Donald Trump’s last high-profile speech to a Jewish group was an awkward affair. Speaking at a Republican Jewish Coalition forum this past December, the GOP front-runner drew a smattering of boos when he refused to affirm his support for Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and questioned the country’s commitment to a two-state solution. In case that wasn’t uncomfortable enough for the conservative crowd, he also made a number of cringe-inducing jokes about Jews being shrewd at business and suggested that they want to “control” politicians with their money. A small snippet:
Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t renegotiate deals? Perhaps more than any room I’ve ever spoken in, maybe more. … I know why you’re not going to support me, you’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.
Given that performance—along with Trump’s general Trump-ness—it’s hard to imagine that his appearance at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference on Monday evening will go smoothly. A number of attendees plan to protest Trump’s speech, either by sitting in complete silence during his remarks or walking out in the middle of them to study passages of the Torah. While the strategies differ, the overall goal remains the same: to demonstrate that many in the Jewish community are worried about the political rise of an authoritarian strongman who blames various religious and ethnic groups for America’s problems. In that way, the Jewish demonstrators are less focused on Trump’s specific opinions about Israel and more on his ethno-nationalist worldview.
“You can approve of his policies, if you can discern what they actually are,” Liel Leibovitz, a staff writer for Tablet magazine, wrote in an editorial calling for a walkout. “You can find his narcissism funny, even charming. You can even turn your head away from the assaults on journalists, if not sanctioned by his campaign than at least supported by it. But the repeated and vile denigration of immigrants, Muslims, and others for no purpose save for the inflammation of electoral nervous systems is more than we ought to tolerate.”
As the New York Times points out, most American Jews are Democrats, not Republicans, so its unclear how much the general weariness of Trump among the community will impact his electoral chances. Still, Monday’s speech to the powerful pro-Israel lobby will give him another chance to defend his pro-Israel credentials, which could go a long way toward securing the support of someone like GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who appears to be warming up to him of late. More generally, it will serve as a foreign policy test for a man who has shown little interest in offering the type of specifics that many in the audience will be looking for. In the past, Trump has offered biographical details in place of policy ones—he’ll mention that his daughter and son-in-law are Jewish or that one time he served as the grand marshal of an Israel Day parade in Manhattan. When it comes to policy, though, Trump’s policy is not to state one. Here for instance, is how he answered a question about brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal during a debate earlier this year: “As a negotiator, I cannot do that as well if I’m taking sides,” he said, before adding: “That being said, I am totally pro-Israel.”
Monday’s speech, though, may be different. According to Politico, which was provided a preview of his plans, the celebrity businessman-turned-celebrity politician will—for the first time of his campaign—read from prepared remarks on stage, suggesting he may have at least done his homework. While I have my doubts that he will be capable of sticking to the script when the cameras are on, his decision to at least put pen to paper ahead of time suggests that Trump views AIPAC as an opportunity to look more presidential than he has over the past year, particularly as he moves closer to a general election matchup against Hillary Clinton, who will also be speaking at the conference on Monday. (The Democratic front-runner views AIPAC as an opportunity of her own—to attack Trump.)
The big wild card, though, remains the protests. We’ll have to wait and see how large they turn out to be, and how Trump reacts to them. With frightening frequency, protesters at Trump events have been met with physical violence from his supporters and his security team—though in this case, the tough-talking billionaire will be on the activists’ turf, not the other way around. He won’t have the option of pausing his speech and shouting “OK, get him out!” as he usually does, especially since many of those protesting plan to be heading for the exits all on their own.
*Correction, March 21, 2016: This post originally misspelled Politico.