On May 14, the U.S. will move its embassy operations in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It’s a symbolic date – the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding – and it fulfills one of President Donald Trump’s campaign promises. Ahead of the controversial move, CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg looks back at Trump’s relationship with Israel and the American Jewish community.
As part of his first trip abroad as president, Trump broke with past protocol and became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall.
The Old City site – the holiest for Jews – sits on disputed territory claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians. Previous U.S. presidents largely restricted official visits to West Jerusalem and the rest of Israel.
At the end of last year, Trump again broke with convention. “I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he said during a televised address.
He then announced – controversially – that he’d be moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In January, his Vice President Mike Pence traveled there to deliver a rare speech before Israel’s parliament. An evangelical Christian, Pence often delivers a prophetic version of Trump’s message, both in the Holy Land and in the U.S.
On the ground, he’s reinforced by Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer-turned-ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. He’s a religiously observant American Jew who supports Israeli settlements in the West Bank and owns property in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, at the United Nations, Trump’s envoy Nikki Haley has vocally and actively taken on Israel’s foes. Last year, she called a UN vote rejecting Trump’s unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital an “insult” that “won’t be forgotten.”
Back in Washington, Trump’s Jewish daughter and son-in-law have become celebrities within the Jewish community.
But Trump’s relationship with American Jews – and Israel – has not always been a love-fest. Many liberal Jews loathe him. Some booed and walked out of his 2016 speech as a candidate before AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby.
Just months before that, Trump – echoing stereotypes – told Republican Jews the following: “You’re not gonna support me even though you know I’m the best thing that could ever happen to Israel. And I’ll be that. And I know why you’re not going to support me. You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. You don’t want to give me money because you want to control your own politician. That’s fine, good.”
Then, after his election, Trump was criticized by Jewish-American leaders who accused him of turning a blind eye to an uptick in anti-Semitism. Or, worse, they said, encouraging it.
But Trump’s alliance with Israel’s hawkish Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has managed to silence most of Trump’s pro-Israel critics. It’s also convinced key Jewish-American backers like billionaire Sheldon Adelson to get on the Trump train.
Netanyahu was no fan of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, but for eight years he was stuck with him.
Before that, George Bush, a Republican, had Ehud Olmert and his Center-Left coalition. And Bill Clinton, a Democrat, had Ariel Sharon and his right-wing politics.
Netanyahu and his supporters saw in Trump a golden opportunity – a rare moment in time – to reshape the U.S.-Israel alliance and, in doing so, the Middle East as a whole.