News & Politics

Israel, American Jews Far Apart on Trump

Joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and US President Donald Trump, Washington DC, USA - 15 Feb 2017 (Rex Features via AP Images)

There’s a world of difference between how Israel and American Jews view the Trump administration, despite the Trump administration’s very positive pro-Israel steps.

From Israel, all looks good. But the majority of American Jews don’t share their Israeli cousins’ perception. Seventy-one percent of American Jews voted for Hillary Clinton for president, and a new poll shows only 31 percent of them — 11 points below the national average of 42 percent — approve of Trump’s performance so far.

The good — the very good — news is that it increasingly appears that the Trump administration shares Israel’s perception of Iran as a strategic threat, and is looking to roll it back.

Iran is now trying to turn Syria into a strategic military threat to Israel. In a rundown on the problem, the Christian Science Monitor notes that Iran “oversees a multinational Shiite militia force” in Syria and is “train[ing] Syrian militia networks” based on Iran’s own Basij force.

Iran is also seeking to create a naval base in Syria. It’s working to build a military presence in the northern Golan Heights, facing the Israeli-controlled southern Golan Heights. To that end, an Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militia has formed a Golan Liberation Brigade:

[It] released a video … that showed fighters marching in columns and carrying a banner reading, “Israel will be destroyed.”

The Christian Science Monitor also reported that Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, “intends to fire long-range projectiles at the Jewish state” from Syrian mountain ranges that are “ideal for easily and safely firing.”

But so much for the worrisome news from Israel’s standpoint.

MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) reports that Iran is “in a state of shock” over joint U.S., Russian, and Turkish plans to push Iran out of Syria altogether. An Iranian website close to the Iranian Foreign Ministry lamented:

The American representative in the U.N. spoke about the need for Iran to exit Syria … As far as America is concerned, Iran is Enemy No. 1.

And a former official of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps wrote:

When the final decision [on Syria] is reached, the roles of Russia, America and Turkey will become clearer and Iran will effectively be marginalized.

The Trump administration has also indicated that it has aligned with Israel in other ways. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council that the U.S. will leave the notorious Israel-bashing kangaroo court unless it undertakes “considerable reform.” He added that the U.S. would:

… reiterate our strong principled objection to the Human Rights Council’s biased agenda against Israel.

In a speech to the UN Security Council, Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley strongly condemned the council’s hectoring of Israel:

The United States will not turn a blind eye to this anymore … [T]he UN’s anti-Israel bias is long overdue for change.

And while the administration is charged with naiveté for testing the waters of a renewed Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, the larger aim is to get moderate Arab states to work more closely with the U.S. and Israel in countering the Iranian threat.

All in all, major progress. So why aren’t American Jews on board?

In a broadside against American Jews for vilifying Trump, Israeli columnist Isi Leibler asserts:

[L]iberal Jewish leaders have declared a hysterical war against the Trump ‎administration.

Led initially by the Anti-Defamation League but rapidly joined by the Reform ‎and Conservative wings of the Jewish community, many Jewish community leaders have … portrayed [Trump] as a ‎satanic anti-Semite promoting fascism and racism. … ‎This, despite the reality that his presidency highlights an unprecedented acceptance of Jews at ‎the highest levels of government.

With many American Jews blaming Trump for the spate of bomb threats to Jewish community centers and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries, Leibler notes:

[T]he first person arrested for having made numerous bomb threats was no right-wing extremist but an African-American notorious for his tweets against “white people” and “white media.”

And while it is true that, during his campaign, Trump appeared leery of condemning anti-Semitic supporters of him, and in the first weeks of his presidency was slow to denounce the anti-Jewish phenomena, more recently he and others in his administration have strongly condemned anti-Semitism and other hate.

Having lived in Israel for over three decades, it’s not for me to tell American Jews what stance to take toward their president and toward U.S. domestic issues. Seemingly, though, the fact that this administration is dramatically pro-Israel should at least color American Jews’ perception and mitigate their fierce antipathy toward the new president.

That is, if the concerns of Israelis really are on their radar. Unfortunately, it looks increasingly as if — despite ritual proclamations of love and concern — that’s not the case.