Michael Steinhardt’s secretary called me one morning in December with a question. Did I know how to get in touch with Donald Trump? Why, I asked, does Michael want to get in touch with Trump? He doesn’t, came the reply. But Sheldon Adelson wants to get in touch with Donald Trump and asked Michael to whether he knew how to do it.
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So I did what anyone would do when a billionaire is at sea. I put Steinhardt in touch with a particularly well-connected newspaper editor. To what shidduch that did or didn’t lead, I have no idea (and certainly claim no credit). But Trump, I thought, must be far from American Zionism if neither Steinhardt or Adelson had him in their cellphone contacts.
All the more delighted I was to read the flurry of stories this week that Adelson and Trump are in touch and that the Las Vegas-based casino mogul might support The Donald. It’s not that I’ve endorsed Trump (the New York Sun, which I edit, hasn’t made an endorsement in the primaries, and I favor the only declared gold-standard candidate, Senator Ted Cruz).
It strikes me, though, as a feather in Trump’s cap that Adelson, who is no doubt going to make Israel one of the tests for his support, is prepared, at least in principle, to back The Donald. And none too soon, as the Jewish community prepares to take Trump’s measure at AIPAC. That is going to be an important moment in Trump’s Republican passage.
Certainly Trump has a lot of explaining to do. It’s no small thing for the billionaire to have demurred on the question of Jerusalem, as he did when he met with the Republican Jewish Coalition. At the time, the Zionist Organization of America issued a statement of concern, which I shared (and wrote about in Haaretz).
Nor is it a small thing that Trump has suggested he’s disinclined to take sides in the war between the Palestinian Arabs and Israel. “Let me sort of be a neutral guy,” Trump said in February. To someone like me, that would be a catastrophe, incenting the Palestinian Arabs to hang back from a deal and avoid dealing directly with Israel’s elected leadership.
Trump’s slowness of the mark against David Duke is also serious; but I can’t find anyone who reckons he actually sides with the erstwhile Grand Wizard of the Klan. The New York Times reports that Trump once sent the City Council of Palm Beach, which was moving too slowly on approving Trump's club at Mar-a-lago, copies of the anti-anti-Semitism movie “Gentlemen’s Agreement.”
For me, the biggest problem Trump has is his opposition to the Iraq war (which, people tend to forget, was also opposed by the Ku Klux Klan). Where is the Republican or Democrat who is marking Trump’s view of the war. Or mocking the implicit suggestion that we’d have been better off with Saddam’s Baathist regime. The big mistake was not going in but pulling out.
In any event, whatever explaining needs to be done by Donald Trump, it’s nothing compared to the explaining that needs to be done by the Democrats. Hillary Clinton endorsed President Obama’s articles of appeasement with the Iranian regime. So did Bernie Sanders. Her own president opposed her plan for Libya, and when it cratered, she ignored it.
Clinton has fabulous interpersonal relations with the liberal Jewish leadership in America but she —and her husband’s administration, for that matter — have been less than fabulous with Israel when the Jewish state’s democracy hands up a leader with whom, like Prime Minister Netanyahu, they don’t agree.
One of the questions being heard around New York — including in conversations with the greatest of neo-conservative sages — is which is worse: the known of the Democrats or the unknown of Donald Trump. AIPAC is a chance for him to address at least this part of the doubts around him, and it’s no small thing that he’s winning over a hardline friend of Israel like Sheldon Adelson.
Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun. He was a foreign editor of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of The Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.