PM Netanyahu and President Trump.
(photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)
During the lengthy US primary and presidential campaigns, Donald Trump, with no political background, remained a mystery to many people. One area in particular dispute was his attitude toward Israel. His support from the hard “alt-right” and controversy over his chief strategist Steve Bannon suggested US relations with Israel under Trump might not improve over those of the Obama administration. Trump’s slogan of “Make America Great Again,” seemed to suggest a philosophy similar to the isolationism and antisemitism of Charles Lindbergh and the “Make America Great” movement of the late 1930s.
In November, only 30% of Jews voted for Trump and in March this year an ADL poll found 33% of Americans thought Trump was personally antisemitic.
In January’s Holocaust Remembrance Day remarks Trump made no mention of the fate of European Jews. January and February saw a growth of antisemitism and anti-Israel movements on campuses, numerous bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers allegedly carried out by an Israeli teen, and frequent antisemitic ads. In February President Trump in two press conferences failed to condemn antisemitism.
But new directions have emerged in the past two months. The moderate pro-Israel faction in the new administration has emerged as the dominant element advising President Trump. This group, led by Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, includes those dealing directly with Israel (US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and international negotiator Jason Greenblatt), the Wall Street group led by former Goldman Sachs senior executives (Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin), leading advisers such as Stephen Miller and counselor Kellyann Conway.
Other voices include those of Vice President Mike Pence, who at the AIPAC annual convention in March declared that “President Trump and I stand with Israel... [we] will never compromise the safety and security of Israel... [we] will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon... [we] will no longer tolerate Iran’s effort to destabilize the region.”
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in April lambasted the “breathtaking anti-Israel bias” at the UN, for “I am here to underscore the iron support of the United States for Israel... [which] is a beacon of stability in a troubled region.” She declared that with regard to Russia and Iran, “We are calling them out... I don’t think anything is off the table.”
Recent events have turned enemies of Israel into more active enemies of the US. The American bombing of an Islamic State (ISIS) base in Syria led to condemnation by Russia, Syria and Iran. The North Korean threats of war against the US again turned Russia, North Korea and Iran (which has worked on its nuclear program together with North Korea) openly against the US. The US attack with a MOAB (Massive Ordinance Air Blast) weapon in Afghanistan has led to condemnation by Russia, which is supporting the Taliban, and Iran.
There were several other good indicators for Israel in the 100th anniversary year of the Balfour Declaration of 1917. President Trump met in Washington not only with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February but also in March and April with the Sunni leaders of Egypt (President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi), Jordan (King Abdullah II) and Saudi Arabia (Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman). These leaders, fearing the Iranian threat, have begun to actively ally with Israel.
Early in the year Netanyahu made a swing through four African states, something impossible a decade ago. India, whose foreign minister visited Israel last January, confirmed that for the first time in history its prime minister, Narendra Modi, will be visiting Israel in June. This will solidify a relationship whereby Israel, a leading military exporter to India, will work with the Indian Missile Force on new weapons and also in agriculture and industry. This will open the door to other countries.
The Israeli economy, which has one of the top five hi-tech centers in the world, has grown far faster than equivalent sectors in most Western powers. Fully 300 foreign firms run research and development centers in Israel. Having together with Raytheon produced the Arrow-3 missile, Israel is the only country in the world aside from the United States to have extensive anti-missile missile defenses. Finally, Russia recently became the first country to acknowledge west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Over the next nearly four years of the Trump administration, American-Israeli relations will likely go up and down. But the warmth felt in the White House toward democratic and hi-tech Israel, and the ongoing Middle East crises, are likely to rekindle the ties that have bound the US and Israel for most of the past 70 years.The author is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.