WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is reportedly frustrated with the American Jewish community for not embracing the US president more warmly after he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem.
A new report released Sunday by the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank, quoted a White House official who alleged the president’s predecessor, Barack Obama, would be beloved for doing the things Trump has done.
“We can take justified criticism, but if Obama had transferred the US embassy to Jerusalem, the American Jewish community would have been united in applauding him!” the official said.
Trump remains deeply unpopular with US Jews. An American Jewish Committee poll from one year ago found that 77 percent US Jews had an unfavorable view of the president.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington’s executive director, Ron Halber, said the Trump administration’s broader, deeply controversial policies made it uncomfortable for Jewish Americans to praise the president for anything.
“Even if a silent majority of American Jews support the embassy move, they find it hard to publicly give Trump credit when they, like other Americans, have such intense negative feelings toward the man and his policies,” Halber told The Times of Israel on Sunday morning.
“It’s frankly because of a simple fact,” he went on. “More Jews in this country are Democrats and many, many Jews in this country are very upset with the Trump administration for reasons that have nothing to do with Israel and are therefore emotionally reluctant to applaud him when he does something that many American Jews wanted.”
The JPPI’s 2018 assessment also found that Israel was becoming increasingly politicized in the United States.
Two former US officials, Ambassador Dennis Ross and Ambassador Stuart Eisenstat, who are JPPI co-chairs, said, “While Israel still enjoys bipartisan support in the US Congress, for the first time in its history it has become a divisive political issue.”
Most Israel analysts often cite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision in 2015 to speak before a joint session of Congress lambasting Obama’s Iran deal negotiations as a turning point in US-Israel relations, with the Israeli premier firmly aligning himself with the Republican Party.
Under the Trump administration, however, that divide seems to have exacerbated, according to JPPI.
Beyond Trump’s relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, Democrats were firmly against the US president’s decision to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal, a step Republicans had applauded. Netanyahu has been a fierce critic of the deal and enthusiastically welcomed the move.
Both of these decisions were intensely criticized by left-wing Jewish groups, including the Middle East policy advocacy organizations J Street and the New Israel Fund.
The annual JPPI analysis looks at the “triangular relationship” of the administration in Washington, the government in Jerusalem, and the American Jewish community.
This year’s report found that cooperation between the US and Israeli government has been strengthened under the Trump White House, but that the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community has weakened — “given the deep support of Jews for the Democratic Party.”
Another reason for the deteriorating relationship was Jerusalem’s right-wing government and policies that are anathema to US Jews, including the recent nation-state law that enshrines Israel’s status as a Jewish state in its quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.
“The American Jewish community is one of Israel’s most significant strategic assets in the long run,” said JPPI President Avinoam Bar-Yosef.
“A danger has emerged recently brought by conflicting values between Jews with a liberal worldview — most of whom are Conservative, Reform or secular — and Israel, which is increasingly perceived in the Diaspora as advancing conservative trends, due in part to the lack of an equality clause in the recent nation-state legislation and restrictive measures regarding conversion.”
Since January 2017, the Trump administration has made attempts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal central to its foreign policy.
Trump’s decision last year to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there disrupted that process, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refusing to meet with White House officials afterwords, accusing them of forfeiting their right to act as honest mediators.
Since then, US-Palestinian relations have been at their worst in decades. The Trump administration, over the last several weeks, cut off funding aid to the Palestinian Authority, the UN Reliefs and Works Agency, the East Jerusalem hospital network and Israeli-Palestinian co-existence programs.
The White House claims those moves are to pressure Abbas and the Palestinians to reengage in peace efforts.
JPPI, an independent think tank that was originally established by the Jewish Agency, said in its assessment that Trump administration’s “sympathetic attitude” toward Israel and “close ties” to the Netanyahu coalition has created a “strategic window of opportunity” to advance a political initiative that would prevent Israel from “slipping into the a bi-national state reality.”
Responding to the JPPI report, White House peace negotiator Jason Greenblatt said the administration’s postures on the Middle East were aligned with US interests.
“The president sets American policy on the basis of what is best for America, not what is best for any particular ethnic group or religion,” he told The Times of Israel on Sunday.
“The president’s pro-Israel policies have had widespread support among US citizens, including many in the Jewish community. The president appreciates that support in addition to the support he receives with regard to many other foreign and domestic initiatives,” Greenblatt added.
Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the JPPI report.