In an election between two of the most unpopular candidates in U.S. electoral history, real estate and media mogul Donald Trump accomplished the unthinkable – winning the presidency. His transition from the Trump Organization to political business in the Oval Office will entail a lot of challenges domestically and abroad. His domestic challenges will include handling entitlement reform, accelerating anemic economic growth, and improving race relations. Internationally, he will have to confront rampant terrorism in the Middle East – with Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor – Europe, and Africa, civil war in Syria, and a persistent enemy in North Korea. In addition, the U.S.-Israel relationship will be under the microscope during the Trump administration.
Trump’s previous statements make him look good for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Whether that’s the real deal remains to be determined.While many Jewish voters have their qualms about Trump, Trump has repeatedly expressed his support for Israel. His speech last March at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s policy conference was barely substantive, but his rhetoric then might hint at his attitude toward the Jewish State. For example, Trump came out against the Iran nuclear deal reached last year, which has been deemed to threaten Israel’s existence by many, such as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. That policy was the primary focus of his speech in front of the influential pro-Israel lobby.
“My number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” he said at the AIPAC event. He added:
The problem here is fundamental. We’ve rewarded the world’s leading state sponsor of terror with $150 billion, and we received absolutely nothing in return… The biggest concern with the deal is not necessarily that Iran is going to violate it because already, you know, as you know, it has, the bigger problem is that they can keep the terms and still get the bomb by simply running out the clock. And of course, they’ll keep the billions and billions of dollars that we so stupidly and foolishly gave them.
In addition to lambasting the nuclear deal, at the policy conference, Trump listed other threats Israel faces, such as Hamas rockets from Gaza and Hezbollah in Syria. “[Hezbollah is] in Syria trying to establish another front against Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights,” he said. “In Gaza, Iran is supporting Hamas and Islamic jihad. And in the West Bank, they’re openly offering Palestinians $7,000 per terror attack and $30,000 for every Palestinian terrorist’s home that’s been destroyed. A deplorable, deplorable situation.”
According to Trump advisors, he is committed to strengthening Israel’s defense despite the President-elect’s nationalist stance. They report that Trump plans to follow through on a promise most politicians who speak at AIPAC’s conferences make – moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognizing the latter city as the capital of Israel. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka – who converted to Judaism just before she married Jared Kushner (he reportedly drafted Trump’s AIPAC speech), said last week that her father would “100 percent” follow through on his commitment. “Jerusalem is the eternal capital…” she said.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence is known as a staunch supporter of Israel. Former The Jerusalem Post publisher Tom Rose, a friend of Pence, said, “[He’s] one of the best friends the State of Israel and the Jewish people have ever had.” As Governor of Indiana, Pence signed anti-BDS legislation into law.
On Wednesday, David Friedman, Trump’s adviser on Jewish and Israeli matters, told The Jerusalem Post that Ivanka’s word would become reality. “It was a campaign promise and there is every intention to keep it,” Friedman said. “We are going to see a very different relationship between America and Israel in a positive way.”
Friedman also mentioned removing the prohibition on Israel to ask for additional funding outside of the new Memorandum of Understanding, worth $38 billion over the next 10 years.
Finally, Freidman remarked on the future relationship between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We know how Obama treated the prime minister of Israel and how [Hillary] Clinton berated the prime minister…we will move forward with mutual respect and mutual love and a much better future for the US and Israel,” he said.
Trump said at the policy conference, “I will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately. I have known him for many years and we’ll be able to work closely together to help bring stability and peace to Israel and to the entire region.”
Despite AIPAC’s criticism of Trump’s speech, the pro-Israel group released a statement Wednesday congratulating Trump on winning the presidency:
AIPAC congratulates President-Elect Donald Trump and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence on their election victory. We also congratulate the elected and re-elected senators and representatives who will be part of the most pro-Israel Congress ever, and look forward to working with them and the new administration to further strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Ultimately, words are one thing and actions are another. Whether Trump will back up his words on Israel with actions remains to be seen.
Jackson Richman is a senior studying political science at George Washington University. He has interned at The Weekly Standard and The Daily Caller. He’s a frequent contributor for Red Alert Politics and American Action News. You can follow him on Twitter: @jacksonrichman.