I am currently attending the AIPAC annual policy conference, and I will not be boycotting Donald Trump. I am aware that some Rabbis are planning to boycott Donald Trump’s speech at AIPAC this year, but I have decided not to be one of them. I did not come to this decision easily, and took into account two major considerations when debating what to do. The first question as I see it, is Halachic: To what degree are we obligated to offer tochacha, rebuke, for others’ inappropriate behavior? The second question is more political: Is staging a protest of a presidential candidate, despite our misgivings about him, a good or bad political move for the Jews and for Israel?
Reagrding the Halachic question, I believe that it is appropriate to offer tochacha if you believe that someone is acting inappropriately. In fact, the Nimukei Yosef in Yevamot explains that we are required to rebuke a group of people at least once, even if we know that they won’t listen to us, in order to demonstrate that we don’t condone their behavior. If we believe that Trump’s behavior is inappropriate and deserves rebuke, we should do so even if we do not believe that he will listen.
That leaves us with the political consideration. The AIPAC annual policy conference is not the right place to boycott Donald Trump. AIPAC is a bipartisan lobbying group that works with every political leader, regardless of platform or party affiliation. Boycotting Donald Trump specifically at this forum would undermine a primary mission of AIPAC. Every Shabbat in shul, we recite a prayer for the United States government. Historically, Jews have recited this prayer for their governmental leaders for hundreds of years. They have done so partly out of a fulfillment of the statement of Rabbi Chanina Sgan Hakohanim in the Mishna in Pirkei Avot (3:2) that one should pray for the welfare of his government so that there will be stability and not anarchy. However, scholars suggest that another reason early congregations said the prayer for the government was in order to curry favor with their governmental leaders. Protesting one candidate at AIPAC will create the appearance that AIPAC is not bipartisan as it has claimed, but that it in fact aligns with some candidates at the expense of others. This perception carries the great risk of undermining AIPAC’s core mission to form relationships with all political leaders, especially one who may become the next president of the United States.
I would argue that instead of using the AIPAC policy conference as a means to fulfill the mitzvah of tochacha, the Rabbis should join together via another platform, with men and women of all faiths who feel that Trump is inciting hatred and violence. Together, we can and should send the message that this type of behavior is not befitting anyone, let alone someone who is running for the presidency of the United States.
Let us not jeopardize the important work that AIPAC does by airing our tochacha at this year’s annual conference. Let us take a page from our long history and be mindful of the political realities in which we live. However, let us certainly make our voices heard. I, for one, have done so by signing an open letter to Mr. Trump penned by a colleague, Rabbi Yosie Levine, of the Jewish Center, which can be accessed here. Joining together, let us find the appropriate time and place to scream from the roof tops, that hatred and violence are not what we stand for, and not what we expect in our leaders or our own communities.