Back in March 2016, Donald Trump, then still running for the GOP presidential nomination, gave a typically-blustering speech at AIPAC’s annual conference, where he called President Obama “the worst thing to ever happen to Israel.” He was greeted with rousing applause. Trump would later repeat this statement a day before Election Day, in a failed attempt to sway the Jewish vote.
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But that was a simpler time—for Trump, for America, and for Israel. Obama, who for eight years had “deliberately damaged” U.S.-Israel relations according to Israel’s former ambassador Michael Oren and the Israeli right-wing, was on his way out. And Donald Trump, who had claimed that he was “the best thing that could ever happen to Israel," who proudly championed the settlement cause, was a candidate who had promised to fulfill every wet dream the pro-settlement crowd has ever had. For this, he was championed as the most “pro-Israel” (re:pro-settlements) candidate by many, most notably Sheldon Adelson.
What a difference six months can make. President Best Thing That Could Ever Happen to Israel is now four-months into his term. Has he lived up to his self-ascribed moniker? Not so much. In his first four months, Trump has gone from a pro-settlement one-stater to an Obama-style lily-liver who shies away from moving the embassy to Jerusalem, doesn’t think settlement expansion is helpful, and talks about peace and a two-state solution all the time. Even Adelson is reportedly miffed.
But now it turns out that Trump isn’t just another American president who doesn’t support the settlements as much as far-right hardliners would like, but something far, far worse. Let’s review the last week alone: less than a week before his foreign trip to the region — his first as president — the Trump administration has managed to get into a messy ugly spat with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over who’s to blame for Trump’s decision to postpone the embassy’s move to Jerusalem and then made things ten times worse by openly doubting Israel’s sovereignty over its most sacred symbol: the Western Wall.
Oh yeah, and there’s this minor thing where Trump betrayed Israel’s secrets by handing out Israeli intelligence to Russia, thereby potentially risking the life of an Israeli spy within ISIS, jeopardizing Israel’s national security and confirming (as one intelligence officer put it in an interview with Buzzfeed) Israel’s "worst fears."
At this point, it should be clear as day that President Trump is likely not “the best thing that could ever happen to Israel.” In fact, if the events of the past week prove anything, it’s that it is finally time to dispense with the misguided notion that Trump will be “good for Israel.”
Yes, Israel is still officially defending Trump’s latest actions, perhaps wary of finding itself in the president’s crosshairs, and Benjamin Netanyahu did say in February that Israel “has no better friend than Donald Trump,” but even he wouldn’t be caught dead repeating this claim right now. In the past four months, Trump has managed to go back on every promise he made to the “pro-Israel” crowd, which shouldn’t be seen as a surprise since Trump has pretty much gone back on every promise he has made as a candidate.
But these latest revelations are more than simply a matter of Trump not moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, thereby turning out to be like every other president before him. Compromising Israeli intel by sharing it with Russia — among other things, an ally of Iran — is going to hurt Israel and U.S.-Israel relations worse than anything that Obama has ever done, even in the wildest conspiratorial dreams of his far-right detractors.
Did Obama, who (like George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush before him) visited the Western Wall as a candidate in 2008, ever publicly doubt Israel’s sovereignty over Judaism’s holiest site? Did Obama ever risk the life of an Israeli spy by carelessly giving away Israeli intelligence?
The answer is: no, he didn’t. For eight years, right-wingers in Israel and Republicans in Congress have torched Barack Obama as Israel’s worst enemy over rumors, insinuations, and tepid criticisms. They have said Obama — the same Obama who gave Israel a record $38 billion military aid package— had “abandoned” Israel by signing the Iran nuclear deal and mildly condemning settlement expansion.
What will those same people say now, that their president of choice has been revealed as endangering Israeli lives by sharing classified Israeli intelligence with Russia?
The answer is: nothing, nothing at all. But to anyone else, it should be abundantly clear by now that Trump is turning out to be a liability for Israel — rather than an ally.