Council for the National Interest

Trump Goes to Israel: Another Settler from the United States?

Nov 19 2019 / 1:46 pm
POTUS visit the Western Wall, accompanied by the Western Wall’s rabbi, Shmuel Rabinovitz and Mordechai “Solly” Eliav, Director General of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. Jerusalem, May 22, 2017 Photo credit: Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

President Donald Trump’s lack of any precision when he speaks or tweets sometimes means that multiple meanings can be construed from what he chooses to say or write. At a private gathering last week in which he was wooing potential Orthodox Jewish donors, he responded to a blessing from a rabbi with what he thought to be a joke. Fighting for his political life in the middle of an impeachment process, he observed that if things do no go well in the United States, he could always move to Israel and run for office, saying “if anything happens here, I’m taking a trip over to Israel. I’ll be prime minister.”

The fund-raiser at the Intercontinental Hotel in Manhattan was arranged by the America First Super PAC. Trump’s son-in-law and principal adviser Jared Kushner and his special representative for international negotiations Avi Berkowitz, both Orthodox Jews, also were in attendance. Numerous Trump supporters were present in the ballroom and began shouting out “Four more years!” when the president rose to speak. Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson offered a blessing, saying “Blessed are you, our Lord, King of the universe, that you have shared of your glory and love and compassion with a human being who maintains the honor of every innocent person and Jew. Thank you, amen.”

The Trump joke appeared to be based on media reports that he enjoys an approval rating of 98% among Jewish voters in Israel, the only country in the world where he has a favorable rating. And he was also presumably referring to the fact that Israel has had two deadlocked elections and may be heading for a third due to the fact that neither Benjamin Netanyahu nor his opponent Benny Gantz seems able to pull  together a governing coalition. Trump quipped in his usual self-serving fashion, “What kind of a system is it over there, right, with Bibi? They’re all fighting and fighting. We have different kinds of fights, but at least we know who the boss is. They keep having elections, and nobody’s elected.”

The president also spent some time affirming his complete support for the Jewish state, citing how it was at that moment defending itself from missile attacks coming from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group and Hamas in Gaza. He also recalled for the potential donors his unilateral (and illegal) recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights and his decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program. As expected, the audience cheered.

Also, in a statement that should offend and serve as a wake-up call for all of America’s remaining Arab friends, Trump described how he was able to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He claimed that when he received calls from Arab leaders objecting to the proposed shift, he refused to speak to them, saying to his aides “Just tell them I’m very busy, I’ll call them back. And then I did it, we got it done, it’s done. And then I announced it, and then I went into the office, I made about 25 calls…. I said, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s done already; there’s nothing I could do about it.’ It’s much easier. I say, ‘I’m sorry, I wish I could have gotten back to you sooner.’”

So, on the surface it was a complete rah-rah evening among friends, saying wonderful things about Israel and dumb things about Arabs while also bringing in $4 million in donations from the Orthodox Jewish businessmen who made up most of the audience. But at the same time, the Trump remark about moving to Israel and being elected prime minister can be construed as having a darker meaning as Israel is, in fact, a settler state that illegally has dispossessed the original residents of the country and replaced them. Foreign Jews can move to Israel and become citizens automatically under the “law of return” but the people who used to live on that land cannot go to their homes. Trump, who joked about moving and becoming Israeli, described in his usual caustic, off-hand fashion the racist reality of the Jewish state.

Donald Trump might not have been in such a humorous mood if he had considered the fact that while he is wildly popular in Israel because he gives the Israeli Jews everything they want, he continues to be mistrusted and not very well received by American Jews, who continue to vote for and provide most of the funding for the Democratic Party. Some Israelis and many American Zionists have even come to the conclusion that Trump is not to be relied upon when he pledges total support for the Jewish state . They point to the recent White House decision to pull out of Syria, which was made in consultation with Turkey, which the Israelis regard as a hostile power, and without any input from Israel. The fact that Trump then reversed himself also has been noted as characteristic of his basic unreliability.

Some Israelis and their think tank associates in the United States have also expressed particular concern over the fact that Trump and Netanyahu, who still heads the interim government, have not even spoken over the phone in weeks. As Trump’s policy making style is best described as impulsive, there is concern that he will make bad decisions from the Israeli perspective. It is often noted that the Administration’s desire to confront Iran appears to have waned and will probably be even less evident as the 2020 election approaches. Some observers have also cited the example of the betrayal of the Kurds, suggesting that Trump might be inclined to abandon Israel and its other allies in the Middle East in the same fashion.

To be sure, Donald Trump has done everything possible to pander to American Zionists and to Israelis and it is clear that he considers Jews to be a group that has to be courted, if only due to their influence over the media and their willingness to donate large sums to political causes. Israeli concerns that he will pull the plug on them are overstated to put it mildly given their control over Congress and the media. As long as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson continues to be willing to donate $100 million to the GOP every two years, the status quo is guaranteed. But there remains a long-term problem due to the fact that American Jews are overwhelmingly politically liberal and they do not like Trump, no matter what he does for Israel. And Adelson is reported to be in poor health. If he dies and the cash flow dies  with him, Trump’s view of Israel just might change dramatically.

Posted by on Nov 19 2019 . Filed under Commentary & Analysis, Israel Lobby, Philip Giraldi, Politicians . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 . Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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