Dramatic political shifts have occurred in the West, with important impacts on Israel and the Jewish People: the moderate center collapsed in American politics, and is at risk of doing so throughout the Western world. The partisan divide in American politics is becoming an unbridgeable chasm, with the type of bipartisanship that had characterized American politics on major issues a thing of the past.
Donald Trump tapped into a profound angst among many middle class Americans those of us who prosper in the Internet bubble of global travel, connectivity and multi-culturalism failed to appreciate. Those on the other side of the Digital Divide felt abandoned by traditional political leadership. For them, the globalized world meant plants closed because of foreign competition and stagnant incomes for three decades.
Former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage told a conservative convention that Brexit and the Trump election were both “the beginning of a global political revolution.”
National elections this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany will test this proposition, with the growth of anti-immigrant, anti-EU parties in France and the Netherlands, and anti-establishment outsiders, inspired by President Trump’s victory, sprouting up in Central Europe.
The United States, upon which Israel depends, remains the most powerful country in the world, but is no longer the sole global hegemon, with the rise of China, India and other emerging powers, and 40% of the world’s GDP coming from developing countries.
What does this mean for Israel and the Jewish people? Jews in the US and in the West have made it into the establishment. The populist rejection of globalization and all its manifestations puts Jews at odds with this rising anger. President Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has called for the “deconstruction of the administrative state” and profound changes to the established order. But Diaspora Jews disproportionately benefit from the established order and globalization.
Populist anger often searches for scapegoats, and has given license to a small fringe element which is Islamophobic and antisemitic, leading to a spike in anti-Muslim attacks and antisemitic incidents. I believe our institutions are strong enough to cauterize antisemitism, but it is critical not to permit it to become more mainstream. For Israel, these profound changes have significant implications.
US foreign policy will likely be unpredictable. Already, some administration positions seem inconsistent with Trump’s campaign: accepting the Iran nuclear agreement; retaining sanctions against Russia over Ukraine; continuing the One-China policy; supporting NATO and the EU; and not moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.
On Israel and the peace process, Trump has clearly backed away from embracing a two-state solution, saying he could accept a two-state or one-state solution, only to have his UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, clearly endorse the traditional two-state solution.
Israel’s nationalist parties may see the Trump victory as a green light for uninhibited settlement expansion.
But they may be disappointed.
Recently, the White House articulated a position similar to what Dennis Ross and I recommended in a Washington Post op-ed article – limit settlements to the established settlement blocs. The White House expressed displeasure with the new settlement announcements as “not helpful” to the peace process.
There was legitimate Israeli concern that the Obama administration’s Middle East policies created a vacuum of American leadership, but it remains to be seen how President Trump’s America First attitude, opposition to the Iraq war and reluctance to get deeply involved in the complexities of Middle East politics, will play out.
There is a symbiotic empathy between the Trump administration’s conservative nationalist views and the nationalist conservative Israeli government. Both governments distrust global institutions like the UN.
But this risks a schism with America’s mostly liberal Jewish community, some 70% of whom did not back Trump.
For the first time since its founding, Israel is becoming a partisan issue, with only half of self-identified Democrats, compared to over 80% of Republicans, supporting its policies.
All of this complicates the ability of Israel supporters to fight off odious boycott efforts in the UN and on campuses.
The author, a former US ambassador to the EU, is the co-chairman of the Jewish People Policy Institute. This is excerpted from remarks at a recent JPPI conference on Shifting Trends on the West and Their Impact on the Jewish People.