It seems like only yesterday that then-President Donald Trump appeared before the Republican Jewish Coalition and referred to Benjamin Netanyahu as “your prime minister” despite the fact that, by definition, everyone there was American, not Israeli. It wasn’t a slip of the tongue. Lamenting that American Jews tend to vote more often for Democrats, in the same speech he proclaimed that voting for them again “would cripple our country and very well could leave Israel out there all by yourselves” and then suggested that “maybe you could explain that to some of your people who say ‘Oh, we don’t like tariffs.’” This was happening at the same time as Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., was under fire from the right for suggesting that some American Jews have “dual loyalties,” but somehow Trump didn’t hear any condemnation from his fellow Republicans.
Omar was excoriated for tweeting that the Israel lobby was “all about the benjamins,” but when Trump told a Jewish audience during the 2016 campaign that “you’re not going to support me, because I don’t want your money,” that didn’t cause the GOP to gasp in horror. As usual, if Trump says it it must be OK. (And let’s note that Omar apologized in both instances. Trump has never apologized for anything in his life.)
It has always griped Trump that Jewish Americans didn’t vote for him in large numbers, since he believes he has delivered more for them than any leader in the history of the world. He had tasked his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with solving all the problems in the Middle East which he apparently believed he’d done by moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and signing the Abraham Accords, a diplomatic normalization agreement between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. But in 2020, nearly seven in 10 Jewish voters went with Joe Biden.
That’s not a huge surprise; Jewish voters have generally supported Democrats ever since pollsters first started tracking their votes in 1916. That’s not to say there haven’t been plenty of visible and influential Jewish Republicans, but in terms of overall voting patterns, the Democrats have been the political home of the vast majority of American Jews.
But in recent years, Israel has become a top-tier issue for Republicans — not so much because they care deeply about the fortunes of the Israeli people or the future of the Middle East, although some undoubtedly do. They are interested in Israel largely because the single most loyal faction of Republican voters, conservative evangelical Christians, are obsessed with it. As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump reported, a poll by LifeWay Research “found that 80 percent of evangelicals believed that the creation of Israel in 1948 was a fulfillment of biblical prophecy that would bring about Christ’s return.” Pastor Nate Pyle explained how that is supposed to work in simple terms:
What kick-starts the end times into motion is Israel’s political boundaries being reestablished to what God promised the Israelites according to the Bible.
The evangelical base loves Trump more than any other president ever, but not because he shares their beliefs. He obviously doesn’t. And it isn’t just because he signed off on the Federalist Society-endorsed Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade. They really love him for moving the embassy to Jerusalem, which they see as the first step toward Israel rebuilding the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, which is understood as a necessary precursor to the End Times as prophesied in the Book of Revelation.
Needless to say, Donald Trump doesn’t understand any of that, or care. Someone told him that other presidents didn’t have the guts to move the embassy, so he did it. But that move, along with withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by Barack Obama, definitely gave him credibility with right-wing Jews and the Israeli government, and Trump seemed to have a lovefest with Netanyahu throughout most of his presidency. Then things went off the rails.
It’s been reported earlier that Trump believed that Netanyahu had upstaged him at a White House event and used the opportunity to campaign for himself. But he was extremely angry that Bibi congratulated Joe Biden after the latter’s 2020 election victory, reportedly saying that Netanyahu “was very early — like, earlier than most. I haven’t spoken to him since. F**k him.” Trump believed that he had been instrumental in Netanyahu’s electoral victory (Israel has had so many recent elections it’s hard to keep track) and wanted him to refuse to acknowledge that Biden had won. Later, Trump told Barak Ravid, whose book “Trump’s Peace: The Abraham Accords and the Reshaping of the Middle East” chronicles the Trump/Netanyahu relationship, that the congratulatory video was the main reason Netanyahu lost his next election: “That hurt him badly with the people of Israel,” Trump said. “As you know, I’m very popular in Israel. I think it hurt him very badly.”
So maybe it’s no surprise that during a Trump rally in Florida this week, the ex-president aired his grievances against Netanyahu in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophic Hamas attack on Israel and the early stages of what’s likely to be a protracted war in Gaza. It’s not like we haven’t seen shockingly bellicose rhetoric from U.S. political leaders in recent days, but at least their comments related to vital matters at hand, with thousands of people killed on both sides and news about atrocities and war crimes running on television 24/7.
Early in his Florida speech, Trump shouted “Barack HUSSEIN Obama!” about half a dozen times for no particular reason. It’s an oldie but a goodie, I guess. He shared a previously untold anecdote, which he admitted might be classified information, about the January 2020 assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, saying, “I’ll never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down.” He criticized Israel for its intelligence failures and called Israel’s defense minister a “jerk” for warning Hezbollah, the Iranian-supported militia in Lebanon, not to attack Israel from the north. Hezbollah was “very smart,” he said, and that would clue them in that Israel was weak in that region. (Given their history, it seems extremely likely that Israel and Hezbollah know a lot about each other’s strengths and weaknesses.)
Then he recycled his inane anger at Netanyahu for congratulating Biden and actually proclaimed, “If the election wasn’t rigged there would be nobody even thinking about going into Israel.” The Israeli government was not amused by any of this. Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said, “We don’t have to bother with him and the nonsense he spouts.” If only that were true here as well.
In Congress, where Republicans continue to turn the U.S. government into a ludicrous and dysfunctional spectacle by staging one tantrum after another, there wasn’t much blowback to Trump’s bizarre and ill-timed comments. They were all a bunch of cowards, as usual.
There are fault lines within both parties on this issue and we’ll see them play out in the coming days and weeks. But Donald Trump’s view that everyone is stupid and disloyal to him, and that if only he were president none of this would be happening, isn’t what any serious person believes. That is about as childish and ignorant as you can get, and that man will almost certainly be the Republican nominee for president in next year’s election anyway. If we went out and grabbed someone off the street to discuss the horrific events of the last week, it’s hard to imagine they could sound less informed than this once and possibly future president.