Israel-Firsters Seen Edging Toward Trump
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Israel-Firsters Seen Edging Toward Trump

Single-issue focus can impair the big picture.

Editor & Publisher of The NY Jewish Week.

In his AIPAC speech in May, Donald Trump blasted the Iran nuclear agreement, asserting that he would “dismantle the disastrous deal.” A few moments later he declared that he would “enforce it like you’ve never seen a contract enforced before.”

Confusing? Welcome to Trump World, where political positions and statements come and go, with the presumptive Republican presidential candidate’s views on Israel and Mideast peace indicative of his dizzying approach to so many issues in this uniquely bizarre campaign.

I’ve been asking people who care deeply about Israel who they prefer between Trump and Hillary Clinton. The results have been fascinating and disturbing, suggesting that voters are guided more by emotional instincts than a candidate’s record or positions. And the allure Trump has for so many Americans, like the British vote to leave the European Union, seems to indicate that in seeking a form of rebellion against ruling elites, people are ready to try even desperate tactics as a means of expressing their deep dissatisfaction with the status quo.

I can’t help thinking that our celebrity-driven culture has morphed into the political sphere, with many people feeling that while a Clinton presidency would be more of the same — “been-there-done-that” the last eight years — Donald Trump in the White House would stir things up and be far more interesting, like a good TV show.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: Both major party choices have high negative ratings. Getty Images

I know that “disruptive innovation” is a trendy form of societal impact, but are people ready to risk worldwide chaos by promoting a novice narcissistic bully as leader of the Western world?

Among “Israel firsters” — those who vote primarily on what they believe is best for Israel — I find more and more people saying they may well vote for Trump, based on their dislike and distrust of Clinton and their reasoning that Trump will stand up for Israel more forcefully and openly than Clinton.

They note that Trump is against the Iran deal, highly critical of Obama, heaps praise on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, wants to see the settlements expand, and pledges to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“We love Israel,” Trump said after receiving an award from The Algemeiner earlier this year. “We fight for Israel 100 percent, 1,000 percent.”

Such statements tend to override more troublesome comments Trump has made during the campaign, like questioning Israel’s commitment to peace, asserting that he would take a neutral position on peace talks with the Palestinians, calling for Israel to pay for U.S. support, and advocating for a “certain amount of surprise, unpredictability” in deal-making. That approach, combined with Trump’s remarkably limited knowledge of Mideast history and complexity, is sure to cause deep concern in Jerusalem, in the midst of an already chaotic, volatile region.

Indeed, an inconsistent and perhaps reckless U.S. approach to the Mideast could jeopardize the strong U.S.-Israel alliance and damage Israel’s security.

And then there is the issue of allowing a laser focus on Israel, however well-intentioned, to override recognition of Trump policies and declarations that clash with Jewish and Western values regarding morality, human rights and respect for all of God’s creations. The candidate’s degrading comments on women, minorities and the disabled, and his initial resistance to distancing himself from the likes of Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and others who spout anti-Semitism, are somehow seen as less important to Jews who base their votes solely on what they feel is best for Israel.

While Trump establishes his Jewish bona fides by telling audiences that he was the marshal at the Salute to Israel parade in New York in 2004 and has a Jewish son-in-law, his Democratic opponent has a long, substantive record of support for Israel. But sentiments can outweigh logic when it comes to the topic of Hillary Clinton.

For example, when people tell me they can’t vote for Clinton because they don’t trust her on Israel, I note that she had an excellent voting record on Israel in her eight years as U.S. senator from New York, and that she has always professed support for the Jewish state. As senator she made incitement against Israel in Palestinian textbooks a key concern. She is widely viewed as more hawkish than President Obama on the Mideast and she defended Israel’s conduct in the most recent Gaza war, most notably in her debates with Sen. Bernie Sanders. Clinton’s willingness to project American power in terms of foreign policy would, on the face of it, appeal to Israel-firsters.

But the usual response I get is, “Yes, but she kissed Mrs. Arafat.” (That incident took place in 1999, and Clinton claims that due to spotty translation, she was unaware of how offensive Suha Arafat’s remarks were, during a joint appearance in Ramallah. Mrs. Arafat blamed Israel for poisoning Palestinian women and children with toxic gas.)

More substantive and worrisome to me is that Clinton has never spoken out against the rabidly anti-Zionist writings of Max Blumenthal, regularly sent to her by Sidney Blumenthal, Max’s father and a trusted, longtime adviser to Clinton.

Many people I have spoken to tell me they are unhappy with the choice of Clinton or Trump, and more than a few say they’ll just sit this election out.

There is still a long way to go to November, but I hope people will remember that a strong and respected U.S. makes for a stronger Israel, and that in a presidential election, focusing on any one issue, to the exception of virtually all others, can seriously impair one’s perception of reality. 

Gary@jewishweek.org

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