Protests planned for Trump speech at pro-Israel conference

NEW YORK Some rabbis and Jewish students are planning protests against Donald Trump’s speech on Monday at a conference of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC over what they say are his belittling comments about Muslims and other groups.

About 18,000 people are expected to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s three-day annual conference in Washington. It is not clear how many will either boycott or walk out of the Republican presidential front-runner’s address.

“He has taken every opportunity to vilify women, Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants and the disabled,” said Jeffrey Salkin, a rabbi in Hollywood, Florida, who asked rabbis across the country to join him in a boycott. He said 40 had agreed and signed a protest letter he hoped to distribute at the conference.

Another group of rabbis and students called Come Together Against Hate is planning to walk out of the room after Trump takes the stage. Jesse Olitzky, one of its organizers, said he did not know how many people would participate. The group’s Facebook page had 300 members.

Some of the students received an email earlier this week from AIPAC warning that if they disrupted the speech, they would have their conference access revoked. An AIPAC official said on Thursday the message “went out in error and was not authorized.”

“I know nothing about that,” Trump said in a Reuters interview on Thursday when asked if he had heard about the planned protests and whether he intended to respond.

When he announced his candidacy last summer, Trump said some people crossing the U.S. border from Mexico were criminals and rapists, and promised to build a wall along the border.

In December, he called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, on national security grounds. Last week, he told CNN: “Islam hates us.” The Anti-Defamation League and an organization of Reform rabbis condemned his comments.

AIPAC, which is non-partisan, routinely hosts presidential hopefuls at its conference. Trump’s remaining Republican rivals, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich, will address the group as well.

“The job of AIPAC is not to decide whose policies we like or look into the souls of people,” said Seth Siegel, an AIPAC veteran who said he was not speaking on behalf of the organization.

“It’s the organization’s job to try to educate elected officials about how to deepen the U.S.-Israel relationship for the benefit of both parties,” he said. “Having Trump speak at the policy conference is unambiguously part of that mission.”

(Reporting by Emily Flitter; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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