Why Trump’s embrace of Israel endangers it

Three "American" chores await Israel’s next prime minister: explaining to President Donald Trump the importance of the two-state solution, regaining the trust of the Democrats and repairing ties with US Jewry.

al-monitor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hugs US President Donald Trump as they talk during meetings at the White House, Washington, March 25, 2019.  Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria.

Jul 22, 2019

I had not expected that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would comment to US President Donald Trump on his inserting Israel’s name into his tweets, this time, to disparage Democratic congresswomen whom he accused July 14 of attacking Israel. Netanyahu has tied his political fortune to Trump. As he did not criticize Trump for his statement on protesters in Charlottesville two years ago — “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides” — Netanyahu would not consider, after all the gestures Trump granted him, demanding that Trump not include Israel’s name in the political fray between Republicans and Democrats in America.

American Jewish organizations, foremost among them the Anti-Defamation League, did well in roundly condemning the president’s tweets and made sure to note that the president incorrectly ascribed hatred of Israel to all of the four congresswomen he tweeted about: Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Presley.

In his attacks on them, Trump even crossed his own lines. According to him, the congresswomen came from countries whose governments are a total disaster, corrupt and incapable of running a country, and suggested they return to the countries they came from, and instead of criticizing what’s happening in the United States, fight corruption and fix the bad situation in their homelands. He did not even notice the simple fact that three out of these four women were born in the United States.

Archie Bunker (Trump), who got to the White House, seems to not remember while composing this tweet that he himself was born to an immigrant family, that he is only the second generation in America. His family came from a country whose leaders failed in their pretension to run it, save its economy and prevent it from leading the world, twice in a quarter century, into hopeless wars that killed tens of millions of soldiers and civilians. All the same, no one has ever suggested to Trump to go back to Germany.

The question is what Israel will do with this (harmful) bear hug. If after the September election Netanyahu will remain prime minister, it is safe to assume that the chances of renewing close ties with the leaders of the American Democratic party are quite small. In the past, Netanyahu has not done so simply because he did not want to. He always felt like a kind of Republican senator, his political and personal friends were on the American right, and he hardly had an anchor among the Democrats — as deputy Israeli ambassador in Washington (1982-1984), as ambassador to the United Nations (1984-1988) and as he filled various positions in Israeli governments. Now he will not let go of the evangelist-Trumpy bear hug because he can no longer do so.

If Israel’s next prime minister is Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, he will have to deal with the American relationship as one of the most burning issues on his agenda, before Democratic hostility toward Israel becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I assume that his visit to Washington will take place soon after he is elected, as is customary, and the visit will include a first official meeting with Trump. I hope that in such a meeting, aside from the requisite politesse and aside from the thanks for the president’s support of Israel, Gantz would find an intimate moment to tell Trump that if he does wish to help Israel, he must consider that it is an Israeli interest, and not just Israeli, to restore the bipartisan support for the Jewish state. It is not at all certain that the president would act accordingly, but it is important at least that he would know that Israel will no longer applaud every time he embraces it and condemns the Democrats for their alleged hostility toward it.

The next task in Washington will be, it seems, harder: to meet with prominent Democratic lawmakers from the Senate and the House and to explain that there is no holy alliance between Israel and the evangelicals, whose religious vision is that on Judgement Day the Jews would convert or be destroyed. He will have to tell them that in the past Israel was not a rock of contention between the American right and left and that he will do all that he can to ensure that in the future Israel will not be seen as the sister of the Trump administration or the Republican party’s protege.

Of course, Gantz will not be able to, and there will be no need to, ignore the Republicans or forgo their support. But when he meets with those of them who push Israel to increase settlements in the West Bank or annex the occupied territories, it is important to make clear to them that he has no intention of being the one to give up on Israel as Jewish and democratic, and that if they are Israel’s true friends he would ask that they support this goal, whose alternative is the death of the Zionist idea.

The third challenge of Gantz’s visit to the United States will be, no doubt, the Jewish challenge. In his meeting with American congressmen Gantz would have to fix the heavy damage Netanyahu caused, especially since he appeared before a joint session of Congress in 2015 at the invitation of Republican representatives and despite the displeasure of then-President Barack Obama in order to convince Congress to oppose the agreement with Iran. On the other hand, in his meeting with the Jewish leadership he will have to fix the damage Netanyahu has done that has caused a rift with American Jewry.

A year and a half after the government's decision to allow a designated area for Conservative and Reform women’s prayer at the Western Wall (women of the wall affair), it was canceled with pressure of ultra-Orthodox parties and with the orchestration of Netanyahu. The cancellation was the straw that broke the camel’s back and opened an abyss between the two large communities — Israel’s Jewry and US Jewry — that make up together 85% of the Jewish people. Gantz, who knows well that the vast majority of American Jews are horrified at the conduct of their president, and do not understand the alliance between him and Netanyahu, would have to appease the leadership on this issue. He would have to promise a repair of the relationship between the two centers, among other things by canceling the Nationality Law, or at least significantly changing it, and returning to the Western Wall agreement.

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