The paper edition headline to this Washington Post article is “Trump’s outburst over Netanyahu shocks allies.” I wrote about that outburst here.
Why is anyone shocked that Trump said what he said? The outburst is vintage Trump.
Netanyahu is the umpteenth former ally Trump has thrown under the bus for “disloyalty.” Trump’s absurd claim that he prevented the destruction of Israel is fully consistent with his “I alone can fix it” boasting. And how is it surprising that Mr. Art of the Deal expressed frustration with Netanyahu for being fussy about deal making with Israel’s enemies?
The Post’s article considers whether Trump’s attack on Netanyahu will hurt him among evangelicals. The Post quotes Mike Evans, one of Trump’s early evangelical backers, who says he was “horrified” by Trump’s statements which, he believes, will offend significant numbers of evangelical voters.
According to the Post, Evans, once an adviser to Trump, sent a letter to the former president imploring him to “understand that Benjamin Netanyahu has much greater support among evangelicals in America than you.” He added: “There is no possibility you can win again if Bible-believing evangelicals see you as the ‘F–k Netanyahu’ president who . . . blames the State of Israel, and not the Palestinians, for not making peace.
One can only imagine Trump’s delight at reading that Netanyahu is more popular than he is among committed evangelicals. Talk about disloyalty!
Is Evans’ statement true? Other evangelical leaders suggest that it isn’t.
Johnnie Moore, a former Liberty University official who helped organize Trump’s evangelical advisory board in 2016, told the Post:
The relationship between American Evangelicals and Bibi preceded the relationship with President Trump by many, many years. But Bibi was an Israeli prime minister, and Trump was an American president. There’s a difference between the two for Americans.
So I would imagine.
The influential pastor Robert Jeffress said: “Even if the alleged comments are true, it doesn’t diminish in the least that President Trump’s policies have been the most pro-Israel in history.” True. But we can get even stronger pro-Israel policies from certain other conservative Republicans who aren’t so eager to make a deal with the Palestinian leaders and who don’t blame Israel for being reluctant to enter into one.
I’m not qualified to speculate about the extent to which Trump’s attack on Netanyahu and his expression of sympathy with the Palestinian Authority (and indeed his reference to something like a father-son relationship with its head) will cost the former president evangelical support. My assumption is it that it will cost him such support only at the margin, but that’s just an uneducated guess.
Trump doesn’t rely much on support from Jews, of which he gets little. Nonetheless, it may be worth a moment to consider whether his support among politically conservative Jews will diminish after his remarks about Netanyahu and the Middle East.
Joel Pollak, a senior editor at Breitbart and, I’m told, an Orthodox Jew, wasn’t pleased with what Trump said. He noted that the Palestinian Authority, the subject of Trump’s praise, “currently provides stipends to convicted Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails, and the families of Palestinian terrorists killed by Israel.” It also “names public buildings and parks after famous Palestinian terrorists.”
Netanyahu has, in fact, negotiated agreements with the Palestinians in the past, and embraced Trump’s framework for peace in early 2020. He has, however, resisted further removals of Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria, or security concessions.
Notably, Netanyahu refrained from annexing the West Bank to Israel under the Abraham Accords, despite domestic pressure from right-wing parties for him to do so, out of deference to the Trump Administration’s efforts to negotiate in the region.
Pollak also made the same point I did above — that “many potential Republican candidates for the presidency. . .have strong records on Israel, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and others.”
I think Trump’s ill-advised remarks will cause many conservative Jews to lean towards another pro-Israel candidate, assuming one is willing to take on Trump in the 2024 primaries. But again, the importance of Jewish support pales in comparison to the importance of evangelicals.