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What Trump Means for Israel

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On 3 March 2016 Chemi Shaley, the U.S. correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, wrote an interesting piece on what the Donald Trump phenomenon means for U.S.-Israeli relations. Here are some of his points:

1. Trump’s insistence on staying “neutral” when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian problem has not cost him any popular support. Both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have “sneeringly lambasted” Trump for not supporting Israel, but to no avail. Trump just “laughed all the way to the top of the Republican presidential field.”

2. Republican evangelicals are paying no mind to Trump’s equivocations about Israel. They vote for Trump despite this. “Evangelical leaders … are heartbroken that so many Believers are flocking after the thrice married, dirty-talking reality star. They are less perturbed by his deviation from the strict pro-Israel party line, however, and more by the sinful ways for which he has not asked forgiveness.”

3. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy decision to “put all of Israel’s eggs in the GOP basket” – a decision confirmed when he appeared before Congress in 2015 to denounce the Iran nuclear agreement – has turned into a political disaster.

Waning Interest in Israel (U.S. Gentiles)

The rise of Donald Trump certainly suggests that the right-wing Israeli politicians badly misread the Republican political scene. Trump has tapped into a large and growing stratum of citizens who never cared very much about foreign policy, much less Israel-Palestine specifically. And, now that that indifference has been plainly revealed on the Republican side of the ledger, it may not be long before Democratic voters also start to say, loud enough for their leaders to hear, that Israel isn’t important to them either. As Shaley suggests, what is happening here is the exposure of Israel’s weakness in the United States.
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Thus, for the first time it is becoming publicly noticeable that a lot of voters don’t regard Israel as a linchpin ally upholding democracy in the Middle East. In fact, Israel simply is not a priority as far as they are concerned. However, start emphasizing to this largely isolationist-minded crowd the huge amount of their tax money that goes to Israel, and not caring might quickly turn to hostility. Mr. Trump is certainly not above providing the little push necessary for this to happen. How might this scenario play itself out?

If Trump becomes president and, like most of his predecessors, tries to settle the Israel-Palestine problem, he will no doubt be met with not only the usual Israeli stonewalling, but outright hostility. After all, Trump as president will have to deal with Netanyahu as prime minister and they are alike in that both tend to “shoot from the lip.”

As Shaley points out, “Trump refuses to acknowledge United Jerusalem [and] wants to remain neutral so that he can broker a peace deal with the Palestinians, which is a challenge worthy of a master dealmaker like him.” Netanyahu will loudly express his opposition. Perhaps he will refuse to deal with Trump at all. But Trump, unlike Obama, will not respond to Netanyahu’s insults with discretion. He will readily blame Israel for any failure and do it loudly and disparagingly. Then he might start to publicly question why the U.S. should be wasting vast amounts of treasure on such an unthankful nation as Israel. This could be a public relations disaster from which the Israelis will not be able to recover.

Waning Interest in Israel (U.S. Jews)

As an Israeli born and bred to the perennial fear of anti-Semitism, Shaley senses a danger in Trump not only to Israel but to Jews in general. “The Jews will run away from Trump because he scares them. Because his demagoguery is ominous, his willingness to slash and burn anyone standing in his way is disturbing, his tendency to incite his supporters against other ethnic groups … is a source of deep anxiety.”

All of this may be true, but so is the important point Shaley makes that “the Jews won’t be fleeing Trump because of his policies toward Israel.” In other words, increasing numbers of U.S. Jews are losing patience in the ever stubborn shenanigans of the Zionist state. And as they do so, Israel loses their support.

The truth is that today’s Zionists have bought a political elite and not much more. Right now they can rely on a thin veneer of politicos who are in the process of losing influence with an alienated citizenry. When the politicians make their adjustments to this new environment, one of the casualties may well be the U.S. alliance with Israel. Hillary, Bernie, Ted and Marco may be the last generation of American politicians who will give Benjamin Netanyahu and his ilk the time of day.

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Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.

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