After eight years of barely concealed hostility between the leaders of the United States and Israel, the prospect of a new era of better relations has raised expectations for today’s meeting between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But while Netanyahu is likely to get a warmer welcome at the White House than he ever received from President Barack Obama, not all American Jews are enthusiastic about the anticipated lovefest.
The visit comes at a good time for Netanyahu, who is increasingly under siege at home. Though he need not face the voters again for another year or two, the prime minister is down in the polls to a centrist challenge as well as under serious pressure from his right-wing allies. Just as troubling are a raft of corruption investigations that, although still unproved, are encouraging his foes to start imagining life without him.
So a public embrace from the new president after being treated like a pariah by his predecessor is a welcome distraction for Netanyahu. He’s counting on Trump agreeing with him on the need for a tougher policy on Iran and also has good reason to be confident about the new administration’s stand on the conflict with the Palestinians. But American Jews may not greet a successful meeting with acclamation.
While many in the pro-Israel community were dismayed by Obama’s attitude toward Israel, he rarely faced significant pushback from Jewish supporters for his attacks on Netanyahu or his decision to cut a deal with Iran that legalized their nuclear program. In 2015, when Netanyahu attempted to rally the American Jewish community behind his doomed effort to stop the agreement, he found that Jews were more favorable to Obama’s dubious scheme than other Americans.
Netanyahu’s three consecutive election victories may represent an Israeli consensus about the lack of a peace partner and the collapse of trust in the Palestinians intentions but it is not one shared by the American Jews who agreed with Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s false claims that Israeli is primarily responsible for continuation of the conflict. Outside of the ranks of active pro-Israel groups and Orthodox Jews – who tend to be both more Zionist and more conservative than the non-Orthodox – Obama’s pressure on Israel cost him little Jewish support.
By contrast, Jewish attitudes toward Trump are uniformly negative. Exit polls showed that 71% of Jews backed Hillary Clinton while only 23% supported Trump. But even that result doesn’t completely reflect the growing anti-Trump fervor on the part of Jewish liberals. Since the election, many Jewish groups have embraced the push from the Left to “resist” Trump’s presidency. In particular, the Reform movement – the largest denomination of affiliated American Jews – has not only opposed Trump’s policy initiatives on immigration that run afoul of traditional liberal concerns but has appeared to cross the line into partisanship by opposing the president’s stands across the board. Many liberal Jews are not merely critical of Trump but have actively promoted the notion …read more