Trump and the Jews: The New Administration and the Israeli/American Jewish Triangle

The election of Barack Obama for president of the United States saw a shift in the relationship between American and Israeli Jews. Obama appealed largely to the liberal, progressive Jewish demographic; reaching out to left-leaning, peace endorsing organizations like JStreet, and passing policies that fit into his idealist/utopian, vision of the Middle East — specifically, Israel and the Palestinians. These policies were viewed as problematic by many in the Israeli community, as they seemed to go against Israel’s own governmental policies like introducing the precondition of settlement freeze as part of Israeli-Palestinian negotiation for the two-state solution. Something that even PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas himself did not originally require, as well as explicitly calling Israeli settlements in the West Bank “illegal”. The consensus in Israel became that Obama wanted a two-state solution at any cost. This created discomfort for the center, center right and far right Israeli Jews. But, what might seem like the best policy for a leftist, progressive Jew living in America could spell disaster for Jews living in Israel. Some commentators argued that a gap began to form between Israeli and American Jews.

I would argue that with the election of Donald Trump, this gap can potentially increase even further, but for much of the opposite reasons. While it remains to be seen if Trump will go through with any of the promises made during his campaign, the consensus among Israelis is that Trump will be much more in line with the current Israeli government’s views than Obama was during his tenure. The nomination of far-right Jewish American David Friedman as the future American Ambassador to Israel, who has previously mentioned that he’s not opposed to settlements and does not see them as a barrier to peace, further reinforces that claim. Trump claims that he will take measures to move the US embassy to Jerusalem; this is something that most of the Israeli population thinks has been long due on account of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act which initiates a call for the relocation of the US embassy in Israel every six months. Historically, the United States did not want to take sides for an Israeli-Palestinian solution, specifically the prospective partition of Jerusalem as part of a comprehensive agreement, so they did not want to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. As a result, the embassy remains in Tel Aviv to this day. Obama has vetoed the move during his time as president, Trump will be in office the next time this Act will be brought forward. Trump has also been viewed by experts as an isolationist which is seen as a plus for the Israeli government as they would be able to run themselves with little to no enforcement or coercing from the United States.

However, many Jews in America are disturbed by the president-elect and the rise of the alt-right that seem to be validated by his rise to the presidency. There are claims that Trump has suggested anti-Semitic themes in his campaign and received support from known anti-Semites like David Duke and the KKK which, while never endorsed, were never fully denounced. This along with the dangers to minorities as well as the racism and hate crimes which some would argue were empowered by Trump’s rhetoric, leads to a majority of liberal Jews to be completely alienated by the president-elect.

There has been a shift from a president who many in America’s left and center did great things domestically, but was (some say) over critical of Israel, to a president who many fear as a danger domestically, but will be, by all accounts so far, pro-Israel. The Israeli government has yet to make any official statements on the negative reaction of American Jewry to Trump and the rise of anti-Semitic hate crimes. The Israeli government refrains from doing so in order to not temper with what seems to be projected to be a stable, positive US-Israeli relationship in the coming years. It can be argued then that the support of Israeli and American Jewry’s respective domestic self-interests can potentially put their relationship on thin ice. To make matters more complicated, with American politics shift to more radicalization, Trump’s pro-Israel stances can potentially cause an equal and opposite reaction from the more polarized elements in America’s left. This can very well, in the long run, render Israel as a partisan issue, if it is, to some extent, not already.

As both Israeli Jews and American Jews struggle to find common ground during such polarizing times both domestically and internationally, the gap between the two can potentially deepen. A Jewish student on campus, who chose to remain anonymous, shared their experience on the complexity of the situation:

“A few days ago, I went to a conference of Jewish professionals (most of the crowd was Jewish) in which it was emphasized by one of the speakers at the event that voting for Trump was a bad moral decision for American society. It wasn’t something that was supposed to be allowed to be said on stage, but the speaker went on with this anyhow. Some people left the hall, angry, but most people didn’t. The fact that the speaker felt comfortable enough to say that voting republican was a bad call affirms to me the American Jewish consensus that voting Trump was a bad decision for American society, and that the American Jewish community is alienated by Trump’s views and rhetoric. Such a view can very well effect the American-Israeli Jewry relationship in the future, as the reaction to Trump’s election in Israel was subtler, if not somewhat favorable.”

About the Author
Daniel Kramer is the President of Friends of Israel. He spent his childhood and subsequent summers in Israel until the age of thirteen. He is an English Major at Virginia Tech.
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