Opinion |

The Secret of Israel’s Trumpmania? He’s One of Our Own

The U.S. President distrusts Muslim, derides Europeans, detests political correctness, ignores human rights, torments immigrants and trashes the media: What’s not to like?

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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U.S. President Donald Trump touches the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City May 22, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump touches the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City May 22, 2017. Credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Jewish Israelis love Trump. A poll published this week by the American Jewish Committee found that 77 percent of the Israeli Jewish population approves of Trump’s handling of U.S.-Israeli relations. Last month, a University of Maryland/Politico poll conducted by Professor Shibley Telhami found that 59 percent of Jewish Israelis approve of Trump overall. Support for Trump was highest among religious and traditional Jews, but secular Israelis also gave Trump their stamp of approval by a 45-33 percent margin.

Support for Trump among Jewish Israelis is significantly higher than his approval ratings in the United States, which now stand, after a recent rise, at 40-45 percent. Other countries in which Trump is popular include Russia, the Philippines, Vietnam and several African countries. Among democratic countries, however, Israel stands alone. In France only 14 percent approve of Trump, in Germany only 11 percent and in Canada 22 percent, but that was before his recent scuffle with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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Support for Trump in Israel is to be expected, at least partially. By the standards of Israeli Jewish public opinion, Trump’s policies are decidedly pro-Israel, especially his abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal and the transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, who was popular throughout the world but less so in Israel, Trump maintains extraordinarily close and cordial ties with Benjamin Netanyahu. Nonetheless, and though this has yet to be confirmed in polls, one can assume that support for Trump is not limited to his attitudes towards Israel. His conduct in both the international and domestic arenas fit the current Israeli zeitgeist like a glove. This is the secret of Israel’s Trumpmania.

Trump derides international organizations, puts Europeans in their place and slams knee-jerk liberals like Trudeau to his heart’s content. He ignores Palestinians and distrusts Muslims, with the exception, just like Israel, of rich and conservative oil countries such as Saudi Arabia. The U.S. President speaks the blunt “dugri” that Israelis cherish. He abhors convention, thrives on provocations, detests political correctness, ignores human rights, mocks liberals and leftists, torments immigrants and trashes the media on a daily basis. Even the fact that he has isolated America in the Western world speaks in his favor: Welcome to the club, Israelis would say.

Moreover, Trump’s personality and conduct in many ways reflect large swaths of the Israeli population much more quintessentially than Netanyahu. In contrast to the prime minister, Trump is quick-tempered rather than self-controlled, inarticulate rather than eloquent, superficial rather than thorough, ignorant rather than knowledgeable, impulsive rather than calculated, a short-distance sprinter rather than a marathon runner. He is like Israel’s fiery and flamboyant Culture Minister Miri Regev, albeit on steroids and with a finger on the nuclear button.

Like Evangelicals, Israelis are in denial about the political and moral consequences of Trump’s stormy tenure. So what if he is decimating the North Atlantic alliance, distancing democratic leaders like Angela Merkel, cozying up to murderous dictators like Kim Jong Un, dividing America, undermining democracy, eroding the rule of law, lying incessantly and possibly serving the interests of Vladimir Putin? So what if he is inspiring the rise of ethnocentric ultranationalist movements throughout Europe, many of which with a barely-hidden underbelly of anti-Semitism? So what if he is tarnishing America’s image abroad and obliterating its historic role as a beacon of democracy? Trump is one of our own, and that’s all that’s important.

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