Washington Watch: Loving Israel is not enough

Trump says he loves Israel, but what does that mean?

Donald Trump (photo credit: REUTERS)
Donald Trump
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Donald Trump claims to support Israel, and his claim has won the endorsement of many in the Orthodox community and among hardliners and Hillary-haters, but most Jews – here and in Israel – are not buying it.
“Much more than a president who loves Israel in the narrow sense of the term, what Israel needs is a president who is good for America and for the world,” said Prof. Dan Schueftan, director of the University of Haifa’s National Security Studies Center.
“America has a unique and indispensable global role as the only power that can provide an acceptable world order. It is only in that environment which America alone can provide that Israel can thrive. A president who can be trusted on this is crucial for Israel’s wellbeing. In this American election one candidate does not even know what it is all about.”
Donald Trump is a clueless isolationist with a volatile temperament, a penchant for autocrats and no clear understanding of America’s role as the world’s megapower.
A vital pillar of Israel’s security is the unwavering support of the United States under every administration regardless of party or personality, but along comes a candidate who is unwilling to make any such commitment to any ally.
If he leaves our NATO allies wondering whether he will feel bound by our mutual defense treaties with them, what does that tell Israel? And Israel’s enemies? There is nothing understated about the Republican nominee on matters of diplomacy and security, areas where subtlety, patience and nuance are critical.
Ilan Goldenberg, a former Pentagon and State Department official dealing with Iran and Israeli- Palestinian negotiations, wrote in the Sun Sentinel that “Trump’s willingness to discard allies, his temperament and ignorance of foreign affairs pose a threat to America’s – and Israel’s – security... Trump would be a disaster for Israel and for the region.”
Goldenberg said Trump sees America’s alliances as “purely transactional, that our allies should pay us protection money.” The New York billionaire has spoken about requiring Israel and others to reimburse Washington for past defense assistance.
Former secretary of state Colin Powell privately called Trump “an international pariah.”
His tweets are often vicious and attacking those he feels disrespected him.
Many echo antisemitic tropes, as when he retweeted a picture of Clinton with a Star of David and a pile of money or a picture showing Senator Bernie Sanders, a Jew, in a gas chamber with Trump, in Nazi uniform, flipping the gas switch.
Petulance and a fragile but huge ego, not sober judgment and exhaustive knowledge, would shape his relations with foreign leaders.
He canceled a planned trip to Israel with Jewish supporters last December because he was miffed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for criticizing his call to ban Muslims from the United States.
It is hard to believe that a man filled with so much hatred – for Mexicans, Latinos, Muslims, immigrants and others – and who enjoys the enthusiastic support of so many white supremacists and antisemites wouldn’t get around to putting Jews on his list as well. You have to ask what it is that old-fashioned hate groups see in Trump that makes him so appealing.
Another pillar of Trump’s campaign is isolationism and protectionism. He wants to tear up or rewrite trade agreements like NAFTA, especially if we import more than we export to those countries. A ripe Trump target could be the US-Israel Free Trade Agreement; it was the first FTA entered into by the United States, three decades ago. In 2015, the US had a nearly $11 billion trade deficit with Israel.
Trump boasts that he is a master dealmaker and that highly qualifies him to negotiate a “lasting peace” between Israel and the Palestinians. He has said he is pro-Israel but in any negotiations would be strictly neutral. He has modified that several times, as he does on most issues.
He met with Prime Minister Netanyahu last month and told him he feels Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel. He had earlier refused to say that to a group of wealthy Jewish Republicans, but that was when he told them he didn’t need their money. Now he apparently does and is changing his tune.
For a blowhard rich guy who brags about his investments worldwide – though he refuses to reveal the extent of his involvement in Russia and China – he has apparently never invested in Israel.
He once boasted he’d build a 70-story Trump Tower in Tel Aviv, the tallest in Israel, a “world class” Trump Golf Course in Ashkelon and a Trump Hotel in Netanya.
Bupkiss. Typical Trump. Big on talk, short on performance.
However, he has properties and investments in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Emirates. It’s unclear how much impact his anti-Muslim rhetoric will have on those investments and future business there.
The big issue for Israel is whether someone who “is a clear and present danger to our country” would be a reliable ally. Those are the words of the Cincinnati Enquirer, one of a growing number of traditionally Republican newspapers that have declared Trump unfit for the presidency.
Unlike his opponent he has no experience in national security, diplomacy or government. Going to a military prep school and playing with his 10-year-old son’s toy soldiers does not mean he “know[s] more about ISIS [Islamic State] than the generals.”
Trump says he loves Israel, but what does that mean? Different surrogates, notably his real estate lawyer who is also his part time Israel adviser, have made a variety of policy pronouncements but one thing this campaign has shown repeatedly is no one speaks for Trump but Trump and even then everything is subject to change on a whim.