In a very strange election year, one of the strangest developments has to be the launch of the Trump campaign in Israel.
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In America, Donald Trump's campaign organization is a disaster. It’s outgunned in terms of fundraising and organization by the Clinton campaign. It spends more money renting arenas than on staff and is relying on the Republican Party organization for polling and outreach. In one Colorado county, the local field office is being run by a 12-year-old.
But in Israel, the Trump campaign is absurdly muscular. It already boasts three offices and a fourth one is being planned for a West Bank settlement . While Hillary Clinton’s local campaign relies on volunteers, Trump has three paid consultants on board.
What can Trump hope to get out this investment? His supporters optimistically talk about 300,000 U.S. voters living in Israel. More reliable sources put the number at 200,000, maybe less.
In Jefferson Country, Colorado, where the local campaign chief has to be carpooled to rallies, the adult population is about 400,000.
Pet hates, in descending order
The working assumption must be that those “300,000” voters are right-wing American Jews, mostly settlers and Orthodox, who will vote for Trump because they so thoroughly hate - in descending order - Obama, the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton, who are seen as sworn enemies of Israel and probably anti-Semites to boot.
Accusing Obama and Clinton of being anti-Israeli is nonsensical, but facts are in short supply this election year. The real question is whether Israeli-Americans who might vote for Trump because they think he would be better for Israel, have any basis for thinking so.
When Trump relates to Israel directly he pushes all the Zionist buttons, at least the ones that titillate Sheldon Adelson types. After an early gaffe about staying “neutral” in any Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Trump now says he’ll be squarely on Israel’s side if the day for talks ever arrives. He’ll move the embassy to Jerusalem. He hates the Iran nuclear accord. The Republican platform makes no mention of the two-state solution and rejects the idea of the U.S. dictating peace terms to Israel.
But when you look at the rest of Trump’s foreign policy vision, you have to ask yourself how it squares with his views on Israel.
Surprisingly, Trump has articulated a more or less coherent foreign policy that wants America to pare back its responsibilities for ensuring world order and focus on its immediate national interests.
Allies will have to foot more of their own defense spending and not expect America to do all the heavy lifting. He’s willing to do business with Russia and North Korea. True or not, Trump now presents himself as having opposed the Iraq war or intervening in Libya. Talking about the financial costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said, “If we spent $4 trillion to fix our roads, bridges we would’ve been a lot better off.”
Trump wants to tear up the nuclear agreement with Iran, but given his clearly stated preference for deal-making and reluctance to spend money on wars, it’s not quite clear what he wants instead. Does he hope to get a better deal? If he can’t , will he wage the kind of war he opposes? Will he let Israel and the Gulf powers deal with it? After all, a nuclear Iran is more their problem than America’s.
He also has declared that bringing down Islamic State is a top priority and that he will work with anyone who will help. So, does he intend to work with Tehran?
Trump also rejects “nation-building” and foisting democracy on unwilling countries. Does that mean he won’t help other rebels? Will he let Assad and his Iranian ally to rule in Syria once the IS threat is removed?
Maybe Israel holds a special place in Trump’s heart that Europe and America’s other friends do not. Maybe Israel will be an exception to Trump’s isolationist foreign policy.
But as the Iran and ISIS dilemmas show, America can’t and won’t be a reliable friend of Israel if it ignores its other global responsibilities, or handles them like an Oriental bazaar of wheeling and dealing.