WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump will be risking the ire of millions of his pro-Israel supporters — among them Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians — as well as that of Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson on Thursday if, as expected, he signs a waiver that would prevent the moving of the US embassy in Jerusalem.
Although Trump campaigned on a pledge to complete the long-anticipated establishment of an embassy in Jerusalem, White House sources indicated Wednesday that he would renew the waiver — a move that may raise hackles among key demographics who supported the president in his 2016 campaign.
“A majority of American Orthodox Jews voted for Mr. Trump because of the expectation that he would be a more supportive president for Israel,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy for the Orthodox Union, the largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization in the US. According to Diament, Trump’s strong rhetoric — including his promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — was key to building that expectation.
“President Trump’s promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem was of critical importance to millions of Christian Zionists who ultimately supported his bid for the White House. They will be watching what the president does very closely,” warned Christians United for Israel founder and Chairman Pastor John Hagee.
In 1995, Congress passed a law requiring the State Department to open a US embassy in Jerusalem. While the law does not preclude the existence of two embassies, one in Jerusalem and one in Tel Aviv, it contains a clause allowing the president to delay the opening of a Jerusalem embassy if the deferral is critical for national security. Although a number of candidates, including Barack Obama, have promised to “move” the embassy, every US president from Bill Clinton through Obama has renewed the waiver when it expires at six-month intervals.
“I think that there is now an expectation that presidents will sign the waiver, regardless of campaign promises. The only way to surprise voters and potentially get extra credit would be not to sign the waiver, but that has yet to happen,” said Tevi Troy, a former White House aide and author of “Shall We Wake the President? Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office.”
But others — like Diament — say that Trump’s repeated statements on the campaign trail, combined with his positioning as someone who can get things done, have raised expectations.
In January 2016, Trump told an interviewer that “they want it [the embassy] in Jerusalem. Well I am for that one hundred percent. We are for that one hundred percent.” Two months later, during a speech at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference, Trump declared to applause that if elected, “we will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”
Many of Trump’s supporters – both at home and abroad – expect a delivery from the man who campaigned as someone who would get things done.
In congratulating him the day after his election, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) stressed that she “would like to reiterate Israel’s deep appreciation of President-elect Trump’s declared intention to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.”
“It will be disappointing if President Trump does not keep his promise,” warned Diament as the June 1 deadline for the waiver approached.
Diament’s message was echoed in recent weeks on Capitol Hill, as leaders and activists gathered at the confluence of Trump’s visit to Jerusalem, the 50 anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War, and the upcoming deadline for the renewal of the national security waiver.
Speaking to a filled-to-capacity room at the US Capitol, Martin Oliner, the head of the Religious Zionists of America, reiterated the expectation. “We are not giving up hope that President Trump will keep his promise to enable America’s embassy in Israel to move where it belongs,” he told attendees who represented over two dozen American Zionist organizations.
Oliner’s message was echoed by many of the members of Congress who addressed the gathering.
At the event, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) noted that he worked with fellow Republican congressmen Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Mark Meadows (R-NC) to draft a letter insisting that the president recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“The law requiring the embassy to be moved has been in the news lately. But people forget that the same law that passed in 1995 but has never been implemented because of presidential waivers would also give formal recognition by America that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Oliner exhorted the audience. “That is even more reason for every Jewish organization here, every congressman, and every simple Jew to push for that law to be implemented now!”
The push, in fact, has been underway since Trump’s election in November last year.
In December, the Orthodox Union launched a petition drive calling on the president to uphold his promise to move the embassy.
Diament said that his organization has been in contact recently with White House officials to communicate his members’ opposition to the waiver.
But in addition to Jewish groups, many of the nation’s 60 million evangelical Christian voters – a demographic that largely supported Trump in the 2016 election – are keeping a close eye on the president’s actions.
Earlier this month, the Israel Allies Foundation launched a similar petition calling on Trump to “keep the promise you repeatedly made throughout your campaign: recognize Jerusalem as the indivisible capital of the State of Israel and move the US Embassy there.”
“Now is the time to keep faithful to our allies in deed and in word, to reflect the overwhelming will of the American people, of Congress and of your own campaign — move our Embassy to its rightful location in honor of 50 years of a united Jerusalem,” the petition read.
Sixty evangelical leaders, including Hagee, wrote directly to the president as well, noting in the letter that the Republican National Convention’s official 2016 Platform rightly stated: “We recognize Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state and call for the American embassy to be moved there in fulfillment of US law,” and noting that during the campaign, Trump pledged to specifically uphold this policy in response to a request from the American Christian Leaders for Israel (ACLI) coalition.”
“Many of our constituents cast their vote for you due to this commitment,” the religious leaders noted in their letter.
Many evangelicals were slow to warm up to the thrice-married president who had previously supported abortions and seemed to represent an opulent hedonism alien to their beliefs. But, one evangelical leader said, many were won over by his commitment to appoint a conservative justice to the Supreme Court and his strong statements vowing support for Israel.
Hagee’s group, which numbers over three million evangelical Christians in all 50 states, mobilized to support Trump in the close election in November 2016, but has kept the pressure on the president. Hagee noted that “days before President Trump’s inauguration, Christians United for Israel held an emergency fly-in during which CUFI leaders from 49 states met in our Nation’s capital to personally urge their senators to support moving the embassy to Jerusalem; Israel’s Eternal capital.”
“Since then, tens of thousands of Christian Zionists have called and emailed the White House in support of moving the embassy pursuant to our CUFI Action Alerts,” Hagee continued. “CUFI leaders have also expressed their strong support for moving the embassy to Jerusalem in public pronouncements around the country as well as in private meetings with top administration officials.”
Trump’s apparent waffling on the embassy issue could cost him money as well as votes. Adelson was reportedly “furious” earlier this month when Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, indicated that the move might be tied to a renewal of peace talks.
Adelson, who was slow to embrace Trump’s candidacy, donated some $80 million to Republicans in the 2016 elections and an additional $5 million to bankroll Trump’s inaugural festivities. In recent months, he has frozen all donations to Trump in protest of the president’s failure to move the embassy.