Ken Toltz
Israel-based writer

When Israel’s ‘Best Friend’ is a Monster

June 2019 Dedication of Trump Heights in Israel's Golan (Times of Israel with permission)

A rock solid maxim bedrock story of the May 14, 1948 founding of the modern State of Israel is the decisive momentous role of official United States recognition, which is purported to have arrived just11 minutes after David Ben Gurion’s declaration. Thus the special relationship between the United States and the State of Israel was born.

Entire books have been written about the efforts to convince Pres. Truman to override the deep opposition of his very famous, influential and well respected secretary of state, George C. Marshall to Israel’s founding. Those interested in knowing more about the background of the historic decision and the clash between Sec. Marshall and President Truman’s Special Counsel for National Security Clark Clifford, over the recognition of Israel question might want to read both West Virginia University Prof. Gerald Pops’ published research and Richard Holbrooke’s book on the life of Clark Clifford, Counsel to the President.

From U.S. administration to administration over the past 72 years the special relationship has ebbed and flowed (mostly flowed) thanks largely to efforts of American Jewish friends of Israel, whose dedication to the survival and advancement of Israel to achieve the vision of its founders has been expressed through bipartisan democratic political activity primarily via the U.S. Congress, sometimes through the American executive branch.

The confluence of the political realignment that began with the 1980 Reagan Revolution election however, began a forty-year swing toward building support for Israel among Republicans, that saw it’s ultimate expression with the election and presidency of Donald Trump in 2016. For the first time a sitting prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, made no secret of his preference of Trump over Democratic nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Just a year earlier Netanyahu engineered an invitation to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress to publicly challenge President Barack Obama’s years long effort to confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions, with the successful signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in cooperation with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.

Never before had an Israeli prime minister publicly lobbied in America to defeat a presidential national security initiative, until Netanyahu’s 2015 speech. Never before had one political party outmaneuvered the other party and exploited Israel in an effort to embarrass a sitting American president, until then Speaker Boehner in secret cooperation with Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer engineered the Netanyahu invitation and address.

Observing this very closely was Donald Trump who just 3 months later announced his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Knowing that winning the Florida primary over favorite son Jeb Bush and ultimately Florida’s 2016 electoral votes, was going to require inroads into Florida’s significant Jewish community vote, Trump staked out a position of very close alignment with any and every Netanyahu policy. The strategy was successful for Trump in the 2016 Republican primary, and the 2016 general election and again in the 2020 general election. According to 2020 election exit polls, Trump won over 40% of Florida’s Jewish voters when he won just 33% nationwide.

During the past four years of Trump’s presidency no country has received the attention from a host of senior administration officials than Israel. The Trump Administration expressions of support for Israel have been non-stop and both substantive and symbolic. Within Israel, Trump’s popularity has grown to be sky high in nearly reverse proportions to Trump’s support from America’s Jewish community. No one has been a bigger Trump cheerleader and fan than Prime Minister Netanyahu who has publicly and repeatedly declared, “Trump is the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House”.

Sorry Harry Truman.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party has exploited Trump’s popularity as a personal endorsement of Netanyahu with the display of highly visible Trump-Netanyahu campaign banners throughout Israel for 3 Israeli elections. But for the upcoming 4th Israeli election in just two years, these banners will be trashed. Israel’s sitting prime minister is on trial for 3 criminal indictments and fighting not just for his political life but for his freedom from a potential jail term.

2019 Likud Party Campaign Banner (Ken Toltz personal photo)

The Trump playbook of disparaging the media has also been eclipsed by Netanyahu, who is charged with intimidation and bribery to get favorable Israeli media coverage. And for more than six straight months, Israeli citizens have conducted growing public protests demanding Netanyahu’s resignation which finally did result in bringing down the current government and new elections called for March 23, 2021.

Trump showed his true colors before all the world this week as a fascist wannabe ready to use hopped up and aggrieved Americans to shut down the validation of the 2020 election results through violent insurrection against Congress.

It remains to be seen how seriously damaged Israel’s relationships and image have suffered from Netanyahu’s close association with Trump. But it’s certain that there’ll be no more building size campaign banners of Trump and Netanyahu for the 2021 elections.

About the Author
Ken Toltz began his professional career at AIPAC in Washington, D.C. after attending Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He's a 3rd generation Colorado native, businessman and long-time gun violence prevention activist. After 42 years from his first visit to Israel, in 2019 he relocated his home to Mitzpe Ramon in Israel's Negev. Ken currently resides in Herzliya. He writes about Israeli politics, relations with the U.S. and the Israeli creative class of writers and filmmakers.
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