In part of his latest Twitter barrage, President Donald Trump has been accusing four first-term congresswomen of infecting the Democratic Party with anti-Israel bias. His rant has left Israelis scratching their heads.
Referring to Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, four women of color collectively known as “the squad,” Trump accuses the Democrats of using “foul language & racist hatred” in an effort to delegitimize the Jewish State. “I can tell you that they have made Israel feel abandoned by the U.S.,” he tweets.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Israel has never felt less abandoned by the U.S. and Trump knows it. He is, after all, the president whose policies have turned America’s historic bipartisan embrace into a big bear hug.
Like most Israelis, I appreciate Trump’s willingness to stand up for Israel in international forums, his decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan and the long overdue relocation the American embassy to Jerusalem. I approve of his disinclination to fall for the Palestinian narrative of the conflict at face value.
But it seems the president would like to foment a civil war among Democrats, using Israel as a wedge. Trump knows full well that the Democratic Party is not about to turn into a hotbed of leftist anti-Semitism and Israel bashing like Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Yes, they tend to be more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than do Republicans. But, according to the latest Gallup Poll, Americans in general prefer Israel to the Palestinians by a 3-to-1 margin.
This simple arithmetic explains why congressional party leaders are solidly pro-Israel. You can’t win a national election in the U.S. by running against Jerusalem. And if Democrats are not great fans of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, you can hardly blame them. Bibi is a Republican in all but party registration. But if opposing Netanyahu and his right-wing brand of politics is a hate crime, nearly half of Israeli voters — and two-thirds of American rabbis — would be guilty.
In truth, criticism of Israel by Democrats is usually undertaken in a tone of a wise friend advising a misguided mate to steer clear of temptation. This was the tone used by former President Barack Obama when he advised Israel to accept the U.S.-brokered Iran nuclear treaty and a two-state agreement with the Palestinians. Mainstream Democratic critics do not customarily go beyond this warmed over version of party doctrine.
This has frustrated Trump, which is why he has so eagerly jumped on the Squad. “So sad,” he tweets, “to see the Democrats sticking up for people who speak so badly of our Country and who, in addition, hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion.”
A fair reading of the Squad’s criticisms of Israel does not come close to revealing passionate hatred. If you want to see what that looks like, read the recent statement of a Hamas leader in Gaza calling on his followers to murder Jews wherever they are found.
The anti-Israel rhetoric of Tlaib and Omar is more militant than that of their progressive sisters, but none have come close to expressing open support of Palestinian terrorism or for the genocidal threats by the regime in Tehran. When they have gone beyond the boundaries of good taste or credibility (Omar intimating that American Jews are loyal to Israel, Tlaib falsely claiming that Palestinians welcomed Jewish holocaust survivors in 1948) they have pleaded ignorance or fudged their remarks.
Trump wants more — and less. In one of his tweets, he called for the progressives to apologize to Israelis. This is intended to provoke an intra-party donnybrook. Israel has no interest in that, any more than it requires an apology from the congresswomen. Nothing they say about this country will be any worse than the things you can hear in Israel’s own legislature, the Knesset, every day.
Zev Chafets is a journalist and author of 14 books. He was a senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the founding managing editor of the Jerusalem Report magazine.