and the secretary of state, John Kerry, for “selling out Israel” and lambasting the Iran nuclear deal as a “disaster” for Israel.

The Republican frontrunner has also touted his past support for Israel. When he received an award early last year from a Jewish news organization, Trump said: “We love Israel. We will fight for Israel 100%. We will fight for Israel 1,000%.” (Trump also often cites his role as grand marshal of the Israel parade in New York in 2004, and notes that one of his daughters is married to an orthodox Jew and that she converted as well.)

But to bolster his credentials, the Trump speech on Monday is expected by analysts and donors to be staunchly pro-Israel. It is also seen as a chance to burnish his image for Adelson and other major Jewish donors.

To build bridges to conservative allies and donors before his speech, the Trump campaign reportedly contacted some prominent GOP fundraisers for help in crafting his remarks.

To expand his Washington support, Trump was meeting before his speech with a couple of dozen lawmakers and lobbyists, a gathering that is slated to include Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, an early Trump backer, and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a prominent Middle East hawk.

Despite his harsh words for big donors on the campaign trail, Trump has been quietly wooing several megadonors including Adelson, who is a famously ardent supporter of Israel and confidant of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

At a candidate debate in December held at an Adelson casino resort in Las Vegas, Trump had a private meeting with Adelson, who had warm words for his fellow billionaire. At a press conference a few days later in Macau, where he owns major casinos, Adelson called Trump “very charming” and said they spoke about Israel.

Adelson donated close to $150m in 2012 to a mix of Super Pacs, which must reveal their donors, and not-for-profit organizations, which don’t have to disclose contributors, to help Republicans.

But other leading pro-Israel donors such as hedge fund chief Paul Singer still seem to have grave doubts about Trump. Singer, who donated $5m to a Super Pac backing Marco Rubio, has also been $1m donor to Our Principles Pac, which has run millions of dollars of anti-Trump ads in several states.

Our Principles is running ads in Utah before Tuesday’s caucus and will have spots up in Wisconsin before its primary next month to undercut Trump’s ability to get enough delegates to secure the nomination before the GOP convention this summer.

Other Trump critics in pro-Israel circles fear that a Trump candidacy could spell big trouble for GOP control of Congress.

Coleman, who chairs two outside groups that in recent elections have spent millions of dollars backing GOP House members, said: “I think a Trump candidacy runs the risk of losing the Senate and putting the House in play.”

Trump’s critics and his allies will be listening to see how much impact his Aipac speech will have on the campaign’s momentum and how much it may sway the legions of Trump doubters.


Peter Stone

The GuardianTramp

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