Bibi and Trump—Israel and the Jews

Bibi and Trump—Israel and the Jews

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Donald Trump is operating at such a high learning curve that he does not even begin to understand how to catch-up. With respect to the American Jewish community, Holocaust remembrance and Israel, Trump made a very effective effort today at the Capitol during the annual Holocaust Memorial Ceremony. On this subject he sought to repair some of the ugliness he and his staff already inflicted during his first 100 days.  Unfortunately, Trump is at such a high level of damage control that even serious, appropriate gestures and signals are being interpreted as mere vacuous attempts to fix some of the gaps that he created in his relationships with American Jews.  Ivanka’s conversion to Judaism and his three Jewish grandchildren no longer give him much traction.

For Trump, in fact, his biggest test vis-à-vis the 26% of the American Jewish community who supported him, may well only begin next week. On May 1-2, Israel Independence Day will coincide with the date when, statutorily, he must inform Congress if he intends to permit the U.S. Embassy to be moved to Jerusalem. It will be interesting to see how the Administration seeks to acknowledge Independence Day, assuming it will defer and finesse the movement of the Embassy at this time. 

Reports have indicated that his failure to proceed with this campaign pledge even is creating ill-will with one of his biggest financial supporters, Sheldon Adelson.  In addition, the President is recommending that the congressional continuing resolution increase funding for the Palestinians, who are visiting the U.S. next week as well.  While this may be a sweetener for the May 4th White House visit with Mahmoud Abbas, if Trump proceeds with the decision to move the Embassy, he could find himself meeting with a very hostile Palestinian leader.

Unlike Trump, Netanyahu is operating from such a position of strength both politically and globally, nevertheless, he persists in conducting the affairs of state as if he is running an Israel that is under siege.  His doom and gloom presentation at the Jerusalem Yom HaShoah ceremony was in direct contrast to President Reuven Rivlin’s speech which was firm, assertive, and positive.

Similarly it is unclear why Netanyahu needed to create a confrontation with Germany and cancel his planned meeting with the foreign minister, due to the minister’s planned meeting with Israeli left-wing NGO’s.  It would have been much more productive to have had the meeting and criticized Minister Sigmar Gabriel in person.  Bibi’s combative style of operation was transparently designed for domestic political consumption and reduces Netanyahu credibility.  

Bibi is not Trump. He is not weak and has no real opposition. While there are some critics and potential challengers within his own coalition, for the moment Netanyahu should be enjoying governing from strength.  

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