Trump’s Scorecard on Israel and Jews
This post will be updated as needed (last update was on August 29; note that updates sometimes appear within the relevant section rather than as new entries at the end).
The Jewish community should be proud that a greater proportion of American Jews voted for Hillary Clinton than almost any other ethnic or religious group. Yet a small but vocal minority insisted, against all evidence to the contrary, that Donald Trump would be better for Israel and American Jewry — even though he ran a campaign laced with anti-Semitic tropes and anti-Jewish stereotypes. Let’s see if they were right:
Trump’s first 100 days were not good. Trump may “may hold the record for the most high-profile affronts to the Jewish community in the first 100 days,” wrote former White House Jewish liaison Matt Nosanchuk. Judged by Trump’s own promises on Israel and Iran, his first 100 days were a failure.
Trump broke his promise of no daylight between the U.S. and Israel. He publicly warned Israel about settlement construction in February. Trump also said “the Israelis have to show they really want to make a deal,” and while saying that the parties themselves must directly negotiate an agreement, he said that other Arab countries would be invited to help with negotiations “to make it easier on the Palestinians.” David Horowitz wrote on May 3 that Trump’s welcome for Palestinian President Abbas in Washington was so warm that he might have been talking to an Israeli leader.
There is clearly daylight between the Trump administration and Israel on settlements. Bret Stephens tweeted that “Most interesting about this readout is that it could have come from a Democratic Administration.” That’s probably the best we can say about the Trump administration thus far — at least when it comes to Israel, Trump is largely maintaining bipartisan U.S. policy, despite signals here and there to the contrary. Indeed, Trump’s policy on Israel is surprisingly conventional. On June 21, the Trump administration reiterated its opposition to settlements. On July 6, Trump criticized settlement construction in Jerusalem (if Jerusalem is part of Israel, how can construction in Jerusalem be deemed “settlements”?). But in August, Trump’s State Department refused to endorse a two-state solution.
On May 21, Israeli government officials criticized Trump’s $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia amidst concerns that it would erode Israel’s qualitative military edge. Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid said that Israel’s entire security establishment is deeply concerned about the arms deal.
Trump and Israel have also had public disagreements about Syria strategy. Haaretz reported on July 16 that “By openly voicing his opposition to one of the most significant moves the United States and Russia have made in Syria in recent months, Netanyahu made public a major disagreement between Israel and the two great powers that had until now been kept under wraps and expressed only through quiet diplomatic channels.” So much for no daylight.
In 2009, Obama said this to the Arab world in Cairo: “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable.” On May 21, 2017, Trump delivered a major speech in Saudi Arabia where he said nothing at all about U.S. support for Israel.
Trump waffled on his promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. In February he began backing away from that pledge. Pursuant to the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, the U.S. embassy must be moved to Jerusalem unless the president signs a waiver stating that delaying the embassy move is “necessary to protect the national interests of the United States.” On June 1, the second day of Shavuot, Trump signed the waiver. He had promised to move the embassy on Day One of his administration.
Trump’s second Holocaust statement, in April, was much better. The question is whether those new words will result in new policies. On June 9, The Hill reported that Trump wants to cut funding for the U.S. Holocaust Museum by $3 million.
Trump refused to fire Sean Spicer following Spicer’s offensive Holocaust remarks. On April 11, 2017, the first day of Pesach, Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, said that Hitler did not use chemical weapons during World War II. When journalists asked “what about the Holocaust” (the Nazis used Zyklon B), Spicer said that he knew Hitler brought Jews to “Holocaust centers,” but Assad used gas on his people differently. And who was the first person Spicer apologized to? Sheldon Adelson. Yet despite calls for Spicer’s resignation, Trump did not criticize Spicer for these remarks, let alone fire him. Spicer resigned on July 21 for unrelated reasons.
Trump left Israel off a list of allegedly underreported terrorist incidents. Morton Klein, the head of the Zionist Organization of America, said that “I am deeply perplexed as to how the administration put out a statement on terror attacks that haven’t been reported without Israel being on that list. It’s painful and perplexing — especially on top of the Holocaust gaffe.”
Trump repeatedly refused to condemn anti-Semitism. On February 15, Trump dodged a question about anti-Semitism by talking about his Electoral College victory. The next day, Trump brushed off an Orthodox Jew’s question about anti-Semitism. After getting it wrong five times, Trump finally condemned anti-Semitism on February 21, a condemnation that Steven Goldstein, Executive Director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, called “a pathetic asterisk of condescension.”
Trump did finally condemn threats and violence against Jews in his joint address to Congress on February 28. But he just couldn’t bring himself to call it what it is: anti-Semitism. Trump said that “Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”
When Donald suggests that when Jews cry “anti-Semitism” it’s really a plot to discredit him and his, it doesn’t matter what his motives are — the effect is to render Jews a little more suspicious, a little more alien, a little less trustworthy, and a little less worthy of our solidarity and support. And in this way, the most ancient and dangerous anti-Semitic canards are slowly but surely resurrected in the American psyche.
Using language President Obama frequently used, Trump also “reaffirmed our unbreakable alliance with the State of Israel” in his address to Congress.
On April 23, Trump gave a Yom HaShoah speech that said all the right things and he followed up on April 25 with a second Holocaust statement that said all the right things. Trump offered his congratulations to Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut.
Shai Franklin noted on April 23 that “finally, months after his White House denied the need to mention Jews in connection with the Holocaust, he did mention Hitler’s six million Jewish targeted victims. But his rhetoric is very thin on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, and ignores his administration’s consistent refusal to act in support of contemporary victims of mass killings and of racial and religious persecution, even while he and his aides routinely appeal to Islamophobia and other forms of xenophobia here in the United States.”
The post of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism has been vacant since Trump took office. On June 14, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated that it may never be filled, and the State Department’s anti-Semitism monitoring office will be unstaffed as of July 1. The ADL called on the Trump administration to fill this position, and on July 13, two former envoys, as well as the head of the ADL, wrote that this position is now needed more than ever. Tillerson reversed himself on August 29, and said that the position would be filled.
Every president since Jimmy Carter has had a Jewish liaison, but that position too has been vacant since Trump took office, and the White House has no plans to fill it.
A top Trump advisor wore a Nazi medal. I really thought/hoped this was a hoax, but it’s real. Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka, who was fired from the FBI for antiMuslim diatribes, and finally left the White House on August 25. Gorka called criticism of Trump’s omission of Jews from his Holocaust Remembrance statement “asinine.” The Forward reported that Gorka “has in the past chosen to work with openly racist and anti-Semitic groups and public figures.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) demanded that Trump provide Gorka’s immigration application to the House Judiciary Committee. Democratic (because the GOP has been silent on Gorka) Senators Dick Durbin (IL), Ben Cardin (MD), and Richard Blumenthal (CT) noted in their letter that
this Administration purports to have a special interest in ensuring that those with extremist views do not exploit our immigration laws…
We are particularly troubled by Dr. Gorka’s reported affiliation with an anti-Semitic organization because of the White House’s own checkered record on religious discrimination. For the first time in decades, the White House’s statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day failed to mention the Jewish victims, an omission which Dr. Gorka publicly defended.
If you’ve read the attempts to defend Gorka, you owe it to yourself to read this rebuttal from The Forward and these Twitter threads from Ron Kampeas and Sarah Posner. The Forward reported on April 3 that “in 2007, Sebastian Gorka, President Trump’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, publicly supported a violent racist and anti-Semitic paramilitary militia that was later banned as a threat to minorities by multiple court rulings.” And yes, Gorka’s comments were correctly translated.
In April 24, The Forward reported that Gorka’s ties to this Nazi-allied group stretch back decades.
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) helped lead a letter urging Trump to dismiss Gorka. Not one Republican was willing to call for Gorka’s dismissal. Gorka spoke at the Jerusalem Post’s annual Israel Conference on May 7, and The Forward fact-checked him.
The wonderful thing about the Internet is that one can find support for any position. Meet the Jews who vouched for Bannon and Gorka. Read more about Steve Bannon, who left the White House on August 18.
Bannon and Gorka never should have been in the White House in the first place, and their departure seems to have had nothing to do with the concerns reported here.
A Trump aide claims a “good relationship” with Louis Farrakhan. According to The Forward, White House adviser and former Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault was criticized by the Anti-Defamation League on May 4 after she said that she had a “good relationship” with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and would “look forward to a meeting with him.” Allison Kaplan Sommer noted that “one can only imagine what would be coming out of the Republican noise machine if an Obama or Clinton aide as closely tied to the president as Manigault is to Trump made such a warm gesture to the controversial minister.”
A Trump administration official tweeted racist, anti-Semitic, and bigoted comments. But that didn’t stop William Bradford from becoming a senior Energy Department official in the Trump administration.
The Trump administration urged the U.N. to withdraw a report accusing Israel of apartheid. Nicki Haley slammed the report on March 16 and and the U.N. withdrew it. No ifs, ands, or buts — the administration deserves our thanks for this.
The Senate confirmed David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel on March 23. No Jewish Senators voted for him. As Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), whose district includes more Jews than any other Congressional district explained, Friedman’s use of “hateful language is an insult to the majority of American Jews [and] Friedman’s radical hardline positions place him far outside the mainstream of both American and Israeli policy and of American Jewry.”
Trump ended President Obama’s tradition of hosting a White House seder. President Obama hosted a seder at the White House every year. But in April 2017, Trump and his family skipped the seder, and seder itself was not held in the West Wing as it had been under Obama, but in the nearby Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
And breaking nearly two decades of tradition, Trump did not host a Ramadan dinner.
Breaking decades of tradition, Trump did not visit the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising monument when he was in Warsaw in July 2017 (but Ivanka visited). Trump’s July 6 speech endorsed the Polish, right-wing narrative of innocence during the Nazi era.
The Trump administration deleted mentions of Israel from a video. On May 8, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) criticized the State Department for editing out references to Israel out of footage about President Trump’s upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Vatican City. The NJDC said that “while the video has now been deleted, damage has already been done. To make sure this doesn’t happen again, the administration must explain how this happened and what will be done to ensure that this sort of thing won’t happen again.”
The State Department responded that the American Embassy was unaware that the video had been altered and that the video was immediately replaced on the embassy’s social media accounts with the original version that includes Trump stating Israel will be among the countries he’ll be visiting. It is not clear whether Trump has ever visited Israel before.
The Trump administration twice in one week referred to “Palestine” and said that the Western Wall was not Israeli territory. There is no such country and the pro-Israel community objects to this terminology because neither the U.S. nor Israel recognizes Palestine as a country. But on May 12, the White House said that Trump would travel to “Palestine” (they later edited the announcement). But then on May 14, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson again referred to “Palestine.”
A Trump aide told Israel that the Western Wall is “not your territory.” The White House attempted to walk back the Western Wall comment, but when asked about it later, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster refused to say whether the Western Wall is part of Israel.
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley couldn’t resist the opportunity to demonstrate that she is in over her head (or maybe couldn’t resist the opportunity to kick off her 2020 campaign) by stating that the Western Wall is in Israel. But as Josh Lederman explains, “the longstanding U.S. stance is that the site is in Jerusalem, full stop. That distinction — Jerusalem, not Israel — reflects the U.S. position that the city’s fate is an issue for Israelis and Palestinians to work out through future peace negotiations.”
To be clear, the word “Palestine” was used during the Obama administration, and of course President Obama also adhered to long-standing U.S. policy on Jerusalem. Trump is even sticking with the Iran Deal (he waived Iran sanctions on May 17). The difference is that our right-wing friends howled and screamed when Obama did it, but they lose their voice when Trump does it — and much worse.
Trump compromised Israeli intelligence by sharing top secret information with Russia. The highly classified information about an ISIS terror plot that President Trump shared with Russian officials in the White House the week of May 14 was originally provided by Israel.
Aaron Keyak explains that “In addition to potentially killing an Israeli spy, by sharing information with Russia, Trump has deeply betrayed a close ally and made Israel and other allies nervous about giving the U.S. any further intelligence. By limiting the trust of our allies to share vital intelligence with us, he has also made us all, especially our fighting forces, much less safe.”
Trump visited Israel in May 2017. His speeches at Yad Vashem and at the Israel Museum were pro-Israel. Trump became the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall, but Trump’s visit did not represent any change in U.S. policy, especially after National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster refused to say that the Western Wall is in Israel, and on June 1, Trump signed a waiver preventing the the U.S. embassy from moving to Jerusalem (for the same reasons previous presidents have done so).
The Trump administration brokered an Israeli-Palestinian water deal. The deal will increase fresh water going to the Palestinians.
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