For those who don't know, there's been a debate roiling around AIPAC's annual policy conference. AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, always invites all candidates to its conference in an election year. This year, that means inviting Trump, a decision which has rankled many within the Jewish community. Far from being a regular case of disagreeing with a candidate, many feel that Trump is beyond the pale--that his hateful and incendiary rhetoric make him inappropriate to include.
AIPAC is in a tough spot. They always invite all the candidates, and to disinvite one, or to put up preconditions (e.g. that he renounce hateful rhetoric) would run counter to their goal of working with all elected leaders in order to support Israel. And, there's a real possibility that Trump could be the next president. What would happen to AIPAC (and, potentially, to Israel) if a candidate got elected after having been publicly shunned by AIPAC? On the other hand, there must be a line--would AIPAC invite a neo-Nazi candidate?* I certainly hope not, no matter how strong his/her polling numbers were. It's a genuinely tough call; I'm glad that I'm not the one who had to make this decision.
* To be clear, I'm not saying that Trump is like Hitler. Yes, I know that there are points of similarity, but until he actually starts planning the mass execution of a group of people, he's not another Hitler. There are plenty of valid ways to compare him, appropriately, to odious historical figures. My point, instead, is to show that there IS a line which, presumably, AIPAC won't cross. Now the question is simply whether Trump is over that line.
At the same time as the "Should AIPAC have invited him?" debate has been raging, there's been a parallel debate about what we, Jews and Jewish leaders, should do now that he is invited, and is planning on speaking. There have been some who have called for a boycott of the whole conference--just don't go. Others have called for loud, angry protests--to try to drown him out. Many are calling for silence--just sit there, without applauding or cheering, greeting him with silence.
To me, the boycotting won't work--too many people are going to go, and the relatively few who won't, won't make a real impact. Angrily protesting? I get the idea, and I instinctively love the impulse, but Trump feeds off this kind of animosity. Plus, I'd worry about the real possibility of violence breaking out, which serves no one's purpose. As for sitting in silence--again, I love the idea, in theory. A room full of people, stoic and silent, could make for a powerful image. But, not everyone is going to join in a silent protest, and that means that everyone who is sitting silently is now, for all intents and purposes, just attending the speech. If 3/4 of the room are cheering, or booing, or whatever, then the silent people aren't really doing anything, and aren't going to get noticed. Unintentionally, they'll get counted in with the majority. The headline will simply be that X number of Jews attended Trump's speech at AIPAC.
Ultimately, the best idea (I think) is from a diverse group of rabbis who are organizing a walkout. When Trump enters, they'll simply stand up and silently walk out, and they're encouraging everyone who is willing to join them. Imagine what that will look like! Even better, they're organizing a teaching session in the lobby on Derech Eretz--civility and decency, as a counter-program to Trump. Beautiful.
I'm not attending the conference--not out of protest, but because of schedule and budget. But, if I were going, I'm pretty sure I'd be part of that group. The title of the conference this year is "Come Together." The response to Trump is being called "Come Together Against Hate." I'm an unabashed lover of Israel, and I greatly appreciate the work which AIPAC does in trying to support our homeland. But, there do have to be lines. I'd be proud to stand against hate, and against anyone who peddles in it.