This article was originally published on February 7, 2016.
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Donald Trump declares he “will be very good to Israel.” He declares his “closeness to Judaism.” But it didn’t take long on the campaign trail for his ignorance about Israel and the region, and a superabundance of Jewish caricatures, to slip out.
Here are six reasons why Trump’s foreign policy bombast would be bad for Israel - and the Middle East as a whole.
The Middle East is a blank space on the map for him
Trump has been roundly criticized for his lack of foreign policy knowhow. On the Hugh Hewitt show he couldn’t distinguish between Hezbollah and Hamas. On Meet the Press he said he gets most of foreign policy advice “from the shows.” His mendacity on the campaign trail, including claiming he has a foreign policy advisor who isn’t actually advising him, won Trump Politifact’s “Lie of the Year Award,” - not just for a single mistruth but for over 58 false statements made in 2015. But not to worry, when he couldn’t name the basic players in the Middle East, Trump promised Hugh Hewitt that he either wouldn’t need to know or he would learn it all before getting into office. “I will be so good at the military, your head will spin,” he said.
He knows some pretty insulting Jewish stereotypes
Trump’s daughter Ivanka may have converted to Judaism before her wedding, but despite his self-proclaimed “closeness to Judaism,” Trump managed to throw out some pretty anti-Semitic statements when speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition back in December. “You’re not gonna support me even though you know I’m the best thing that could ever happen to Israel,” Trump said. “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. Isn’t it crazy?"
He added, “This room negotiates deals. Perhaps more than any room I’ve ever spoken to.”
He wants to take Israel’s wall and run with it much much further
Trump regularly cites Israeli policies that already divide the American Jewish community as being both successful and replicable for the United States. He cites “the [separation] wall” in Israel as an example of why the United States should build a wall with Mexico, and has repeatedly called for “taking out the families of terrorists,” one long step further from the Israeli policy of demolishing terrorists’ homes. Israel certainly wouldn’t gain reputationally from this emulation: As Ryan Lizza noted in the New Yorker after attending a Trump rally, “I had never previously been to a political event at which people cheered for the murder of women and children.”
There’d be no anti-ISIS alliance
Under Trump, there’s no doubt the ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis would gain momentum, if not combustion. Many Trump’s critics accuse him of doing ISIS’ work for it by exploiting fear of terrorism and drumming up the kind of anti-Muslim sentiment radical Jihadists leverage to gain support. Trump as president would distance Arab world allies: the UAE and other Arab state billionaires have threatened to divest from the United States under his presidency. And we haven’t started on the likely Trump - Muslim world relationship. As conservative pundit, Mona Charen slammed him in in the National Review’s anti-Trump manifesto: “Where is the center of gravity in a man who in May denounces those who ‘needlessly provoke’ Muslims and in December proposes that we (‘temporarily’) close our borders to all non-resident Muslims?”
He’d outsource Middle East policy to Putin
Trump’s new foreign policy approach is based on the United States making ‘good deals’ and getting “paid back” for protection or intervention abroad. This would end the U.S. “getting screwed over” by having to do the rest of the world’s work for them. It’s several steps away from the familiar American traditions of neoconservative or liberal interventionist policy. As part of this U.S. Interests First approach, he has regularly called for letting Putin, Assad and ISIS fight it out in Syria.
While this line finds a ready audience among some war-weary Americans, U.S. military officials have warned that civilians are bearing the brunt of the over 5,000 airstrikes Russia has carried out since September, which is both further fueling the European refugee crisis and enhancing ISIS’ recruitment message.
Meanwhile, the more the United States gets pushed out of the region, the more Putin and his de-facto allies, especially Iran and Hezbollah, strengthen their position at Israel’s doorstep.
But is it good for Israel?
Donald Trump likes to boast about his pro-Israel credentials. One of his favorite lines on the stump is, “I was even the grand marshal for the [NYC] Israeli [sic] Day Parade.” And if that doesn’t sell you, rest assured, he has “won so many awards from Israel” and has “so many friends from Israel.” He promises he “will be very good to Israel.”
When first pushed on whether or not Jerusalem should be Israel’s capital and the U.S. Embassy should be moved there, he waffled and refused to give a clear answer. Last week, while locked in a close battle with Ted Cruz in the polls in Iowa, Trump in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network, pledged to move the Embassy in a bid to poach Cruz’s Evangelical support.
Historically, the American leaders who have historically best served Israel’s interests were fuelled by ideological motivations. Truman recognized Israel, against the urging of the advisor he believed to be the greatest man alive, George Marshall, because of his Christian faith and deep belief in spreading universal values. America’s patronage of Israel has been based more on ideological and philosophical imperatives, with a dose of clear-sighted pragmatism, than any so-called “Jewish lobby.”
Donald Trump has shown no ideological underpinnings, other than “making America great again,” that would ensure he would support Israel in tough times. He’s already shown little backbone in standing up for other states’ independence against larger foes: When pressed on whether or not he believed Ukraine should be a part of NATO, he said he didn’t care. He feels no nostalgia for backing up strategic allies of half-a-century’s standing: "If somebody attacks Japan, we have to immediately go and start World War III, OK? If we get attacked, Japan doesn't have to help us. Somehow, that doesn't sound so fair. Does that sound good?" Trump said. Israel’s fate in terms of its military and strategic dependence on the U.S. would be subject to a kind of erratic opportunism based on Donald Trump’s whims and the latest subjects of his bunker mentality.
On the other hand, Trump’s declaration that he has 'real doubts' whether Israelis and Palestinians really want peace sounds less unmoored from reality, if not pessimistic about any future peace process: "A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal — whether or not Israel's willing to sacrifice certain things," Trump said. "They may not be, and I understand that, and I'm OK with that. But then you're just not going to have a deal." Trump’s willing to let Putin run amok in Israel’s backyard; he laments Saddam Hussein’s downfall; and by indicating he would accept the status quo of Israel’s occupation and the lack of negotiations with the Palestinians, he shows how little he’s really invested in the future for democracy in Israel or Palestine.
Trump claims the Bible as his favorite book, but can’t name a verse. So here’s a suggestion for him to get to know, from Proverbs: He who hates, disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not.
Alexander Griffing is the director of digital outreach at Haaretz English edition. He has a master's degree from Tel Aviv University in political science.