There is no reason to believe Donald Trump is anti-Israel, but there is plenty reason to believe his presidency would be bad for the Jewish State.
This evening the Republican presidential front-runner is slated to address the American pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, where reports suggest he plans to wow attendees with a substantive speech.
To date, Trump’s comments on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflect the similar lack of knowledge and substance he has brought to just about every other policy issue. He often mentions that his daughter and son-in-law are Jewish, that he once was the Grand Marshall of the Israel Day Parade and that a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs is probably the toughest deal in the world, but he thinks he just might be able to get it done because he is the world’s best negotiator.
Most disturbingly, Trump has also stated that he wants to act as a “neutral broker” between Israelis and Palestinians, a position not traditionally associated with a candidate who is staunchly pro-Israel. As some of Trump’s primary opponents have noted, there is a moral difference between a western pro-American democracy which values human rights and an illiberal Palestinian leadership that incites violence, oppresses its people and, at least in Gaza, is composed of an honest-to-God genocidal terrorist organization.
Who knows what Trump will say today at AIPAC, but it doesn’t really matter. Trump is not bad for Israel primarily because of his views about the peace process or where Israel’s capital should be. He’s bad for Israel because of his view of America’s role in the world.
To the extent Trump has a coherent foreign policy, he seems to want to reduce America’s footprint abroad. This is sometimes obscured by his bombastic promises to use war crimes to destroy the Islamic State. But more often than not Trump takes the line that America needs to focus on domestic issues at the expense of being the leader of the free world.
Trump has expressed indifference to what China does in the South China Sea. He thinks Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should be handled primarily by Europe. He supports Russia’s role in Syria, even though most of its attacks were not directed against ISIS. He wants to renegotiate decades-old agreements with allies to reduce America’s commitments abroad.
“I’ll tell you what, there is going to be nation building,” Trump told me last summer. “You know what the nation’s going to be? The United States, that’s what the nation’s going to be.”
Such a “come home, America” foreign policy wouldn’t only bad for the United States, it would be dangerous for Israel and the free world more broadly. As America retreats, other actors will fill the void, ones that don’t have the same relatively virtuous economic goals and interest in freedom as the United States.
Who will fill the void in the Middle East? Maybe Russia. Perhaps Iran. In either case, an already dangerous region will become even more threatening for Israel.
So while Trump may boast that Benjamin Netanyahu once asked him to cut a campaign ad for him, the Israeli prime minister probably isn’t longing for a Trump presidency.