Four things that should concern Israelis from Trump’s speech at the IAC

The significant gap in how American Jews and Israelis perceived the speech requires Israelis to reevaluate Trump’s statements and understand it through the eyes of American Jewry.

US President Donald Trump speaks at the Israeli-American Council 2019 Summit. (photo credit: ISRAEL-AMERICAN COUNCIL)
US President Donald Trump speaks at the Israeli-American Council 2019 Summit.
Last Saturday, an American Jewish student named Blake Flayton, sent out a tweet following Trump’s speech with the hashtag #disloyal. Flayton is an active liberal student deeply connected to Israel who recently published an article in the New York Times on the hostility he feels from certain progressive circles due to his Zionist identity and activities. What causes a politically engaged young man to express such a sentiment upon hearing the president’s speech at the IAC (Israeli American Council) summit.
We, Israelis, who listened to the same speech, were  impressed with Trump’s political positions: fighting the Iranian nuclear threat, preventing financial aid to the Palestinian authority, resisting the BDS movement, denouncing the UN’s double-standard towards Israel and of course, American recognition of Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights and opening the American embassy in Jerusalem. Hearing the Shalva Band that same night, which is a source of Israeli pride, was just the icing on the cake.
Nevertheless, American Jews who constitute the largest Jewish community outside of Israel, listening to the same speech caused fear and anxiety. The significant gap in how American Jews and Israelis perceived the speech requires Israelis to reevaluate Trump’s statements and understand it through the eyes of American Jewry. Here’s why:
Some Jews don’t love Israel enough – this accusation made by Trump in his speech raises the question around the loyalty of American Jewry.  Blaming Jews for dual-loyalty or disloyalty to their sovereign state, is an old antisemitic accusation, from Pharaoh in Egypt to the Dreyfus affair. But notice that the accusation is now reversed: American Jews do not have dual loyalty, they are only loyal to the Democratic Party and are abandoning Israel, which can be supported only by supporting the Republican Party and Trump. Trump is targeting here more than 70 percent of American Jews who identify as Democrats. We, Israelis, are interested in having the largest number of friends on our side. We have no interest in undermining the quality or quantity of those who affiliate with us, on the contrary. Moreover, Trump is violating a delicate balance in the relationship between Israel and our Jewish brothers and sisters abroad: affinity to Israel doesn’t contradict full civilian loyalty. And by the way, affinity for the Democratic Party does not undermine one’s connection to Israel or to us, Israelis. Contrary to our interests as Israelis, Trump is feeding a problematic perception and putting a heavy burden on the American Jewish community, particularly the younger generation by making such a claim. The message that American Jews are receiving both from Trump: you must choose between Israel and your progressive values.  Those who fail to do so, are simply #disloyal.
Israel is losing its bi-partisan status – Following various recent events, Israel is increasingly becoming as a Republican issue. We can place the guilt for this trend on both parties and on Israeli policy alike. In practice, this erodes a major strategic asset in the Israeli alliance with the American superpower – the bi-partisan support for Israel’s status as a close strategic and ideological partner of the US. Bi-partisan support provides Israel with a protective shield regardless of who sits in the White House or Congress. The perceived erosion of the bi-partisan support is accompanied by accomplishments in the short and medium term, but exposes us to a catastrophe the day after Trump leaves office - whether sooner or later.
Inflaming Antisemitism – Trump referred to the event’s audience of Israeli-Americans as “killer real-estate” agents, people with money who would support his presidency in order to avoid taxation. Even if Trump is expressing 'light' antisemitism, or if he admires these people because of these imagined characteristics, we still have a problem. Statements as such feed ever-increasing antisemitism in the US, generating anxiety in Jewish communities which until recently have felt secure. Statements like these simply add more fuel to an existing fire.
Compromising a 'Living bridge' – Israelis who live abroad bear a strategic importance to the Jewish people, because they, and especially their children, are a living bridge between Jews inside and outside Israel. To fulfil this mission, Israeli Americans have to connect both to Israel and to local Jewish communities. The IAC, which I know closely and deeply appreciate its work, is highly connected to Israel. This was evident at the last conference which served as a powerful demonstration of a rapidly growing Jewish organization.  The question they are facing now is, how does this impact their ability to connect with local Jewish communities on the other side of the bridge, and how will the IAC tackle potential destructive implications of the speech among American Jews?
At the end of the day, presidents come and go, strategic alliances form and change over time. What we must insure is the unity of the Jewish people. In this challenging and decisive moment of history, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are passing on our collective identity from generation to generation.
When after the same event, we wake up in Israel to the moving pictures of the American president hugging the Shalva band, and American Jews wake to the message that some US Jews don’t love Israel enough (headline of an article that was shared almost 45,000 time so far), our red lights must start flashing.
Naama Klar is the deputy CEO of the Reut Group.
The Reut Group leads the “Peoplehood Coalition” in Israel, a professional network of over 200 organizations and leaders, infusing Jewish peoplehood into every sector of society.