WASHINGTON — Former US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro warned Jewish Democrats on Monday that US President Donald Trump was trying to appropriate Israel as his own cause and use it to sow political division in the United States.
The president’s pressuring of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bar congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting Jerusalem and the West Bank, along with his subsequent comments branding them as anti-Semites who represent the face of the Democratic Party, was an indication for Shapiro that Trump was all too willing to tear the fabric of a strong US-Israel bond for his own benefit.
“It really was a sign that Trump wants to draft Israel into his own very divisive domestic politics in the United States, and that, to me, is not an appropriate way to conduct this relationship,” the former American envoy said in a Monday call arranged by the Jewish Democratic Council of America.
“This relationship has always been based on a foundation of bipartisan support, something we have valued as the means in which this relationship stays stable, through periods of agreement and disagreement, through changes of government in both countries,” Shapiro continued.
“For the president to lead an effort that is so divisive and so antithetical to that principle of bipartisanship in this relationship is not the kind of friendship that anyone who values this relationship would look for.”
Shapiro, who was former US president Barack Obama’s top diplomat in Israel from 2011 to 2017, and stayed in Israel with his family to work for an Israeli think tank, said he thought it was “a mistake” for Jerusalem to prohibit Omar and Tlaib from touring Jerusalem and the West Bank, despite their outspoken support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
In 2017, Israel passed a controversial law that allows it to refuse entry to any foreigner who knowingly promotes a boycott of the country.
Shapiro, who himself has been critical of the two lawmakers, had been involved in efforts to set up meetings for Omar with ex-Israeli security officials and Jewish and Arab Knesset members before Israel decided to bar her and Tlaib.
In July, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer said that Israel would in principle allow Tlaib and Omar to enter the country. “Out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel,” Dermer told The Times of Israel at the time.
Then on August 15, Trump tweeted that it would “show great weakness” for Israel to allow them in. Hours later, Israel reversed the decision.
Trump followed with a spate of tweets that said the congresswomen “HATE Israel” and “are the face of the Democratic Party.”
According to Shapiro, these remarks made his intentions transparent.
“What’s very clear from the president’s recent comments… is that he’s trying to instrumentalize this relationship to serve his own narrow political interests, and his own divisive political tactics,” Shapiro said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
The veteran diplomat also said that Trump’s recent statements saying that Jews who vote for Democrats are “disloyal” represented a dangerous anti-Semitic trope.
“To say that Jews are disloyal… raises and echoes some of the worst kind of anti-Semitic charges that have been leveled against Jews through many centuries and, in some cases, have led to violence,” Shapiro said.
While the president elaborated in a gaggle with reporters last week that he meant to convey Jews voting for Democrats were disloyal to Israel and to the “Jewish people,” Shapiro said he believed Trump’s past behavior suggests his real frustration is that American Jews aren’t rewarding him for his policies in support of the Jewish state, including moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
“What we understand well enough about this president right now is that what he really means is that American Jews who vote for the Democratic Party are disloyal to him,” Shapiro said.
“This is consistent with his narcissism and his transactional nature, which is expressed in many other situations,” Shapiro went on. “He has a belief and an expectation that anybody he has done something he thinks they should be grateful for, [they] will simply salute him in some sort of obsequious gratitude and express their support for him.”