Trump and the Jews, Israeli and American

Dear Editor,

AMERICAN and Israeli Jews largely disagree about Trump’s actions, although the growing divide between them is not limited to the actual president

After Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government barred Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) from entering Israel last week, President Trump said, ‘I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.’ Trump later explained that he meant Jews were being disloyal to Judaism and Israel.

Trump is a friend of Israel and Jews, which should be obvious to anyone who watched the president these last two and a half years. He recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, a highly symbolic gesture recognizing the holy city as Israeli’s eternal and united capital.  Most importantly, Trump has withdrawn America from the Iran nuclear deal and put enormous economic pressure on the Tehran regime. Daughter Ivanka married a Jewish man and converted to Judaism.  Accusations that Trump has accused American Jews of disloyalty or in any way hates Jews are absurd, especially after the Democrat party has embraced Congresswoman Tlaid and Omar, who said Israel ‘hypnotized the world’ and claimed American support for the Jewish state was ‘all about the Benjamins.’

American Jews largely oppose President Trump. For example, a Gallup poll conducted in March of this year found that only 26% of American Jews approve of President Trump. This is not surprising.  Throughout the 20th century, Jewish Americans were staunch Democrats, a key part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Coalition of working-class voters, African Americans and Catholics. In the 21st century, American Jews remain loyal to the Democrats. In the 2016 presidential elections, Hillary Clinton received 71% of the Jewish vote. This, despite the Clinton Administration working hard to bring about a peace settlement, which included ceding parts of Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.

But among Israeli Jews, Trump is extremely popular. A Pew Research Center Poll last year found that President Trump is favored by 82% of Israeli Jews.  In gratitude for Trump’s support, the Israeli government renamed a small town on the Golan Ramat Trump or Trump Heights. The growing divide between American and Israeli Jews is not limited to President Trump.

While American Jews are generally left-wing, Israeli Jews continue to drift rightward. In the Knesset elections this June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party won 35 out of 120 Knesset seats and the right-block overall won well over the 61 seats needed to form a government. The Israeli left had a terrible election.  Labour and the peacenik Meretz party combined for a paltry 10 Knesset seats. Labour dropped from 18 seats in the last Knesset to just 6, a stunning and humiliating blow to Labour, once thought to be Israeli’s natural governing party. Labour did not compete with Likud at all.

While much of the world focuses on the Israeli/Palestinian relationship, security and religious issues are far more important than the so-called ‘peace process’. Likud is not interested in the old ‘land for peace’ formula, nor is the centrist Blue and White. Only Labour, Meretz, and a few other small leftwing parties cling to ‘peace’. But the wider Israeli public has little appetite for peace. Israel’s political future lies with the Blue and White party. The Blue and Whites, a nod to the colors of Israel’s Star of David flag, aren’t left at all but centrist. Led by former chief of staff Benny Ganz, the Blue and Whites have made the secular/religious conflict their top issue.

American and Israeli Jews largely disagree about Trump’s actions. A poll taken by the American Jewish committee last year found 85% of Israeli Jews favor Trump’s Jerusalem embassy move, while American Jews are almost evenly split, 46% for and 47% against. On the issue of Israeli towns in Judea/Samaria, 54% of American Jews would dismantle some or all, while 54% of Israeli Jews would demolish none at all.

After the failure of the ‘peace process’, Israel believes it remains surrounded by enemies, the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria, Hamas in Gaza, and, of course, Hezbollah in Lebanon. As such, Israel has become more and more bellicose in defense of itself, fighting four short wars against Hamas in the last decade alone and conducting a quasi-war against Iran and Hezbollah in Syria.  During that time, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been unapologetic about his government’s actions, mocking the notion of ‘proportionality’ in the ongoing war against Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. At home, Netanyahu builds his governing coalition with right wing, nationalist, and religious political parties, another problem for more secular American Jews.

Traditionally, Jews may divide themselves in many ways. By ethno-nationality; Sephardic or Ashkenazi. By tribe; Levi, Cohen, or Israelite. By religious sect; Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform. Secular or religious. In the 21st century, a new division is developing between Jews, this one between American Jews and Israeli Jews. President Donald J. Trump is an example of that growing divide.

Wiliam Strock