It looks like a Donald Trump visit to Israel this summer is a definite maybe. He canceled a planned trip last December after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bruised the thin-skinned billionaire’s feelings by criticizing his proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States.
At the time Trump said he wouldn’t go until after he was elected president, but that was before getting a $100 million pledge of support from Netanyahu benefactor Sheldon Adelson.
Adelson is reportedly helping Trump’s Jewish son in- law, Jared Kushner, tack an Israel stop on a planned Trump golf event in Scotland later this month.
Trump endorsed Netanyahu in the Israeli 2013 election and can be expected to look for some reciprocity.
That may be a bit tougher now than four years ago when Adelson brought Mitt Romney to Jerusalem for a fundraiser organized by a top Netanyahu sycophant and a virtual endorsement from the prime minister.
Netanyahu may try to be more subtle this time to avoid risking damaging relations with Hillary Clinton in case she’s the next president. But he will be under great pressure from his and Trump’s mutual investor, Adelson.
Netanyahu makes no secret of his longstanding preference for Republicans, but the erratic and volatile Trump is no Romney, who virtually promised to contract out US Middle East policy to the Israeli leader.
Trump has said all the usual things about Israel – closest ally, shared values, security commitment, undying devotion – but has demonstrated a woeful lack of understanding of the issues.
Trump also has a serious Jewish problem that has nothing to do with Israel. There’s been an alarming level of anti-Semitism among his followers and an equally disturbing failure of the campaign to deal with it. Trump, at a minimum, tolerates it, at worst encourages it outright, reports the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
He was slow to disavow endorsements from former KKK leader David Duke, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and others of that ilk. His lawyer, an Orthodox Jew, explained, “I do not think Mr. Trump can be responsible for people who are anti-Semitic who support him.”
He boasts of his skills as a deal maker and says he will use them to make peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, although he has “real doubts” they’re interested.
On that count, he’s probably right.
Trump has wavered on whether he’ll be neutral, but all of his mentions – discussion is too complex a thought for Trump – seem to suggest he sees this issue as essentially another real estate deal.
He’s called Netanyahu a friend, but for Trump loyalty is a one-way street, especially in politics. It’s the same for Netanyahu, who is a much more experienced and sophisticated political player.
Neither is a man of any compelling vision for the future of his country beyond what can be expressed in slogans and dire warnings.
Netanyahu’s greatest desire is that a president Trump will continue sending billions in military aid, drop any talk of peacemaking and veto anything at the UN that the prime minister tells him to.
As for the billions in annual US aid, that may be a bigger problem. Trump has been talking about allies reimbursing the US for past assistance and picking up more of the costs of American protection (he’s been back and forth on whether that includes Israel).
Trump has a volatile temper he either can’t or won’t control. As president he’ll need to do more that tweet insults and bestow nasty nicknames.
“This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes,” Hillary Clinton said in her major foreign policy address last week, “because it’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.”
And if anyone is an expert at getting under people’s skin, it’s Netanyahu. Just ask US President Barack Obama and European leaders.
What should worry Netanyahu most about Trump is his volatility.
If Netanyahu pulls some of the same stunts on a president Trump that he did on President Obama – most notably secretly colluding with the opposition to lobby against the White House’s top foreign policy priority – the Donald could lash out in unforeseen ways.
He could take out his anger on American Jewish groups, like AIPA C, and order them investigated as foreign agents or for violating campaign finance laws.
What nickname would he come up with for the Israeli prime minister? What snide remarks would he have about the prime minister’s wife and her financial problems? Trump is notoriously thin-skinned; he doesn’t respond to criticism, he retaliates.
Israeli columnist Chemi Shalev said Trump and Netanyahu are “purveyors of hate” who “stoke fear of external threats and nurture resentment of internal others to gain power and deflect criticism.” They share a hatred of the media, intolerance for criticism, a penchant for adultery, exaggerated self-importance and a tendency to incite against racial or ethnic groups that don’t back them.
Trump boasts about being smart, but Netanyahu really is, although he is seriously deficient in vision. Netanyahu is well versed in the substance of the broad issues of the day; Trump could care less, shooting from the lip, firing off tweets and changing positions faster than the weather.
Netanyahu tries to be subtle and statesmanlike while Trump is the proverbial rampaging bull.
One thing you can count on in a Trump administration: Netanyahu will look back on the Obama years as the golden age in US-Israel relations.