[Note: Chemi Shalev, a regular commentator in Haaretz, is always a keen observer of American and Israeli politics. The following was published today. Haaretz is arguably Israel’s equivalent of The New York Times. Shalev’s analysis of the growing divide between Israeli Jews, who love Donald Trump by wide margins, and American liberal Jews, who despise him by equally wide margins, is worth reading. I am posting this piece because one has to subscribe to read Haaretz, which I have advocated for years as must reading for the American Jewish community that cares about Israel.]
“Public opinion loves the president’s pro-Israel policies and ignores the rest, including the fear and loathing he elicits among fellow Jews
Channel 13 released another poll on Sunday night that highlighted the overwhelming Israeli preference for U.S. President Donald Trump over former Vice President Joe Biden. According to the poll, 68 percent believe Trump would be “better for Israel,” and only 12 percent think Biden would. In a previous poll, Trump trounced Biden with a whopping 40 percent majority, 70 to 30, and an even more emphatic 54 percent majority among Israeli Jews, 77 to 23.
The most immediate explanation for their lopsided choice is that Trump is perceived by many Israelis as the most pro-Israel U.S. president in history, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly reminds them. The flip side is that Biden is identified with for President Barack Obama as well as the Democratic Party, both systematically demonized by Netanyahu and other right-wingers ever since the bitter U.S.-Israel clash over the Iran nuclear deal in 2015.
Many Israelis don’t know and don’t care to know too much about Trump beyond his pro-Israel, or rather pro-Netanyahu, decisions and gestures. They know Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and brokered peace with three Arab countries. They appreciate the fact that unlike all its predecessors, the Trump administration never criticizes Israel, and they applaud its condescending take-it-or-leave-it approach to the Palestinians.
Empathy for Trump, however, extends far beyond and much deeper than his unabashedly unbalanced favoritism towards Israel. Jewish public opinion in Israel today, with the exception of a dwindling and secular center-left, is mostly right-wing or conservative or both, with a growing appetite for simplistic populism. On top of his direct benefits for Israel, many of Trump’s traits, including his abrasiveness, anti-elitism, disdain for Europe, hostility towards the media and rants against the liberal left – and, in some quarters, his racism and misogyny as well – render him a more natural fit for Israel than for the United States itself. Israelis either turn a blind eye or couldn’t care less that Trump has polarized America and sown division and hate, possibly because, after a dozen straight years with Netanyahu, it’s what they’re used to at home. Historically and instinctively wary of foreign intervention and coalitions, most Israelis applaud Trump’s disruption of the Western alliance and share his disdain for international coalitions and human rights groups. If Trump gets everyone to mind their own business and stop carping about the occupation, Israelis will cheer him on.
The fact that the views of Israeli Jews on Trump are the polar opposite of those held by the overwhelming majority of American Jews is first and foremost a function of the famous aphorism coined by the late Rufus Miles, a senior U.S. administration official and author, by which “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” According to this view, both communities see Trump through the narrow prism of their own self-interest: American Jews detest Trump and fear him because of his domestic policies, problematic personality and antagonism towards minorities, while Israeli Jews love and admire him for showering them with gifts and asking for nothing in return, at least ostensibly.
Nonetheless, Israelis view the overwhelming American Jewish support for Biden as an extension of their misguided support for Obama, especially over the Iran agreement. With the Democratic Party increasingly and misleadingly portrayed in Israel as beholden to a radical anti-Zionist wing, many Israelis view the abiding loyalty of American Jews to Trump’s opponents as naïve at best and a stab in the back at worst. Long estranged from the essence of so-called diaspora communities, Israelis have been trained to judge them solely on the basis of their level of support for Israel and whatever policies its government pursues. American Jews, for their part, are disheartened and dismayed by the Israeli near-consensus in favor of Trump. In their eyes, whatever benefits Israel has gained from his presidency dwarf in comparison to the untold damage Trump has inflicted on his own country. How on Earth do Israelis favor a president whose vain irrationality enfeebled America’s fight against COVID-19 and caused the needless deaths of thousands? Whose authoritarian recklessness endangers the very foundations of U.S. democracy? Who demeans and distances himself from most democratically elected world leaders while embracing and promoting its most dangerous dictators?
From the American Jewish point of view, Israel’s Trump worship is a moral and ethical failure. It is also a symptom of the growing gap between the two communities, which widened as a result of the confrontations between Netanyahu and Obama and deepened in the wake of the budding romance between the Israeli prime minister and the president that American Jews despise. Israel’s preference for Trump over Biden is virtually incomprehensible for many American Jews who still hold the Jewish State dear to their hearts.
American Jews are outraged by Trump’s attacks on minorities, in which they include themselves; Israeli Jews see themselves as a majority, however, and are inherently apprehensive about minority demands. American Jews are terrified of Trump’s evangelical-inspired dismantling of the separation between church and state; Israelis have never known anything other than theocracy. American Jews see Trump as a clear and present danger to equality, immigration, women’s rights and freedom of the press, once shared and cherished values that many Israelis now spurn.
American Jews feel directly threatened by Trump; Israelis have no idea what they’re on about. American Jews are worried about the rising prominence of white supremacy and its increasingly belligerent militias; Israelis either don’t know, don’t care or think their U.S. cousins are exaggerating. American Jews are convinced that Trump is bad for America, bad for democracy, bad for the world and ultimately bad for Israel; Israelis feel Trump’s been good to them, and all the rest is debatable. Israelis habitually reprimand American Jews for not placing Israel and its needs among their top priorities, but American Jews can now say the same about Israel’s own lack of concern for their safety and wellbeing. The distance between the two communities has grown so big they can hardly see each other, but in this argument, one must admit, the American side has a better case.
One can argue about the decline in recent years of blind support for Israeli policies, but the American Jewish community has a long and proud tradition of caring about Israel and helping it in its time of need, while Israelis have an equally long but shameful record of ignorance and apathy towards American Jews. Their total disregard for American Jewish sensibilities, arrogant dismissal of their feelings of insecurity and fear, and adamant refusal or inability to acknowledge the instincts or appreciate the concerns of a Jewish minority that feels threatened, is testament to the triumph of Israeli nationalism over Jewish solidarity.
The Israeli contention that a vote for Biden is a vote against Israel does not stand up to scrutiny. The former vice president is one of Israel’s steadiest and most stalwart friends and has given no indication that anyone else will manage his Middle East policies. Israel’s blind worship of Trump, a President who embodies the antithesis of traditional Jewish values and the kind of populist leader that Jews have been learned to be wary of for two millennia, is both an abandonment of American Jews in distress and a blot on Jewish history.
Liberal and moderate American Jews, who comprise 70 to 75 percent of the community as a whole, deserve an apology. For now, it will only be forthcoming from the miniscule 12 percent minority that agrees with them and is praying with them for a Biden victory on Tuesday night.”