Speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition on Thursday, Donald Trump once again demonstrated how he is not your typical presidential candidate.
“You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money,” Trump told members of the Sheldon Adelson-funded hardline pro-Israel lobbying organization.
He went on to mock rival Jeb Bush for taking money from interest groups and then toeing their line. “That’s why you don’t want to give me money, OK, but that’s OK, you want to control your own politician. That’s fine, good,” he concluded.
And then, unlike the candidates who do want the coalition’s money, Trump broke with GOP orthodoxy, questioning Israel’s commitment to peace, calling for even treatment in Israeli-Palestinian deal-making, and refusing to call for Jerusalem to be Israel’s undivided capital — provoking a wave of boos from the audience.
Trump was asked about earlier comments he had made to an Associated Press reporter that he believes peace hinges on “whether or not Israel wants to make the deal — whether or not Israel’s willing to sacrifice certain things.”
Trump was quickly assailed after that comment by rival candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who argued that land rights and a peace deal were not the issue and that Trump shouldn’t “question Israel’s commitment to peace.”
Trump continued to take a considerably more even-handed approach to the issue than his rivals at the event on Thursday. “I said that you have to have a commitment to make [peace]. I don’t know that Israel has the commitment to make it. I don’t know that the other side has the commitment to make it,” he said.
“I’d like to go in with a clean slate, and just say, ‘Let’s go, everybody’s even, we love everybody and let’s see if we can do something.’”
The moderator tried to pin Trump down on the litmus-test issue of whether Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel.
“You know what I want to do, I want to wait until I meet with Bi —” started Trump before he was interrupted by booing.
“Who’s the wise guy?” Trump asked. “Do me a favor, just relax, OK. You’ll like me very much, believe me, and you wonder why you get yourself in trouble.”
Trump continued to heckle his heckler: “You can’t go in with that attitude. If you’re going to make a deal, you could make a great deal, you can’t go in with the attitude we’re going to shove it down your — you gotta go in and get it and do it nicely so everyone is happy.”
In other words, to Trump, who prides himself on deal-making, it’s simply obvious that you can’t make a deal between two people if you start off by saying one of them always gets their way no matter what.
Trump’s comments on refusing to take RJC money start around the 17-minute mark, and the testy question-and-answer period begins about 20 minutes in.
Trump praised Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and criticized the nuclear deal with Iran, and he got a laugh out of the crowd when he said, “Look, I’m a negotiator like you folks; we’re negotiators.”
But his call for parity in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict made his rhetoric rare among recent presidential contenders.
Refusing to call for an undivided Jerusalem is almost unheard of— even among Democrats.
Then-senator Barack Obama made that call during his 2008 campaign, and then-senator Hillary Clinton did it in 2007.
This year, Trump’s rivals Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., both want the U.S. Embassy to be moved to Jerusalem to cement its status as undivided.
Although presidential candidates typically adopt that position during their campaigns, they abandon it when in government. Every administration, Republican and Democrat, has used a waiver to avoid compliance with the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act, arguing that it would harm the peace process and thus U.S. national security.