The origin of the phrase “In God We Trust” is in the fourth stanza of “The Star Spangled Banner.” During the Civil War, the United States Mint began engraving the motto on its coins, testament to the justice of the Northern cause against the rebellious South. Close to a century later, on July 30, 1956, at the height of the Cold War and in response to “godless communism,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the law that turned “In God We Trust” into the official motto of the United States. Since then, it has appeared on all the bills produced by the U.S. Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
A special Haaretz poll conducted by Dialog in honor of the 242nd Independence Day of the United States finds that if America puts its trust in God, Israel puts its trust in America. A whopping 84 percent of the Israeli public believes that if the country faced an existential military crisis, the United States would come to its aid. Confidence that Uncle Sam is a friend indeed for a friend in need spans all sectors of the Israeli public, including, to a lesser extent, Israeli Arabs. For a nation schooled in slogans such as “a people who dwell alone,” “all the world is against us” and “If I am not for myself, who will be?,” the Israeli trust in the United States is both extraordinary and remarkable.
A substantial majority of the Israeli public also believes that its alliance with the United States is eternal and will withstand the tests of time. 62 percent of Israelis believe the special relationship between the two countries will endure, compared to only 24 percent who fear it may weaken or collapse. Confidence in the U.S. is also shared across the spectrum, including Israeli Arabs, though they may see the strength of the alliance in a negative light. Only the ultra-Orthodox harbor doubts — and the gap is intriguing. Perhaps they refuse to put their trust in a government of flesh and blood, especially one of non-Jews, or they may carry stronger strains of the Jewish gene that views the treachery of nations as inevitable. Possibly they feel more comfortable with the U.S. motto “In God We Trust,” even if said God isn’t exactly the same.
The United States is the most admired country among the seven we presented, though it’s fair to say that it wasn’t much of a contest. Admiration for the U.S. neared 90 percent among all Jews but encompassed Arabs as well, albeit less enthusiastically. Next in line, surprisingly, was Argentina, possibly in a vote of sympathy for the early ejection of superstar Leo Messi and his team from the World Cup. China, we were surprised to see, came in third, ahead of France, and both are far more popular than Russia, despite the large Russian contingent in Israel and the close ties between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Arabs, for their part, have positive feelings for Russia and China — but their clear favorite is France. Contrary to what you might think, there’s no love lost between Israeli Arabs and Egypt or Iran either, which, when combined with Jewish disapproval, round out the bottom of our standings. Iran garners sympathy from very few Jewish Israelis.
Israel’s infatuation with America is also linked, of course, to personal contacts. 43 percent of Israelis have visited the United States, and 23 percent say they’ve done so multiple times. 17 percent of Israelis, including 30 percent of Israeli Arabs, say they have first-degree relatives — parents, children or siblings — living in the United States. 32 percent say that given the opportunity, they would like to emigrate — “move to and live” in the poll — to the United States. Young people are more attracted than their elders to the Land of Opportunity as are secular Israelis in relation to more religious ones. Only 5 percent of Haredim express any interest in moving to the goldene medina, as their forefathers dubbed it, and none of them with any great fervor, in line, perhaps, with the Rambam’s edict that going abroad is akin to idol-worship. Comparing the overall Jewish population with Israeli Arabs, the latter seem more devoted to the Palestinian principle of “sumud,” or attachment to the land. 69 percent of Israeli Arabs said they wouldn’t even consider moving to America, compared to only 31 percent equally unequivocal Jews.
Between Trump and Obama
The natural inclination is to link the trust of Israelis in America to their much-ballyhooed admiration for Donald Trump, but there are two flies in this ointment. First, similarly high levels of confidence in the U.S. were registered a decade ago, at the end of President George W. Bush’s tenure and the start — though not the end — of President Barack Obama’s. On the other hand, even if the poll shows a return to normally high levels of trust, rather than a dramatic change, a poll conducted last year by Pew Research showed that Israel is the only democratic country in which confidence in the U.S. president ability to handle world affairs remained unchanged following Trump’s election, and actually went up a notch or two.
The second, somewhat surprising reservation is that Israelis like Trump — far more, certainly, than his predecessor Obama —but less than what might be expected. All in all, 49 percent of the Israeli public views the president favorably, compared to 45 percent who don’t. It’s a respectable outcome for Trump, though less categorical than expected, unless one compares it to the dismal approval ratings for Obama: Only 19 percent view Obama positively, compared to 76 percent who don’t. This result also flies in the face of global trends, with the exception of countries such as Russia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
According to the poll —- and possibly as a direct consequence of Trump’s endless capacity for self-aggrandizement and his infamous approach to women — there is a distinct gender gap in Israeli attitudes to the president. 33 percent of Israeli men say they are very favorably disposed toward Trump, compared to only 15 percent of women. Religion is also a indicator: Only 48 percent of secular Israelis like Trump, compared to 60 to 70 percent of those who describe themselves as traditional, religious or ultra-Orthodox. The Arabs, as expected, can’t stand the U.S. president, with 65 percent saying they have no sympathy for him whatsoever. But they’re not too enamored with Obama either: Only 25 percent of Israeli Arabs say they like him. Among Jews, sympathy for Obama is low even among secular Israelis, but still double that of their more religious compatriots. Hareidi admiration for Obama is virtually nonexistent, a dislike that could stem from his liberal positions, if we’re being generous, but perhaps also from the color of his skin, if we’re not.
Unlike most of the world — and contrary to logic and known facts, one might add — the Israeli public believes that America’s position in the world has grown stronger under Trump. 53 percent of Israelis believe this is the case, compared to 23 percent who say America has grown weaker and 14 percent who maintain that nothing has changed. Perhaps things you see from here you can’t see from anywhere else, perhaps the Israeli public views Trump’s unfriendly spats with ostensible U.S. allies — some of which are also habitual Israel-critics — as a sign of machismo and strength, and possibly we view the world through the narrow prism of the nixing of the Iran nuclear deal, the transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and Trump’s cold shoulder toward the Palestinians, to the exclusion of everything else.
In this regard, at least, Israeli expectations of Trump’s blueprint for the “ultimate deal” — which currently seems frozen in limbo — corroborate Palestinian apprehensions. 44 percent of the public expects the plan to be “pro-Israeli,” compared to only 7 percent who fear it might be pro-Palestinian and another 31 percent who think it will be balanced. Expectations of a deal tilted in favor of Israelis are especially high among Arab Israelis, many of whom self-identity as Palestinians.
All of this translates into high approval marks for Netanyahu’s overall handling of relations with the United States. 66 percent approve of the prime minister’s management of the special relationship, in appreciation no doubt for the close ties he’s forged with Trump and the decidedly pro-Israeli turn in U.S. foreign policy. There is a clear gender gap at work here as well, with men approving of Netanyahu’s American expertise far more than women. The emerging trends in this poll point to the possibility that the same overall gender gap that exists today in U.S politics is prevalent in Israel as well, with men leaning rightwards, and women the other way.
The Great Jewish Diaspora
Netanyahu gets substantially lower marks, however, for his handling of relations with American Jews. Only 44 percent are happy with his performance, compared to 26 percent who aren’t. Given the tensions between Netanyahu and the Reform and Conservative movements, it comes as no surprise that 90 percent of traditional, religious and Haredi Jews approve of Netanyahu’s policies toward U.S. Jews, unlike secular Israelis — about 40 percent of the population — who disapprove by a 39 percent-34 percent margin.
Strikingly, however, the same secular Jews are far less interested than religious Israelis in seeing the majority of American Jews immigrate, or make aliyah, to Israel. Some 43 percent of secular Jews state that they have no special interest in them coming to Israel. Only 8 percent say they would “very much like” to see American Jews move to Israel en masse, compared to 21 percent of traditional Jews, 51 percent of secular and 63 percent of the most observant Haredim. Overall, an amazing 98 percent of Haredim support such mass immigration, even though the influx of such a large number of Jews with liberal views could deprive them of their kingmaker position in Israeli politics. It should be remembered, however, that Jewish sages ruled long ago that the commandment to settle in Israel is equal in importance to all the other mitzvot in the Torah combined.
The poll also contains some very bad news and some very good news for American Jews. The bad news is that a sizable 52 percent-37 percent majority of Israelis maintain that American Jews do not have the right to criticize Israel in public, a position once accepted on both ends but lately seen as anachronistic. Curiously, on this question women seem much more strident than men, with an unequivocal 59 percent-28 percent majority of women telling American Jews to keep their mouths shut, compared to an even split among men. Perhaps women adhere more than men to the rule that one shouldn’t wash dirty laundry in public and that arguments should stay discreet and in the family.
On the other hand, the non-Orthodox majority of American Jews will be gratified to learn that contrary to the monopolistic attitude of their own religious hegemony, a significant plurality of Israelis support religious pluralism and favor equal rights for Reform and Conservative Jews, 47 percent-30 percent. Support for religious equality reaches an overwhelming 71 percent-11 percent among secular Israelis but also encompasses those who identify as traditional. Religious Jews, on the other hand, including a near unanimous ultra-Orthodox community, oppose recognition of Reform and Conservative Jews. Given that the ultra-Orthodox are perennial members of Israeli coalitions, and that their position enjoys wide support in Likud and Habayit Hayehudi as well, it still seems that American Jews will have to await the messiah to achieve equality, in the Western Wall and elsewhere, unless they decide to immigrate en masse to get the job done themselves. Whichever comes first.