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Israel US Wahl Trump
Image: Reuters/B. Ratner

What does Israel think of Trump?

Miriam Dagan
November 24, 2016

Israel is shocked by the anti-Semitism of "alt-right" Trump supporters. However, the government is keeping silent, and there’s little show of solidarity with liberal Jews in the States.


After the "alt-right" conference last weekend one thing was clear: far-right extremists in the USA are feeling emboldened. Calls of "Hail Trump" and an anti-Semitic speech were followed by Nazi salutes. While Trump's electoral victory and a spike in anti-Semitic incidents has left the American liberal Jewish community in shock, reactions in Israel have not been quite as pessimistic.

But now, opposition politicians in Israel have sounded the alarm. Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni of the center-left "Zionist Union" tweeted: "Deeply disturbed by white nationalists' Nazi salute. World leaders must say: no place for this in liberal democracy." The leader of the liberal "Yesh Atid" party, Yair Lapid, called on American politicans to "publicly condemn expressions of Nazi sympathy and rising anti-Semitism."

USA Wahlkampf Republikaner Donald Trump - Wahlkampfmanager Steve Bannon
Trump's chief campaign strategist Steve Bannon denies being anti-SemiticImage: Getty Images/C. Somodevilla

Trump not a fan of far-right

Trump has strongly disavowed the white nationalist movement, which has been given a platform on the "Breitbart" website of Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon. But Bannon's appointment is just one example of a whole string of incidents with alleged anti-Semitic appeal – another was Trump's Anti-Clinton election campaign poster, featuring a photo of Hillary, dollar bills and a Star-of-David-like symbol with the words "most corrupt candidate ever." After social media backlash, the star was replaced by a circle several hours later.

In the currently tense climate in the US, the influential Anti-Defamation League, an organization dedicated to the fight against hatred of Jews, has warned that "the American Jewish community, our community, has not seen this level of anti-Semitism in mainstream political and public discourse since the 1930s. "

However, among most politicians in Israel there is an unspoken consensus: the results of the democratic American elections have to be accepted and restraint is the order of the day so as not to alienate the country's most important ally. Netanyahu officially welcomed Trump's election. In the prime minister's right-wing coalition, some see Trump as an ideological partner. The nationalists hope for a green light so they can continue West Bank settlement expansion.

A minister of the nationalistic-religious party "The Jewish Home" even wrote a letter of support to Trump's controversial chief strategist Steve Bannon. And Education Minister Naftali Bennett, of the same party, met recently with Trump advisers to discuss alternatives to the two-state solution. Netanyahu also reacted with an unusual move: he instructed the members of his cabinet not to contact members of the Trump team anymore until future US policy has been outlined.

US-Präsidentschaftskandidat Donald Trump mit Benjamin Netanjahu
Donald Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Trump Tower in New York on September 25, 2016Image: Picture-alliance/dpa/K. Gideon

Good for Israel - Bad for American Jews?

Up til now, Trump himself has clearly sided with Israel. That's why the right-wing camp in Israel supports him. Having the US president on their side on important issues like security - for example, making the prevention of a nuclear Iran a top priority – is more important to them than the worries of American Jews. So perhaps a blind eye is turned to far-right anti-Semitism in the US.

The journalist Tal Shalev, chief political correspondent of the Israeli news-site "Walla", is concerned about this development because it could harm relations between Israel and American Jews. "It's a dilemma for Israel, as in, what's good for the country is bad for the Jews in the US. Israel needs to show more solidarity with the American Jewish community," she told Deutsche Welle.

The left-wing newspaper "Haaretz" also sees a threat to Israeli-US-Jewish community relations here, but there's a silver lining: "Never before has there been such a golden opportunity for liberal Jews in both countries to understand each other, to reach out to each other, to make common cause with each other, to support each other in time of need."

The political commentator and intellectual Yaron London doesn't see the situation as dramatically. According to him, it's not the current wave of anti-Semitism that's causing a rift between Israel and the American diaspora, but rather world views that are steadily drifting apart. In fact, he says, "a little bit of anti-Semitism in the US -  just a taste - is good for us Israelis. It calms our doubts about whether establishing the State of Israel was a good idea, because contrary to all hopes, living here has not led to a normal existence for us."


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