The political earthquake caused by Donald Trump’s presumptive nomination promises a particular aftershock: For the first time in recent history, a major party’s nominee is explicitly “neutral” on Israel. Many of Mr. Trump’s defenders — stalwart supporters of Israel — are, at best, shrugging off his positions, and, at worst, sanitizing them. But US-Israel relations are too important to be subject to partisan scrubbing of positions that veer radically from prior presidential candidates of both parties.
Mr. Trump’s views are not a matter for Talmudic interpretation. He has made himself quite clear.
In an Associated Press interview on the peace process last December, Mr. Trump stated: “I have a real question as to whether or not both sides want to make it… A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal — whether or not Israel’s willing to sacrifice certain things.”
But since when has the onus been on Israel alone? Surely Hamas and Hezbollah rockets and continued terrorist attacks have something to do with it.
Soon after the interview, Trump dug in even deeper at a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, questioning “if Israel has the commitment” to reach a peace deal. He wouldn’t even support a two-state solution when asked. But Jewish voters are supposed to feel comfortable with Trump because as he said in that same meeting, “”I’m a negotiator like you folks.”
By February, I was questioning Mr. Trump’s position on Israel even more. During an MSNBC Town Hall he told hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, “If I win, I don’t want to be in a position where I’m saying to you, and the other side now says, ‘We don’t want Trump involved’… let me sort of be a neutral guy… I don’t want to say whose fault is it, I don’t think it helps.”
So let me get this straight: Not only is Mr. Trump skeptical of Israel’s commitment to peace, but he also thinks his neutrality is going to help bring about peace?
No, what will help bring peace is a strong leader whose support for Israel never wavers – and who’s committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.
Mr. Trump is quick to list his credentials as Israel’s most ardent supporter: He was once the grand marshal of the Israel Day Parade in New York. But he’s not running for grand marshal. He’s running for President. And as president, his position on Israel would be not to take sides.
Mr. Trump’s professed neutrality is particularly dangerous given the rise of the BDS movement on America’s college campuses. The voices of double standards and hypocrisy can only be legitimized by a presidential candidate who gives voice to the notion that the problem in the Mideast peace process is Israel.
Thankfully, some of the Republican Party’s top pro-Israel thinkers agree with my assessment. In early March, Dan Senor, a Jewish Republican columnist, former George W. Bush administration official, and Romney’s top foreign policy advisor, pledged not to vote for Trump if he becomes his party’s nominee. “I’m not voting for Donald Trump,” he declared. “I’m not voting for him in the primary and I’m not for him in the general.”
And William Kristol who founded the Emergency Committee for Israel, wrote in a press release, “If you’re pro-Israel, you shouldn’t be pro-Trump. Apologists for dictators aren’t reliable friends of the Jewish state.”
I respect their courage and candor. And I hope others will put their professed support for a strong Israel ahead of partisan calculation. Giving Mr. Trump a pass on such a fundamental issue is not only cynical, it’s dangerous.
With so much going on – new tunnels being dug from Gaza to Israel, negotiations over a new US. package of military cooperation, incitement of a new generation of terrorists in Palestinian schools – this is not the time to accept a presidential candidate who wants to “sort of be a neutral guy.”
Donald Trump’s stance on Israel’s security is highly risky. And Israel’s security — as an American interest — is just too important to risk.
Steve Israel is the US Representative for New York’s 3rd congressional district.