In its simplest form, it goes like this.
Donald Trump is hated by a significant portion of the American people. Many of those who don’t like him automatically reject anything he favors. Trump’s policies and actions make him the most pro-Israel president since the Jewish state was formed. Therefore, if and when a new president is swept into office on the promise of reversing everything Trump believes in, Israel could be in for a rude awakening.
But it’s not that simple.
There’s no denying that President Trump’s support of Israel has been breathtaking. Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, shredding the Iran deal, allowing nearly unfettered construction throughout Israel, withdrawing funds from UNRWA and voicing his intention to reject its strange policy of allowing refugee status to be inherited, fully backing Nikki Haley whenever she lambasts the hypocrisy of the U.N.’s Middle East policies…. The list goes on and he deserves full credit.
For his part, Benjamin Netanyahu has been all in for Trump, consistently and unequivocally praising the man at every turn, milking this rare opportunity for all it’s worth.
And who can blame him? It’s clear that Netanyahu’s strategy has paid off in spades.
While Trump’s pronouncements are a huge breath of fresh air for most supporters of Israel, to say they are being delivered by an imperfect messenger is an understatement of major proportions. Frankly, if you employ all the terms currently being used to describe John McCain — “Principled, a man of character, integrity, and honor, a truth-teller who puts his country first, a statesman who attached himself to a higher cause” — and flip them on their heads, you get Donald Trump.
Had a man of John McCain’s moral clarity been similarly championing Israel’s cause as commander-in-chief, the message might have moved the needle favorably, but when voiced by Trump, often the opposite occurs.
Consider the following.
In a 2016 poll by the Pew Research Center before Trump was declared his party’s nominee, 75 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of Democrats responded that they were more likely to be sympathetic with Israel than with the Palestinians. Those findings were almost identical to results in an earlier 2014 poll, which showed 73 percent of Republicans and 44 percent of Democrats favoring Israel. In 2018, however, after Trump had served for nearly a year, Republican support for Israel edged up to 79 percent, while Democratic backing plummeted to just 27 percent. This was the widest divide in 40 years, and doubtless is troubling to AIPAC, which always boasts that support for Israel is bipartisan.
Add to the mix the low ratings for Netanyahu in the same 2018 poll, with barely over half of Republicans (52 percent) and less than one in five of Democrats (18 percent) having favorable impressions, and the images of Trump and Netanyahu getting along grandly are not particularly advantageous to Israel’s cause.
It gets even more troubling when the sentiments of liberal Democrats are isolated. Just 19 percent sympathized more with Israel than with the Palestinians in 2018, versus 33 percent in 2016. In fact, nearly twice as many liberal Democrats now show more of an allegiance to the Palestinians, with the remainder sympathizing with both, neither, or simply not having an opinion.
Those numbers appear to be getting the attention of the progressive wing of Congress. In May, for the first time since the 2006 blockade of Gaza, a group of Democratic senators signed a letter assigning blame to Israel along with Hamas for the suffering of Palestinians. The effort, signed on to by 13 senators, not surprisingly was spearheaded by Bernie Sanders. In a July follow-up, 70 Democratic members of the House of Representatives signed a similar letter demanding humanitarian relief for Gaza, again pointing to Israel along with Hamas as the cause.
Although it can’t be said with certainty that these unprecedented shifts in polling and in actions by progressives in Congress are a direct result of Trump’s overwhelming support of Israel or his bellicose attitude towards foreigners, the timing strongly suggests some connection. Additionally, at least one media personality heavily involved in this arena seems to think so.
In an article in the Forward after the Senate action, noted writer and relentless Israel critic Peter Beinart wrote a piece called “Trump has Freed Progressive Democratic Senators to Finally Criticize Israel.”
What cannot be denied is that Trump’s ongoing blunt talk and divisive messages certainly are not leading to an atmosphere of understanding. Revenge, of course, is a strong motive in politics, and it’s easy to envision a ratcheting up of payback to Israel as it’s lumped together with some of Trump’s less noble causes. In particular, many progressives reflexively look at the Palestinian situation as a simple human rights issue, ignoring the many layers of context. As they continue to grow in power, their leaders may be forced to move farther and farther left in an effort to survive, just as the Tea Party movement has done on the right.
The trend is troubling not just for Israel, but for Jews in the United States.
Throughout the 200-plus years of U.S. history, several factors led to its Jewish citizens enjoying unprecedented freedoms. One was the system of checks and balances among government branches that ensured that none would accumulate too much power. The other is that the pendulum of control never swung too far left or right before correcting itself. Voices on the extreme didn’t hold sway for long.
That pendulum appears out of control of late. Barack Obama took us farther left than perhaps we’ve ever been, with Trump, ever the populist, veering sharply right to counter it and satisfy his base. Extremists on both sides have emerged to voice their intolerance, and it’s now the moderates who are being silenced, or even worse, adjusting their views. A recent Ipsos poll revealed that more than 40 percent of Republicans believe that President Trump should have the power to shut down news organizations that exhibit “bad behavior.” A few years ago no one even would have thought to pose such a question. Were such a suggestion to become law, our democracy as we know it would cease to exist.
Historically, when moderation disappears, the ramifications for Jews are not good. We may even be getting a taste of it already. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose by 57 percent in 2017. That is the largest single-year increase since the tracking began in 1979. Even if you back out the large number of bomb threats against U.S. Jewish Institutions made by an 18 year-old-Jewish man arrested in Israel, the year-to-year increase still was nearly 50 percent.
A website I inadvertently discovered recently sums it up. It disgustedly spoke of “Trump doing everything his Zionist handlers demand of him.” The sentiment just as easily could have been from a far left website as one from the far right.
And that’s the point.