Donald Trump shot back at Hillary Clinton during a well-received speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee given hours after the former secretary of state blasted the billionaire Republican front-runner's promise to remain "neutral" in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Trump—who along with Clinton, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, all addressed the influential pro-Israel group Monday—blasted President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, and tossed in a jab at the Democratic front-runner for good measure.
"What President Obama gets wrong about dealmaking is that he constantly applies pressure to our friends and rewards our enemies," Trump said reading from a prepared speech that he peppered with ad-libs. "That pattern, practiced by the president and his administration, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is total disaster, by the way... she and president Obama have treated Israel very, very badly. But it has repeated itself over and over and has done nothing but embolden those who hate America."
During a February town hall hosted by MSNBC, Trump said that if elected president he would remain neutral in negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis. He didn't repeat that position in his comments to AIPAC.
Speaking at the forum earlier in the day, Clinton said Trump's inconsistency on Israel makes him unfit to be commander-in-chief as she laid out her case for the presidency Monday to the group.
“We need steady hands and not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who-knows-what on Wednesday because everything's negotiable," she told the AIPAC in Washington. "Israel's security is non-negotiable."
Although she never mentioned his name, the Democratic front-runner's comments were a direct rebuke to Trump. Kasich also criticized Trump without mentioning his name, saying "we cannot be ‘neutral' in defending our allies.”
Trump's closest GOP rival, however, was more direct.
"As president, I will not be neutral. America will stand unapologetically with the nation of Israel," Cruz said. "Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have said they would maintain this Iranian deal, although Donald has promised he's going to negotiate and get a better deal. Well, my view is very different. In my first day in office I will rip this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal to shreds."
While Cruz sought to portray himself as the presidential candidate most closely aligned with Israel, Clinton's speech marked a pivot to the general election. She delivered an address designed to appeal to conservatives in both parties for whom national security issues are at the forefront and took aim at candidate leading the Republican race.
Trump steered clear of his pledge to keep an open mind in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, instead bashing the Iran deal, the United Nations, and the Obama administration.
"With President Obama in his final year—yeah!" Trump said to perhaps the most sustained applause of his speech, "He may be the worst thing to ever happen to Israel, believe me. Believe me. And you know it, and you know it better than anybody. Discussions have been swirling about an attempt to bring a security council resolution on the terms of an eventual agreement between Israel and Palestine. Let me be clear: An agreement imposed by the UN would be a total and complete disaster."
For her part, Clinton implored the crowd to stand up to bullies, invoking the story of Wednesday's Jewish holiday of Purim and its villain, Haman, whose name is booed when read. "Let us never be neutral or silent in the face of bigotry," she said. "Together, let's defend the shared values that already make America and Israel great."
Clinton also indirectly criticized her opponent for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, by saying that the U.S. must maintain its leadership role in the Middle East and elsewhere.
"It would be a serious mistake for the United States to abandon our responsibilities or cede the mantle of leadership for global peace and security to anyone else," she said.
The only current presidential candidate to skip AIPAC was Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win a presidential primary.
Instead, he delivered a foreign policy speech in Salt Lake City, a day before the Democratic caucuses in Utah.
He said the U.S. and Israel are united by democratic principles. But that doesn't mean there aren't areas of disagreement and friends must be "honest and truthful'' about differences, he said.
Sanders said the only prospect for peace "is the successful negotiation of a two state solution" with the Palestinians. "This will require compromises on both sides, but I believe it can be done," he said.
"Invitation is not endorsement" of the conference's speakers, AIPAC Managing Director Richard Fishman said, adding that the group may not agree with the "substance, tactics or tone" of everyone who takes its stage.
—Arit John and Justin Sink contributed to this report