Trump's Loyal Jewish Supporters Refuse to Believe He Sold Out Israel

Republicans in United States and Israel prefer to blame liberal media for recent scandals and expect Trump to express strong support for Jewish state during May 22 visit

U.S. President Donald Trump exiting the West Wing of the White House, May 16, 2017.
SAUL LOEB/AFP

President Donald Trump’s Jewish supporters in the United States and Israel are largely staying loyal to the increasingly beleaguered president. Even when Trump’s national security adviser refuses to describe the Western Wall as part of Israel and the president discloses to Russia classified security secrets reportedly provided by Israel, their support remains unwavering.

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Rather than blame Trump for any missteps, many U.S. Jews blame the media, subscribing to the president’s view that mainstream sources provide only “fake news.” And they are unblinking in their belief that Trump’s support of Israel is solid, ahead of his state visit on May 22.

“I am the ultimate Trump supporter,” said Danny Levine, the owner of Manhattan’s 125-year-old store J. Levine Books & Judaica. News that H.R. McMaster refused to say whether the Kotel is part of Israel “is all left-wing non-Trump people spreading rumors,” Levine added.

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Even the news that Israel was the source of the classified intelligence given to Russia failed to faze Trump voters.

It “doesn’t concern me,” said Lisa Gladstone, a real estate agent with homes in Ra’anana, Westhampton Beach and Boca Raton. “We don’t know if [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu said, ‘I don’t want it coming from us but I think Russia should know this.’

“If he felt he had to share it, I trust him,” Gladstone added. “I trust him implicitly. I trust his daughter [Ivanka] and son-in-law [Jared Kushner]. I’m a staunch Trump supporter.”

Levine is more concerned that The Washington Post published the story that Trump shared classified information with the Russians last week. “The Washington Post reports all this stuff and gives all this information to everyone, including terrorists,” said Levine. “I have trust that Netanyahu, Trump and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will work together and make the world a better place.”

Chair of Republicans Overseas Marc Zell at an election watch-party in Jerusalem, November 8, 2016.
Twitter screenshot

Similar support can be found some 9,000 kilometers (5,600 miles) away in Israel. “The media seems to think we Republicans are feeling ‘buyer’s remorse,’” said Marc Zell, head of Republicans Abroad in Israel. “No way! President Trump is a buyers’ bonanza.”

That ‘bonanza,’ Zell said, is due to the sea change in U.S.-Israeli relations. “In just over 100 days in office, [Trump] has done more for that relationship than [President Barack] Obama did in eight years. For the first time, we have a president who accepts Israel’s right to make our own decisions. He may not agree with everything we do, but he will never pressure us or browbeat us – as the previous administrations have done.”

Marianna Mahvari, who works in sales in New York and has traveled to Israel about 20 times, didn’t even believe Trump had shared classified information. “Tell me when you get certified information that he shared classified, un-shareable information. At this moment, you do not have any proof. The president did not share anything that Russia did not already know,” she said. “The president has America’s best interests in mind. Anything the president deems shareable, I am 100 percent on board with it.

Abraham Katsman, counsel for the Israeli branch of Republicans Overseas, echoed Mahvari’s sentiments. “The bottom line is, we just don’t know what was revealed, how secret the information was, whether it may have already been shared by Israel with Russia, or whether sources and methods have been compromised,” he said.

Katsman also expressed amazement about why there “is no parallel criticism of those who have publicly revealed the information – which President Trump had only shared with Russia.”

Sid Dinerstein, a retired entrepreneur and former chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, as well as an enthusiastic Trump voter, said that U.S. Republican Jews remain “real comfortable with where this administration is” on all things Israel-related.

Yet there are Trump supporters in Israel who admit to being disappointed by the president’s actions, and that his support in Israel is waning.

Leah, a teacher from North America who moved to Israel several years ago, spoke with Haaretz on condition that only her first name be used. “I had such hope for Trump! But I don’t think Israel can count on him – because I don’t think he really knows what he’s doing,” she said. “Look at how he gave that information to the Russians – that isn’t good for Israel, or for the world. He hasn’t moved the embassy; he hasn’t said we can build anywhere in the Land of Israel; he met with [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas.

“It’s all wrong. I’m disappointed,” she said, adding, “But it’s not like we have so many other choices. And I certainly would not want to be seen as supporting any candidates from the left, who are all anti-Semitic and against Israel.”

Michael Cohen, an accountant who came to Israel “several decades ago,” admits to being “on the fence. I am still going to give Trump a chance. We’ll see what happens during his visit, if he makes statements that show he really does support Israel. So far, he has not done everything he promised in his campaign.”

Indeed, one such campaign promise was to immediately move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Even though Trump has backtracked on that since taking office, his pro-Israel Jewish fans aren’t worried.

“With David Friedman as the ambassador it will happen,” said Gladstone. “Trump has done an enormous amount in his 120 days, and everything is not a snap when you’re president. He has to figure out a way to do things in a timely manner that will work, and not just cause an uproar. Everything he does, the liberal left-wing media don’t leave him alone. No matter what Trump says, they’ll never ever give him the benefit of the doubt. They just want this presidency to fail.”

Dinerstein also expressed confidence that the embassy move will happen. “From the day he got inaugurated he said: ‘That’s what I want.’ I wish he had done it the first day. I’m cautiously optimistic that at the right time we’ll get it. It tells everybody which side he’s on. He decided to step back and do it in his context of trying to see a greater reduction of hostility between Israel and [its] neighbors.”

Levine, meanwhile, says Trump needs to move the embassy soon. “It’s a very bad thing not to move it, because it shows weakness,” he said. “We have to move it and say Jerusalem is ours. It has to come from strength. That’s the only way we could ever be successful,” he added.

And U.S. Republicans in Israel expect the move to happen sooner rather than later. “The six-month waiver that Obama, like his predecessors, signed to the law that mandates moving the embassy to Jerusalem will be up soon. Trump won’t sign that waiver – and then, by law, the embassy must move to Israel,” said Republicans Overseas’ Zell.

Nimrod Zuta is the self-appointed head of the Trump Blue and White movement – a loosely organized group that has broken away from the official Republicans Overseas Israel branch and has over 50,000 Facebook likes. “Moving the embassy is complicated, but it will happen,” he said. “I know that a place for the embassy in Jerusalem has already been scouted out,” he added, refusing to provide any specifics.

Zuta also said people shouldn’t overlook Trump’s business acumen. “Sometimes, Trump does things we don’t understand because he knows he has to play poker in this world. And no one is better than Trump at poker – he wrote the book on that.”

Zell also noted that Trump has not expressed any opposition to Israeli construction in the West Bank. “Actually, no one knows the official White House position,” he said, “but we do know this: Trump has made it clear he does not view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a central issue in Middle East geopolitics. He wants to create a coalition against the Islamic State group with the Sunni states, and so he may come to think that settlements are not helpful. But he will never force Israel’s hand.”

Trump’s spokesman announced Tuesday that no Israeli officials would accompany the president on his visit to the Kotel, in order to highlight “that Jerusalem is holy to all three major religions.” Zell dismissed that as unimportant. “Trump’s visit to the Western Wall is historic,” he said. “No sitting president has ever done this. The fact Trump is doing this says it all, especially when coupled with Ambassador Friedman’s dramatic visit” to the Kotel on Monday.

But Katsman was more circumspect. “We’re all trying to read the tea leaves to figure out what every different gesture might mean,” he said. “But the truth is, there’s no way to know until next week[’s visit] what is significant and what is not. What is truly important is what this president has shown so far in terms of his commitment to the special U.S.-Israel relationship, and his policy of making it very plain to all that America publicly stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel.” 

Katsman said this was “an indication to America’s friends and foes alike that America under President Trump is once again a reliable ally to even its most embattled friends.”

Back in the United States, Jewish supporters said Trump would have to do something detrimental to Israel to make them reconsider their backing.

“If after this trip he forces Israel’s hand, or does something to throw Netanyahu under the bus, then I would really be upset and definitely question my allegiances,” said Gladstone. “But again, I don’t know what’s happening behind closed doors.”

Mahvari said that if she “had knowledge, pure hard facts, of him ever going against the Jewish people or Israel, of course I would speak out against him and what he was doing. But I have faith that he would never [let that] happen.

“It’s a mind-set,” she concluded. “It’s ‘America First’ – and when you say ‘America First,’ you mean Israel first as well.”

Eetta Prince-Gibson co-wrote this story.