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US Jews and Israelis scrutinise Donald Trump

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Donald John Trump has been inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, and now American Jews - and Israelis - are wondering what the populist president really has in mind for US-Israel relations.
by OWN CORRESPONDENT | Jan 26, 2017

In his inaugural address in Washington, DC, last Friday. Trump promised to put “America first”, pledging to prevent other countries from taking advantage of the United States and to return control of the country to its people.

Trump said at his inauguration that the US economy and military have suffered at the expense of other countries that benefit from American dollars, either in the form of military subsidies or factories built by American businesses. Israel, which just signed a $38 billion military aid agreement with the United States, is the biggest beneficiary of American foreign aid.

“For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidised the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military,” Trump said. “We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Trump ahead of the inauguration, calling him his “friend”.

“Congrats to my friend President Trump,” Netanyahu wrote last week Friday on Twitter, several hours before the president-elect was scheduled to officially assume the title following his inauguration.

“Look forward to working closely with you to make the alliance between Israel and the United States of America stronger than ever.”

Netanyahu and President Barack Obama have had a tense relationship amid Netanyahu’s vocal opposition to a US-led deal between six world powers and Iran that offers Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for scaling back some of its nuclear capabilities.

Obama has also criticised Israel’s activity in settlements and in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem more openly than some previous presidents.

Relations between Israel and the Obama administration faced more acrimony when the United States declined to veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for a halt to Israeli settlement-building.

On December 25, after the US abstained during the UN Security Council vote that ended with a condemnation of Israel’s settlements activity, Netanyahu said in a speech that he had told Secretary of State John Kerry that “friends don’t take friends to the Security Council”.

After his inauguration, Trump quickly moved to invite Netanyahu to visit Washington in early February. The invitation came during a phone call in which they discussed the importance of strengthening the US-Israeli relationship, the White House said last Sunday.

In his first call with Netanyahu since taking office last week Friday, Trump stressed his "unprecedented commitment to Israel's security".

"The president and the prime minister agreed to continue to closely consult on a range of regional issues, including addressing the threats posed by Iran," the White House said in a statement.

Trump also said peace between Israel and the Palestinians could only be negotiated between the two parties, but that the United States would work with Israel to achieve that goal.

The readout from the White House did not include any mention of moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, an action that would likely spark anger in the Arab world.

"We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject (the relocation of the US embassy)," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said in a statement last weekend. Aides said no announcement of an embassy move was imminent.

Washington's embassy is in Tel Aviv, as are most foreign diplomatic posts. Israel calls Jerusalem its eternal capital, but Palestinians also lay claim to the city as part of an eventual Palestinian state. Both sides cite biblical, historical and political claims.

Any decision to break with the status quo is likely to prompt protests from US allies in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. Washington relies on those countries for help in fighting the Islamic State militant group, which the new US president has said is a priority.

US diplomats say that, despite the US legislation, Washington's foreign policy is in practice broadly aligned with that of the United Nations and other major powers, which do not view Jerusalem as Israel's capital and do not recognise Israel's annexation of Arab East Jerusalem after its capture in the 1967 Middle East war.

Congress recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 1995 and mandated the move to Jerusalem, but successive US presidents have exercised a waiver in the law that allows them to delay the move for national security reasons. US security and diplomatic officials say that moving the embassy would stir anti-American violence in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The leadership of the Palestinian Authority has claimed Jerusalem, and particularly eastern Jerusalem, as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Israel last Sunday approved building permits for hundreds of homes in three East Jerusalem settlements in expectation that Trump will row back on the previous administration's criticism of such projects.

Following the inaugural address, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, delivered a benediction composed largely of quotes from the Bible. Hier has known the family of Trump’s Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for decades, and his centre has received donations from them.

“Dispense justice for the needy and the orphan, for they have no-one but their fellow citizens,” Hier said. “A nation’s wealth is measured by its values and not its vaults.”

President Trump and his wife, Melania, attended the Inauguration Day service last  Friday at St John’s Episcopal Church, a tradition that goes back to 1933. The live video showed the Trumps shaking hands with the pastor and entering the church, followed immediately by his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner.

On Twitter, some of the Jews noted that Jared and Ivanka are Orthodox Jews, and that it is the Orthodox rabbinic consensus that Jews don’t belong in a church. One journalist spotted the couple but noted that neither Kushner nor his wife appeared to be holding the prayer sheets from which the other guests appear to be praying.

Jewish readers just can’t get enough of Jared and Ivanka, and the idea that a day school-educated Orthodox Jew and a Jew by choice (Ivanka converted to Judaism) have emerged as two of the most powerful people on planet Earth.

Too often this fascination can turn ugly, and pointing out how an observant public figure is or isn’t living up to the standards set by others, can become awfully judgemental.

Ivanka Trump, like Joe Lieberman, an observant Jew and one-time presidential hopeful, has also spoken about the pleasures of Shabbat, 25 hours that are set aside each week for family, friends, worship and blessed freedom from having to deal with the pressures of the rest of the week.

“It’s an amazing thing when you’re so connected to really sign off,” Ivanka told Vogue in 2015. “And for [their oldest daughter] Arabella to know that she has me, undivided, one day a week? We don’t do anything except play with each other, hang out with one another, go on walks together. Pure family.”

That’s a great advertisement for Jewish tradition.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Carol Haymann 26 Jan
    Thrilled that Jared Kushner and wife Ivanka, observant Jews, are close advisors to President Trump.  Wishing them much brocha and hatzlocha and hope they will be a positive influence for Israel.

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