We are proud Orthodox Israeli-Americans, alumni of Israeli education institutions and former IDF soldiers. We are both voting for Joe Biden in the upcoming elections.
We realize that we are an anomaly in our milieu. In fact, we understand why many fellow Israel supporters are drawn to Trump, thanks to achievements like moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
But a closer examination of his record reveals something a little more complex: that Trump’s achievements in the Middle East have been largely symbolic, while he’s also presided over a series of dangerous, even disastrous developments that have caused true harm to Israel.
Trump’s approach to Israel is best understood in the context of his broader behavior patterns: He is impulsive, preferring intuition over careful analysis and expertise, always on the lookout for nominal acts he can put his name on. And often, there is a heavy price to pay for those benefiting from his symbolic favors. The truth is that while Trump’s gestures have yielded no tangible benefits to Israel’s security, the harm he has done is very real.
The harm began early on, just four months into his administration, when Trump compromised a vital Israeli intelligence source on ISIS and Iran in a boast to senior officials from Russia, an ally of Iran. This led Israeli intelligence to reevaluate intelligence-sharing with the United States; it’s troubling that this blow to one of the most important aspects of the alliance has been largely forgotten.
And yet, it was this early mistake that reflects Trump’s Middle East policy. While we are glad that the U.S. embassy is now located in Jerusalem, it has little practical impact on Israeli security; Hamas will not rethink a rocket barrage because the embassy has been moved. And while the peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates is welcome, the UAE was never in conflict with Israel, and relations (including in the realm of security) have been improving for years.
The price, however, is real: The sale of F-35 jets to the UAE risks eroding Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors, a key defense priority dating back decades.
Trump can also claim withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal as a major accomplishment, and something Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long wished for. But the scrapped Iranian nuclear deal is one small part of the fundamental realignment of U.S. foreign policy under Trump, away from America’s commitment to defending democracy and towards an isolationist doctrine prioritizing only Trump’s personal and electoral goals.
While Trump currently looks favorably on Israel, he cannot be trusted to intervene on Israel’s behalf in an hour of true need. Moreover, if Trump can speak of his “love” for Kim Jong Un, kowtow to Erdoğan and trust Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies, there is no guarantee he will not soon speak the same way about Iran’s Ayatollahs and Palestinian Authority leaders, should they learn to manipulate him as skillfully.
Trump’s cowardly approach to America’s enemies is most evident in his policy towards the Taliban, one of the most horrific terrorist organizations the world has known. After destroying his negotiating position by signaling his desperation to pull troops out of Afghanistan, Trump ignored persistent Taliban violence while continuing talks, demanding only a one-week “reduction in violence” as a prerequisite for an agreement. The horrifying farce continued this year as Trump legitimized and even became an apologist for the Taliban; in March he bragged that he’d had a “very good call” with the Taliban who were killing “very bad people” on the very same day they killed dozens of Afghan soldiers.
Contrast this with Trump’s shameful abandonment of the Kurds, America’s fiercely loyal ally, barely a year after vowing to protect them. Trump impulsively ignored America’s interests when Recep Tayep Erdoğan, whom Israeli intelligence officials consider no less dangerous than Iran, convinced him during one of their frequent personal calls to leave the Kurds at the mercy of Turkish forces, leading to horrifying atrocities. Kurdish forces were forced to turn to Assad and Putin for protection.
Then there was “Peace to Prosperity,” Trump’s “Deal of the Century” for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plan was cheered by many Israelis due to a presumed green light for annexing parts of the West Bank. But once this pretense was stripped away, it was exposed as just another American-imposed plan including a Palestinian state. It will no more serve as a precedent for future presidents than Obama’s actions were for Trump.
While the harm he has done is very real, Trump’s most touted achievements have been largely symbolic, and will neither be repeated in a second term nor rescinded by Biden.
After all, it was Biden who made the most impassioned plea on Israel’s behalf, one which speaks to the pragmatism Israel actually needs, rather than the symbolism Trump offers. “We always talk about Israel from this perspective as if we’re doing (them) some favor,” Biden said in a speech in 2014. “But it is so much more than a moral obligation. It is overwhelmingly in the self-interest of the United States of America to have a secure and democratic friend, a strategic partner like Israel. It is no favor. It is an obligation.”
This is why we, two Orthodox American-Israelis and former IDF soldiers who care deeply about Israel’s safety, will be voting for Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the upcoming elections.
Oz Ben-Ami was born in Jerusalem and is a software engineer based in New York City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Meir Brooks, a native of Haifa, is currently a PhD student in Economics at Princeton University. He can be reached at email@example.com.