Of course, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel; it always has been and always will be. But the vast majority of the world’s nations will not acknowledge this unless it is part of a negotiated agreement ending the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. So was it wise for President Trump to have the US embassy moved to Jerusalem now? And, given all of Trump’s negatives, the fact that a strong majority of US Jews have very negative opinions about him, and the widespread protests that are occurring following the moves, should Israel be lauding Trump?
Israel is going gaga over President Donald Trump, largely for moving the US. out of the Iran nuclear deal and for shifting the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Over 100 “God bless Trump” signs dot the city; there are plans to name a future rail station near the Western Wall and a Jerusalem public square after Trump; the Jerusalem Friends of Zion Heritage Center put up a four-story display thanking him; and there’re many letters, articles, and ads in Israeli newspapers extolling him. But, there are many reasons to reconsider the abundant praise.
A major reason is that Trump – along with a majority of US Republicans – denies climate change, an existential threat to Israel, the US and the world. Despite an overwhelming consensus from climate experts and numerous, recent severe climate events in the US – including three category 4 and 5 hurricanes, and massive wildfires in California – Trump remains the only world leader who denies climate change. He pulled the US out of the 2015 Paris climate accord that was signed by 195 nations, including Israel; appointed climate deniers to head the US Environmental Protection Agency and many other important positions; and he is doing everything possible to eliminate or weaken efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.
Israelis should be especially concerned. Because of climate change, the Middle East is becoming hotter and drier. According to military experts, this increases the likelihood of violence, terrorism and war. If the rapid melting of polar icecaps and glaciers continues, Israel’s Coastal Plain which contains most of its population and infrastructure will be inundated by a rising Mediterranean Sea.
Israel is already facing the effects of climate change: We are now in the fifth year of a severe drought; the Sea of Galilee is at a century low, much of the Jordan River is a polluted trickle, and the Dead Sea is shrinking rapidly. Water experts warn that if the Sea of Galilee continues to shrink, it could become like the Dead Sea, as underground springs release saline water into it.
Another important reason is that Trump’s policies are contrary to basic Jewish values of kindness and concern for the disadvantaged, the stranger, the hungry and the poor. Rather than improving Obama-care, which provided health insurance to tens of millions of Americans, Trump supported legislation that would have as many as 32 million Americans lose their insurance and make others pay higher premiums.
Rather than support efforts to rebuild the U.S.’s crumbling infrastructure – which was graded D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers – Trump and Republican legislators pushed through a tax bill that overwhelmingly benefits the wealthiest Americans and corporations. This will increase the US national debt by up to $1.5 trillion, giving the Republicans an excuse to carry out their long-time desires to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, healthcare, and other programs that the vast majority of Americans depend on.
Then there is the issue of Trump’s character. As The New York Times’ conservative columnist Bret Stephens, a former chief editor of The Jerusalem Post, wrote in a recent article, Trump’s character involves “lying, narcissism, bullying, bigotry, crassness, name-calling, ignorance, paranoia, incompetence and pettiness.”
Stephens continued: “In place of the usual jousting between the administration and the press, we have a president who fantasizes on Twitter about physically assaulting CNN. In place of a president who defends the honor and integrity of his own officers and agencies, we have one who humiliates his attorney-general, denigrates the FBI and compares our intelligence agencies to the Gestapo.”
Do we really want to honor such a person and make him a role model for our children and grandchildren?
Lavishing praise on Trump also adds to the current split between many American Jews and Israel. A strong majority of American Jews disapprove of the job Trump is doing, according to many polls. So for many Americans, when they see Israel going overboard in glorifying Trump, it increases their alienation over recent Israeli decisions on prayer at the Western Wall, conversion and other issues. This could reduce the moral, political and financial support Israel receives from American Jews.
Yes, but doesn’t Trump still deserve praise for his strong support of Israel? Somehow, some negative things about Trump’s positions and statements on Israel are being ignored. For example: Trump has not kept his pledge that there would be no space between the US and Israel, as he has demanded several times that Israel limit settlement construction; his $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia reduces Israel’s qualitative military edge; in his 2016 Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, Trump omitted any mention of Jews, which led Deborah Lipstadt to call it “softcore Holocaust denial”; Trump appointed white supremacists to senior positions; he retweeted neo-Nazi propaganda on several occasions; he failed to condemn antisemitism several times when it was called for before finally doing so; he has left vacant the post of special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism; he ended president Obama’s tradition of hosting a White House Seder; by sharing top-secret information with Russia, he compromised Israeli intelligence; since Trump became president there has been a sharp increase in antisemitic incidents and other bigoted statements and acts.
While a very solid majority of Israelis approve of the U.S. getting out of the Iran nuclear deal, the results of that action remain to be seen. A strong majority of military, nuclear, and strategic experts believe that the pact is the best approach to curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Among the negatives of Trump’s decision is that European and other nations have been alienated, America’s credibility in keeping agreements has been reduced, and the potential for war and terrorism may have increased. If Iran decides to restart its nuclear programs, preventing it from getting a nuclear bomb may depend on attacking Iran militarily and that could lead to disastrous consequences for Israel, the U.S., and much of the world.
What about Trump’s shift of the U.S.embassy to Jerusalem? Of course Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, always has been and always will be. But almost all of the nations of the world will only acknowledge this if it is part of a comprehensive, sustainable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Trump’s shift of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is good for Israeli’s morale, it has totally alienated the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, who now reject a U.S. role in forging peace with Israel and it has resulted in widespread criticism of Israel after many Palestinians were killed and wounded during protests following the embassy shift. Trump’s decision would have made sense as the capstone of a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, but at the very least, its timing is clearly counterproductive, alienating many nations, adding impetus toward anti-Israel violence, and reducing prospects for a negotiated resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Yes, the peace process has been basically dead for some time, and the Palestinians certainly deserve much blame. But Israel needs to do everything possible to resolve the conflict in order to avert continued or increased violence and diplomatic criticism, effectively respond to its economic, environmental and other domestic problems, and remain both a Jewish and a democratic state. Many Israeli strategic and military experts agree with this assessment, including all the living former leaders of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). Of course, Israel’s security has to be paramount in any agreement.