Among the many advantages my coreligionists tout about a Trump presidency is that he would inevitably be “pro Israel.” They point to his rhetoric about moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (a promise already rescinded), making the first call as president-elect to PM Netanyahu, and of course his court Jews, namely Jared Kushner.
There are two serious flaws with this simplistic, reductionist line of thinking. First, “pro Israel” presidencies have not historically coincided with the most peaceful years of Israel’s existence. Second, the simultaneous promotion of Jews and alt-right supporters to positions of power will undoubtedly serve as bait for hatemongers to convince their ilk that “Jews are running the show” ━ which can prove dangerous, particularly in times of crises (be they financial or security related). Therefore, a wait-and-see approach is preferable before jumping aboard the Trump bandwagon, as history has shown that qualifications for being termed “pro Israel” are usually well beyond the surface of words, and reside in the realm of strategic action.
“Pro Israel” Presidential Precedents
It’s important to examine the historical ‘coincidence’ that the two Palestinian intifadas (in 1987 and 2002) emerged and took shape under two Republican presidents who were largely considered “pro Israel”: Reagan and Bush II (in fairness, the second intifada began with the failure of Clinton’s Camp David Accords in 2000, but fully coalesced and became bloodiest by 2002 during Bush’s presidency). Certainly there were factors that led to the outbreak of Palestinian violence that both cannot be blamed for, but neither can the correlation be ignored. It’s hypothetically possible that such a visible pro Israel front signals to the Palestinians that their notions of statehood lose feasibility and therefore reverting to violence seems like a more viable alternative for achieving their aims.
We’ve seen this hypothesis play out during the last eight years: precisely because of the Obama administration’s incessant pressure against and attempt to delegitimize Israeli settlements, it produced more apathy among Palestinians, and delegitimized their violent outbursts when the U.N., E.U. and U.S. were all too ready to condemn Israeli policies. With ‘everyone on their side’, the Palestinians’ casus belli for a third intifada was essentially revoked (though it’s true that a “Minifada” did recently emerge, it curiously failed to coalesce into a full-blown intifada).
Now, although Israel was the recipient of harsh political critique during the Obama years, nothing really changed on the ground (in contrast with the Gaza disengagement under PM Sharon and President Bush’s tenure), and while it absorbed the usual ridiculous volume of UN condemnations, none attempted at forcing a “final solution.”
Trump’s calls to invade Syria and Iraq for oil, “ban Muslims” from entering the U.S., and establish a Muslim citizen registry, means that he’s entering the White House with a deficit in Arab or Muslim confidence in his intentions.
Now, let’s project a year or two forward into the “pro Israel” Trump administration. When Palestinians encounter a president whose rhetoric is easily perceived to be imbalanced in Israel’s favor (and many would say Islamophobic), we can, with near certainty, expect a renewal of violence as a Palestinian objective, if not for the goal of getting a state, then at the very least, for the purpose of ringing bells, raising flags and alarming the world.
Further complicating the geopolitical power balance is the emergence of ISIS which pushed the Palestinian cause to the background within and beyond the Arab world, because a regional destabilizing terrorist force is of more concern to monarchs and autocrats than the question of Palestinian territorial sovereignty. But with ISIS territorial dominance slowly receding, we can bet that the Palestinian national cause will once again return to dominate headlines, and that Gazan propaganda will serve its purpose of demonizing an Israel that already shows unprecedented restraint.
The simultaneous elevation of court Jews like Kushner alongside alt-right (neo-neo-Nazi) influencers and heroes, is a recipe for disaster akin to playing with matches and gasoline. It’s not a long logical leap to see how a climate that’s already generating a sharp rise in anti-semitic hate crimes can be further exacerbated by hate-mongers who point to Kushner’s presence within earshot of the 45th president. The escalation in hate crimes is happening in the absence of any major crises; what type of environment can we expect when facing an actual crisis? It will only be easier to find a Jew to blame. I’m not saying Jews should resist any position in public service simply because of what haters might say, but history has already shown that having a Jew in a sensitive position is no golden ticket for Israel.
What is the real “pro Israel”?
Clearly, we can’t draw simple lines between a president’s rhetoric and outcomes we would deem beneficial to the state of Israel. To assume sweet-talking translates to sweet times, is to be naive or willfully ignorant.
For a U.S. president to be truly supportive, he’d have to understand the intricacies of Israel’s and regional interests while possessing the strategic finesse that’s required to be a real ally that serves to strengthen the Jewish state, rather than contributing to the outbreak of violence or the fortification of its detractors. If history is a lesson, then in fact, there were only a handful of presidents who could veritably be called “pro Israel.”
I’m certainly hoping that the next administration will prove to be “pro Israel” in the real sense because it delegitimizes BDS, strengthens Israel’s deterrent and defensive capabilities, blocks toothless condemnations and attempts at sanctions at the illegitimate and feckless United Nations, and fosters Israel-Arab strategic alliances that serve to prove the only barrier to regional peace is Palestinian willingness to accept Israel’s right to exist, which should be the only means for justifying its own right to be Israel’s neighbor.
Now, let me be perfectly clear: in no way am I saying that Trump is doomed to fail at this gargantuan task, but simple on-the-surface-supportive rhetoric, or close proximity to Jews, will not suffice, could backfire, and does nothing to assuage my concerns of continued American foreign policy failure in the region. Only time will tell if Trump has the real gumption and sensibility required to navigate the dire Middle Eastern straits towards Israel’s positive progressive development.
In the meantime, the brash billionaire president-elect’s talk is cheap. As President Eisenhower once said: “We care nothing for mere rhetoric… We are only for sincerity of peaceful purpose attested by deeds.” Amen!