Israel turns 70 this year. To mark the anniversary, JTA’s Ron Kampeas describes the U.S.-Israel friendship through portraits of all 13 presidents who have been in office during the Jewish state’s history. For other articles in the series, click here.
Donald Trump, the unlikeliest of Republican presidents, has gotten a reputation for unpredictability. But if he is consistent on one thing, it is his campaign promises. He tends to keep them.
On Dec. 6, 2017, he made good on his promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. And on May 8 2018 Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear accord, which was followed by days of Israeli-Iran tensions and military action.
“While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver,” Trump said. “Today, I am delivering.”
Trump not only delivers, he delivers with a vengeance. Recognizing Jerusalem and setting a schedule to move the embassy would have been enough for his Jewish base, but Trump accelerated the process and the embassy will open, albeit in temporary quarters, in May.
The same goes for his other Israel-related pledges. Trump promised to block Israel-hostile actions at the United Nations; his ambassador to the body, Nikki Haley, has been perhaps the most proactively pro-Israel envoy since Daniel Patrick Moynihan under Gerald Ford. Haley has forced the United Nations to withdraw reports critical of Israel and stopped a Palestinian from assuming a senior position in the body because the same courtesy has yet to be afforded to an Israeli.
Similarly, Trump said he would reconsider the Iran nuclear deal; he looks set to scrap it.
“With President Trump, I have fewer disagreements,” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said last month when he was asked to compare his interactions with Obama and Clinton. “It’s fair to say I don’t have any disagreements.”
Trump wants to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks, and has entrusted the task to a team of three, all with solid pro-Israel ties, led by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
In the second year of his presidency, Trump is bolder and more confident in his role, and is distancing himself from the foreign policy mavens who insist the United States must ensure stability worldwide. For example, he plans to pull out from Syria the 2,000 or so troops there training and advising U.S.-friendly rebel forces.
“It is very costly for our country, and it helps other countries more than it helps us,” Trump said earlier in April of the U.S. presence in Syria. “I want to get out, I want to bring our troops back home.”
That’s not a prospect Israel relishes. Russia has joined with Iran and Hezbollah — both deadly enemies to Israel — in propping up the Assad regime in Syria. Israel is adamantly opposed to a long-term Iranian presence in Syria, and to an emboldened Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that launched a war against Israel in 2006.
Now that Syria’s civil war is winding down, the absence of a U.S. presence would give Russia, Iran and Hezbollah more room to consolidate their presence there. Already the prospect of an Israeli conflict with not just Iran but possibly with Russia is looming in Syria.
Trump’s base on the isolationist right has made it eminently clear it wants out of Syria, and Trump is being responsive. The same loyalty to his base could explain the horror he has stirred among American Jews with his failure to condemn — and at times his seeming encouragement — of white supremacists.
The most searing moment was last August, when it took Trump days to unequivocally condemn the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, an event that culminated in a car-ramming attack on counterprotesters that killed one. Trump said there were “very fine” people on both sides, drawing rebukes from across the Jewish spectrum — including, unprecedentedly, from AIPAC and even the Republican Jewish Coalition.
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