Israel Pulse

Israelis are Trump's biggest fans

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Article Summary
President Donald Trump faces growing criticism in the United States over his anti-immigrant approach, but in Israel he is considered a hero.

Leaders the world over, from Canada to New Zealand, from Britain to Germany, expressed revulsion at President Donald Trump’s July 15 call for four Democratic congresswomen — three of them US-born — to return to the countries from which they came. Among other things, Trump demanded that they apologize to the people of Israel for saying the US internment facilities for illegal immigrants were like “concentration camps.”

Sen. Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, called Trump's tweets “racially offensive.” Fellow GOP lawmaker Mitt Romney described Trump’s comments as “destructive, demeaning and disunifying.” Jonathan Greenblatt (no relation to Trump’s special envoy Jason Greenblatt), the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, accused Trump of “echoing the racist talking points of white nationalists and cynically using the Jewish people and the State of Israel as a shield to double down on his remarks.” He added that while the Anti-Defamation League has disagreed with these congresswomen on some issues, Trump’s cynical political use of the Jews and Israel must be condemned.

Meanwhile, back in Israel, the land of Jewish immigrants from all corners of the world, both the left and the right have nothing but warm words for Trump. To mark July 4, the suburban Tel Aviv town of Petah Tikva named a central square after the 45th US president as a tribute to his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Mayor Rami Greenberg explained, “Israel never had a [US] president who is as supportive and helpful,” adding that by showing support for Trump, Israel was giving him reason to continue with his support for Israel “and this is our duty.” The mayor also said that it was the duty of all Israelis to support Trump.

Yisrael Hayom, the most widely read newspaper in Israel, told readers last month that “unlike previous presidents who traded principle for political expediency,” Trump “is a businessman and a statesman with an instinct for justice.” The writer, Yisrael Hayom publisher Dr. Miriam Adelson, the wife of one of Trump’s biggest donors, Sheldon Adelson, asked, “Would it be too much to pray for a day when the Bible gets a ‘Book of Trump,’ much like it has a ‘Book of Esther’ celebrating the deliverance of the Jews from ancient Persia?" She added, “Until that is decided, let us, at least, sit back and marvel at this time of miracles for Israel, for the United States and for the whole world.”

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Miriam Adelson rebuked the American Jewish community for failing to give Trump the same “sweeping support” that her hero gets in Israel. Marc Zell, the chair of Republicans Overseas Israel, agrees with Adelson that Trump enjoys unprecedented support in Israel. Speaking to Al-Monitor, Zell mentioned the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran, and the appointment of a special US envoy on anti-Semitism issues as proof of Trump’s unmitigated support.

Like Adelson, Zell is disappointed that 80% of American Jews vote for Democrats despite what he described as the party’s “increasingly anti-Israel policies and despite the rise of anti-Semitism among progressives.” Zell argued that most US Jews are troubled by issues unrelated to Israel and the Jewish people. Less than one-third of US Jews rank Israel among their top 10 issues of concern. “However, once they get here … their thinking in the US gives way to the … importance of securing Israel's survival and that of the Jewish people.”

Indeed, while Trump generates disgust among many American Jews, Israelis rank highest in terms of global admiration for the president. An October 2018 Pew Research Center survey showed that 80% of those polled in Israel, the Philippines and South Korea display a positive attitude toward Trump, twice as many as in Canada, Germany and France.

Daniel Bar-Tal, a professor and senior researcher of Israeli society, explained that Israelis assess foreign leaders primarily by their support for Israel. “In addition,” he told Al-Monitor, “they have come to realize that on key issues such as Iran, the American president follows in the footsteps of their prime minister.” Bar-Tal argued that most Israelis do not concern themselves with issues of democracy and are not overly impressed by corruption or legal violations of leaders.

Bar-Tal also noted that Israelis, most of whom hold right-wing views, are pleased with Trump’s unambiguous support for Netanyahu and his overt efforts to get Netanyahu reelected.

According to Bar-Tal, Netanyahu’s fans see in the American leader qualities that remind them of their own prime minister: authoritarianism, racism, nationalism, slandering of the opposition, dividing the human race into “them” and “us,” campaigning against objective journalism and disdain for the law and democratic institutions.

Sociologist Oz Almog told Al-Monitor that he agrees with the parallels between Netanyahu and Trump in terms of their conduct, but immediately added, “The public judges its leaders on a pragmatic, not an ideological scale. They find the public discourse about the occupation irrelevant. The younger generation in Israel grew up in the shadow of terrorism and rockets and an [alleged] absence of a Palestinian partner for peace.”

He said that the Israeli left focuses on a caricature of Trump, whereas most Israelis can tell the difference between his troubling personality and his siding with the good guys against the bad. “Israelis understand that in order to fight the Islamic State, a bully is needed. This is a generation of TV reality and ‘cut the bullshit.’ They like Trump’s directness and coarseness and prefer him to a nice man such as [President Barack] Obama, who reflects all that is good.”

The gap between the vocal reaction of the Anti-Defamation League and Trump’s incitement against minorities, compared with the thunderous silence of the Israeli leadership, illustrates the distance between the Jewish state and the most important Jewish community abroad. “US Jewry represents an elite that seems to have lost its commitment to Israel, and therefore Israelis don’t care what they think,” said Almog. “What is important to Jews living here in Israel is that while we are being persecuted, the person in the White House loves us.”

The obvious question is what happens to the relationship between Israel and the US Jewry when Americans decide they deserve a more decent president, one who is not estranged from values such as human rights and compassion.

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Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

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