I am going to say this as simply and clearly as I can: If you’re an American Jew and you’re planning on voting for Donald Trump because you think he is pro-Israel, you’re a damn fool.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Trump has said and done many things that are in the interests of the current Israeli government — and have been widely appreciated by the Israeli public. To deny that would be to deny the obvious. But here’s what’s also obvious. Trump’s way of — and motivation for — expressing his affection for Israel is guided by his political desire to improve his re-election chances by depicting the entire Republican Party as pro-Israel and the entire Democratic Party as anti-Israel.
As a result, Trump — with the knowing help of Israel’s current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu — is doing something no American president and Israeli prime minister have done before: They’re making support for Israel a wedge issue in American politics.
Few things are more dangerous to Israel’s long-term interests than its becoming a partisan matter in America, which is Israel’s vital political, military and economic backer in the world.
As Dore Gold, the right-wing former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and once a very close adviser to Netanyahu, warned in a dialogue at the Hudson Institute on Nov. 27, 2018: “You reach out to Democrats, and you reach out to Republicans. And you don’t get caught playing partisan politics in the United States.’’
Trump’s campaign to tar the entire Democratic Party with some of the hostile views toward Israel of a few of its newly elected congresswomen — and Netanyahu’s careless willingness to concede to Trump’s demand and bar two of them, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, from visiting Israel and the West Bank — is part of a process that will do huge, long-term damage to Israel’s interests and support in America.
Netanyahu later relented and granted a visa to Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, for a private, “humanitarian’’ visit to see her 90-year-old grandmother — provided she agree in writing not to advocate the boycott of Israel while there. At first Tlaib agreed, but then decided that she would not come under such conditions.
Excuse me, but when did powerful Israel — a noisy, boisterous democracy where Israeli Arabs in its parliament say all kinds of wild and crazy things — get so frightened by what a couple of visiting freshman American congresswomen might see or say? When did Israel get so afraid of saying to them: “Come, visit, go anywhere you want! We’ve got our warts and we’ve got our good stuff. We’d just like you to visit both. But if you don’t, we’ll live with that, too. We’re pretty tough.’’
It’s too late for that now. The damage of what Trump and Bibi have been up to — formally making Israel a wedge issue in American politics — is already done. Do not be fooled: Netanyahu, through his machinations with Senate Republicans, can get the U.S. Congress to give him an audience anytime he wants. But Bibi could not speak on any major American college campus today without massive police protection. The protests would be huge.
And listen now to some of the leading Democratic presidential candidates, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — you can hear how unhappy they are with the behavior of this Israeli government and its continued occupation of the West Bank. And they are not afraid to say so anymore. As The Jerusalem Post reported on July 11, “Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whose presidential candidacy has rallied in recent weeks, told two Jewish anti-occupation activists ‘yes’ when they asked her for support.’’
But who can blame them? Trump is equating the entire Democratic Party with hatred for Israel, while equating support for Netanyahu — who leads the most extreme, far-right government that Israel has ever had, who is facing indictment on three counts of corruption and whose top priority is getting re-elected so that he can have the Israeli Knesset overrule its justice system and keep him out of court — with loving Israel.
How many young Americans want to buy into that narrative? If Bibi wins, he plans to pass a law banning his own indictment on corruption, and then, when Israel’s Supreme Court strikes down that law as illegal, he plans to get the Knesset to pass another law making the Supreme Court subservient to his parliament. I am not making this up. Israel will become a Jewish banana republic.
If and when that happens, every synagogue, every campus Hillel, every Jewish institution, every friend of Israel will have to ask: Can I support such an Israel? It will tear apart the entire pro-Israel community and every synagogue and Jewish Federation.
Then add another factor. By moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — and turning that embassy, led by a Trump crony, Ambassador David Friedman, into an outpost for advancing the interests of Israeli Jewish settlers, not American interests — Trump has essentially greenlighted the Israeli annexation of the West Bank.
Again, should Netanyahu remain prime minister — which is possible only if he puts together a ruling coalition made up of far-right parties that want to absorb the West Bank and its 2.5 million Palestinians into Israel — Israel will be on its way to becoming either a binational state of Arabs and Jews or a state that systematically deprives a large and growing segment of its population of the democratic right to vote. Neither will be a Jewish democracy, the dream of Israel’s founders and still the defining, but endangered, political characteristic of the state.
Don’t get me wrong. I strongly oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement — which Reps. Omar and Tlaib have embraced — because it wants to erase the possibility of a two-state solution. And I am particularly unhappy with Rep. Omar.
I know a lot about her home district in Minnesota, because I grew up in it, in St. Louis Park. Omar represents the biggest concentration of Jews and Muslims living together in one district in the Upper Midwest. She was perfectly placed to be a bridge builder between Muslims and Jews. Instead, sadly, she has been a bridge destroyer between the two since she came to Washington. But anytime she is legitimately criticized, Democrats automatically scream “Islamophobia’’ and defend her. That’s as disturbing as Trump.
I know that more than a few Somali immigrants in Minneapolis, who face so many challenges — from gang violence to unemployment — are asking why is Omar spending time on the West Bank of the Jordan and not on the West Bank of the Mississippi?
I love Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs — but God save me from some of their American friends. So many of them just want to exploit this problem to advance themselves politically, get attention, raise money or delegitimize their opponents.
In that, Trump is not alone — he’s just the worst of the worst.
Thomas L. Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, is the foreign affairs Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.