Skip To Content
Back to Opinion

Israel May Love Trump’s Policies. But They’re A Challenge To American — And Jewish — Values

In the span of less than a week, President Donald Trump will have upended American foreign policy in the Middle East and delivered to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu everything he’s ever wanted from a White House.

By announcing last Tuesday that he is shredding the Iran nuclear deal, and by unilaterally moving the American embassy to Jerusalem on Monday, Trump has left many Israelis and their diaspora supporters exultant.

But for the majority of American Jews — consistently liberal in outlook and behavior, believing in a foreign policy in which the United States leads in collaboration with democratic allies and upholds human rights wherever possible — it is a moment of reckoning, a challenge to our identity.

Now, it is always possible that Trump and Netanyahu are right, that their grand gamble will pay off, that Iran and the Palestinians will suddenly cave and peace will dawn. In that case, a total rethink may be in order.

It is more likely that they are wrong. And then what?

Like most Jews anywhere, I suspect, I believe that the Israeli capital, and therefore all foreign embassies, eventually belong in Jerusalem. It is the beating heart of the Jewish people, the north star of our religious lives and historical imagination, and ought to be the accepted capital of a Jewish state.

Timing and context, however, are everything.

Daniel B. Shapiro, U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Obama, and now a distinguished visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, wrote a column for the Washington Post arguing, persuasively, that moving the embassy will neither set the region aflame or signify Israeli victory. The “sky is not falling,” he wrote. Immediately, that is.

He’s probably right. Little will change on the ground in the short-term, as most embassy operations and personnel will remain in Tel Aviv for a few years. The current Palestinian leadership is too inept and corrupt to mount a serious campaign to assert its own rights to Jerusalem.

But in the long run, I don’t see how a symbolic act such as this — no matter how worthy in the abstract — advances hopes for a two-state solution. It solidifies a dangerous status quo and emboldens the very leaders who seem to think that it’s just fine to continue to occupy another people indefinitely. It doesn’t even acknowledge that Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital, too. It offers no incentives to either side to compromise. Had Trump gestured toward Palestinian aspirations and required Israel to do the same, the embassy relocation could have conceivably moved a moribund process along. Instead he asked for nothing, and got nothing in return.

It’s even more difficult to construct an upside when it comes to Iran. While there were sound arguments to oppose the deal in 2015, beyond the bellicose exaggerations offered by Trump and Netanyahu, even many of those saner critics now believe that implementation of the deal was restraining a very bad regional actor. Because unbiased accounts show that it was.

How else to view Trump’s abandonment of the nuclear deal except as the actions of an impulsive and vindictive president who disregards diplomacy and breaks his predecessor’s word, blatantly offers false and misleading justifications, humiliates long-time allies, and walks away from an agreement that was working without having any known alternative and — again — getting nothing in return?

In both these arenas, Trump’s approach, endorsed by Netanyahu, is predicated on bullying his opponents into submission. Ignore, belittle and starve the Palestinians. Humiliate, denigrate and strangle the Iranians.

Such tactics may provide temporary victories in the cutthroat world of New York real estate, especially when bankruptcy is an oft-used escape route. But they rarely work on the global stage. The Allies bullied and humiliated Germany after World War 1 and look what that got us.

And these tactics defy American, and Jewish, values. At least the ones that have brought us to this lofty spot where, despite the flare-up of anti-Semitism and the challenge of assimilation, we are the most secure and prosperous Jews in history.

We achieved this by being part of an expansive America, one with plenty of room for difference, which on its best days led by example and was big enough to collaborate with other nations and own up to its own mistakes. The virulent ethno-nationalism at the heart of Trump’s “America First” policies, and of Netanyahu’s ever-narrowing construct of who is an acceptable Israeli, is repellant. And we should say so.

In this new order, the values that I, at least, hold dear are now lit in high relief. Clarified. If I am wrong, if go-it-alone strong arm tactics by leaders with anti-democratic impulses turn out to bring world peace instead of further war and strife, then I may be forced to reevaluate my perspective.

But at this moment, I can only reaffirm that’s not how I want America, and Israel, to be.

Trump and Netanyahu own the region now. Trump did what he wanted, and Netanyahu got what he wanted. And perhaps only God knows what will happen next.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.