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US PRESIDENT Donald Trump.(Photo by: REUTERS)
Trump’s use of Israel to attack Democrats will be costly -analysis
By YAAKOV KATZ
07/15/2019
Israel has long fought to retain bipartisan support for itself on both sides of the aisle in Congress.
Should Israelis care about President Donald Trump’s Twitter tirade on Monday against the Democratic Party?

Yes, and here is why.

On the one hand, Trump is right: some of the new members of Congress – particularly Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib – have used Israel as their punching bag, and through a combination of antisemitism and extreme criticism of Israel have made many American Jews and Israelis uncomfortable and concerned with the direction they are taking their party. They should be called out for it.

On the other hand, Trump’s use of Israel in his Monday morning attack will cause the country more damage than good, and will further undermine what Israel has long prided itself on having accomplished: keeping Israel an issue that receives bipartisan support in the halls of Congress.

Trump’s placement of Israel at the center of his attack on Democratic congresswomen is probably more politically driven than a defense of Israel. Trump is entering an election campaign, and attacking Democrats helps rally the base.

He probably genuinely cares for Israel and appreciates that when looking out at the world today there is no country whose leader has aligned himself with Trump like Benjamin Netanyahu. But what good does Israel get from being caught in the middle of Trump’s xenophobic comment that congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came?”

The answer is not very much. Israel has long fought to retain bipartisan support for itself on both sides of the aisle in Congress. For many years it succeeded, although recently that has been undermined by two primary culprits: the Democratic Party and Trump himself.

There is no question that the Democratic Party is changing, and support for Israel is not what it used to be. Polls by the Pew Research Center show a growing gap between Republicans and Democrats, with nearly three times as many Republicans expressing more sympathy for Israel than for the Palestinians. As the Democratic Party keeps moving leftward, support for Israel will continue to decline.

Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the contribution Israel’s intimate relationship with Trump is also making to that decline. When Americans look at Israel and Netanyahu, they see Trump. And vice versa.

This leads many people to move away from Israel, even when it has nothing to do with what Trump might be doing. When the president uses Israel as his weapon against the Democrats, he only exacerbates that impression.

Can Israel do anything about this? Probably not. A first step might be for Netanyahu to quietly convey to the administration that it does not help Israel when it is used as a weapon in Trump’s political battles with the Democrats. This is unlikely to happen though, since Netanyahu would need to do this without upsetting the president, and that would be difficult.

Then there is getting Democrats to understand that while it might seem that Netanyahu and Trump are one and the same, that is not the case.

Yes, Israel has been able to obtain significant and strategic benefits from this president – recognition of Jerusalem, recognition of the Golan, the withdrawal from the Iran deal – and yes, no Israeli leader would turn all of that down out of concern that it would upset the Democrats.

But what a leader might do is tone down the enthusiasm with which he or she embraces Trump. For that reason, some Israel supporters – including Democratic members of Congress – have recently asked Netanyahu to cut back on his embrace of the president. Work with him, they have told the prime minister, but without declaring how amazing he is on a weekly basis.

Will that alter the course of what is happening in US politics? Probably not. It doesn’t mean though that Israel shouldn’t try.
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