'Nothing less than the survival of American democracy is at stake'

US democracy at stake amid campaign violence, major Jewish group warns

American Jewish Committee appears to take on Trump a day after the Republican front-runner warned of riots if GOP blocks him

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 12, 2016. (AP/Tony Dejak)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 12, 2016. (AP/Tony Dejak)

WASHINGTON — Threats of political violence endanger the viability of American democracy, the American Jewish Committee warned Thursday, a day after Republican frontrunner Donald Trump predicted that there would be “riots” if his party tried to edge him out through a brokered convention.

“I think you’d have riots. I think you’d have riots,” Trump said Wednesday in an interview with CNN. “I’m representing a tremendous many, many millions of people.”

Although the AJC’s statement did not mention any candidates by name, its dire warnings seemed to reflect directly on Trump’s comments.

“Violence and threats of violence have no place in American politics. There should be no threats to disrupt political rallies and no threats to disrupt a convention if a candidate is denied the nomination by his party’s convention,” the organization admonished. “Too many democracies have failed, to be replaced by autocratic governments, when violence became a sanctioned political tool, especially by those who feel disenfranchised and choose not to await ordinary change at the ballot box.”

Warning that “nothing less than the survival of American democracy is at stake,” the AJC emphasized that “we hope that the violence seen so far is an aberration which stops now,” and called on “those who have resorted to, or sanctioned, violence” to “repudiate it now.”

Trump’s comments regarding a scenario in which the Republican establishment would seek to nominate someone else as the GOP candidate for president were far from the first time on the campaign trail that the brash businessman was seen as giving a nod to violence.

During a Fayetteville, NC rally, a non-violent protester was sucker-punched by a Trump supporter. As protesters were removed from the event, Trump himself told backers that “in the good old days this didn’t use to happen, because they used to treat them very rough. We’ve become very weak.”

Last week, a major campaign event in Chicago teetered on the brink of becoming an all-out melee when fistfights erupted between protesters and supporters.

Journalists and protesters alike have complained on a number of occasions that they have been victims of physical violence from Trump’s supporters and even senior staff members.

On multiple occasions, Trump suggested that the violence was due to agents provocateur in the crowds.

The AJC warned that such incidents could be a slippery slope.

“We do not draw analogies to the rise of communism and fascism lightly, but both of those tyrannical movements rose to power replacing democratically elected governments, by virtue of threats of, or actual, violence against their opponents,” the organization said.

The statement emphasized that the AJC is “strictly non-partisan” and “abstains from taking stands on candidates and is content to let the electoral processes play out. “But when the process is infected with threats of violence and disruption, it is not a candidate at issue; it is the viability of democracy itself.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and AJC Executive Director David Harris (right) during a meeting Monday in Israel (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi/AJC)
AJC Executive Director David Harris (Olivier Fitoussi/AJC)

As a non-partisan advocacy organization with a 501c3 tax status, the AJC does not – and in fact cannot – endorse or oppose candidates for elected office.

“Would AJC meet with Donald Trump? Yes, we would,” the group’s head, David Harris, answered in response to a Times of Israel query. “He is a leading candidate for the highest office in the land and, as an agency deeply involved in public policy issues, we would be absolutely remiss if we didn’t avail ourselves of such an opportunity to meet.”

Still, Harris continued, “while we are strictly non-partisan, it doesn’t render us mute in an election.

“We speak out on policies, not parties, and on issues, not individuals. For example, we stand for a healthy, respectful American pluralism, a robust US-Israel relationship, and strong American global leadership,” he added. “If those core principles are challenged by any of the candidates, then we won’t hesitate to reaffirm our views in favor of these principles, as we have in the past.”

The AJC’s statement came amid an impassioned debate in the American Jewish community around Trump’s plans to address an audience of over 18,000 next Monday at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference.

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