Why you should care
Because America’s foreign policy swings dramatically with each election.
President Donald Trump is going to great lengths to push his pal Benjamin Netanyahu over the finish line in the April 9 Israeli elections. The bet is Bibi will return the favor.
With Thursday’s announcement — surprise, surprise, it came via tweet — that the U.S. will recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights territory, Trump gave a critical boost to Israel’s prime minister. When the two leaders meet at the White House over two days this week, the resulting images and press coverage will prove valuable to Netanyahu’s campaign, even as he already plays up America’s president as a quasi-running mate. A Haaretz newspaper poll last year found Trump with a 72 percent approval rating in Israel.
While the two conservatives are ideologically aligned, the benefits to Netanyahu’s Likud party run deeper: By drawing the U.S. position ever closer to Israel’s on its disputes with the Palestinians (including moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem), Netanyahu can prove his clout and boost his bona fides as the “security” candidate against the duo of Benny Ganz and Yair Lapid. Netanyahu needs every bit of help as he’s been formally charged with corruption, which he naturally denies as a “witch hunt.”
The ‘Jexodus’ movement encourages Jewish people to leave the Democrat Party. Total disrespect! Republicans are waiting with open arms. Remember Jerusalem (U.S. Embassy) and the horrible Iran Nuclear Deal! @OANN @foxandfriends
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2019
There’s plenty in it for the witch-hunt addled Trump too. He recently called for American Jews to leave the Democratic Party in a “Jexodus.” On Friday, he told reporters, “The Democrats have very much proven to be anti-Israel. There’s no question about that. And it’s a disgrace. I mean, I don’t know what’s happened to them, but they are totally anti-Israel. Frankly, I think they’re anti-Jewish.”
Trump was playing off of recent statements by Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar that used anti-Semitic tropes in questioning Israel’s influence on American politics. Whether and how she’d be rebuked in the House (mildly and implicitly, it turned out) led to infighting that continues to expose rifts within the party. While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer will speak at the annual conference for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby group in the coming days, the main Democratic contenders for the presidency will not.
America’s Jews (Hillary Clinton won 71 percent of the Jewish vote in 2016) are unlikely to flee the Left, but Israel is an exceptionally powerful issue for evangelical conservatives — whom Trump needs to coax back to the ballot box in big numbers next year. Netanyahu, especially if he wins reelection, could provide some timely help there.
Israel is not the only place where America’s foreign policy has become increasingly politicized. It’s also easy to imagine a Democratic successor taking a tougher line with Saudi Arabia and Brazil — given the nasty rhetoric by Jair Bolsonaro, whom Trump warmly hosted at the White House last week. If and when a Democratic administration takes office, it surely will be far friendlier to Canada and Europe than Trump, and likely will attempt to rekindle relations with Iran and Cuba. And then, of course, there’s Russia.
Shifts in America’s global outlook by a president are nothing new (Woodrow Wilson helped conceive of the post–World War I League of Nations, while his successor, Warren Harding, kept America out of it), but the George W. Bush–Barack Obama–Trump pendulum swings have been particularly dramatic.
Will it swing again in 2020? Not if Bibi has his way.
Read more: How the debate over Israel could separate 2020 contenders.