Tel Aviv Diary: Will Trump Be Good or Bad for Israel?

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, attend the Mimona, a ceremony celebrated at the end of Passover, in the town of Yavne on April 30. The author writes that a neighborhood barista in Tel Aviv told him, “Trump will be good for Israel.” But among more sophisticated foreign policy experts there, the view is quite the opposite. Baz Ratner/reuters

The long Passover vacation ended Monday in Tel Aviv, with kids going back to school for the first time in over two weeks. Government offices opened, and the normal ebb and flow of life returned to the city (or almost).

Immediately at Passover's end, Israeli flags started going up all around town. Along with all of the supermarkets, Cofix, the $1 (actually, 5 shekels) per item food chain, began selling flags at a nominal symbolic price, as Tel Aviv and Israel prepare for a period of state holidays.

Holocaust Memorial Day is commemorated later this week, followed by Israel's Memorial Day, which leads directly into the nation's Independence Day the following week. So whatever passes for routine normalcy in this city and country will not actually begin for another couple of weeks.

It was a remarkably quiet Passover period, with little news emanating. The biggest local story focused on efforts by the Tel Aviv police to start enforcing the law against bike riders (especially those with electric bicycles, now ubiquitous in the city) riding on sidewalks unless they remain in the designated bike lanes.

Palestinian violence toward Israelis continued to drop, so Israelis were able to turn their sights to events beyond their borders. Three news stories particularly interested Israelis in the past week: the continuing bloodshed to our immediate north, despite the Syrian "cease-fire"; a scandal wracking the British Labour Party over whether its members are anti-Semitic; and, of course, the ongoing American story about Donald Trump's rise.

Images of the hospital bombing in Aleppo, Syria, were shown repeatedly on Israeli TV. The fact that the hospital's destruction was caught on video made the event all the more vivid.

After five years of bloodshed, there is little news from Syria that could surprise, but these images did. The fact this attack took place in the midst of a cease-fire—to which the West and Russia were supposedly parties—once again underscored for Israelis how little international guarantees are worth, especially at a time when the West seems tired and unwilling to exert itself.

The second story, the continued turmoil in the British Labour Party over anti-Semitic/anti-Israel comments made by Labour supporters or politicians, came to a head over the weekend when London's former Mayor Ken Livingstone said that "Hitler supported Zionism" initially before "going mad and killing 6 million Jews."

Livingstone's suspension from the party for his remarks came on the heels of the suspension of Labour Member of Parliament Naz Shah, which was triggered by her suggestion that "Israelis should be transported to the United States." Shah later apologized for her comment.

These were just the latest in a series of statements and events that prompted The Jewish Chronicle, the premier Jewish newspaper in Great Britain, to write in a March editorial that "Labour now seems to be a party that attracts anti-Semites like flies to a cesspit."

The recent spate of comments has also prompted further examination into what constitutes legitimate criticism of Israel and what should be considered anti-Semitism.

Jonathan Freedland did a masterful job of drawing the line in an article in The Guardian, "My Plea to the Left: Treat the Jews the Same Way You Would Treat Any Other Minority." He says that criticizing the policies of the state of Israel is legitimate, but comparing Israel to the Nazis is not, as it is an attempt to turn the victims into the perpetrators.

An additional point made in the article is that it is legitimate to believe Israel should not exist as a nation-state as long as you also believe that the Palestinians, the Kurds, the French, etc. have no such right.

In other words, it is anti-Semitic if you believe that Israel is the only state that has no right to exist and that only Jews have no right to their own state.

Finally, Israelis, like other people around the world, remained riveted to the American election campaign and the successes of Donald Trump. Last week, Israelis attempted to understand his foreign policy speech. Many Israelis took their cues from the Sheldon Adelson-funded Yisrael Hayom, the most widely circulated newspaper in Israel (free copies are handed out daily), whose headlines had Trump asserting that, as opposed to Barack Obama, who had treated Israeli badly, he (Trump) would be a "true friend of Israel."

When I was discussing the American election with a neighborhood barista Monday morning, he said to me, "Trump will be good for Israel." But among more sophisticated foreign policy experts, the view is quite the opposite. There is real fear that if Trump were to become the next American president, the U.S. would withdraw from the world.

The criticism of the Obama administration's policies by policy experts here in Tel Aviv has focused on the impact of the shrinking American footprint in the Middle East. There is concern that a Trump administration would accelerate that pullback.

Many of those I have spoken to contend that having a powerless, unquestioning friend of Israel cannot compare with the effects of a powerful America that criticizes Israel at times. Of course, this forecast is predicated on the assumption that, if elected, Trump will actually do many of things he says in his campaign, which, without doubt, Israeli pundits are no more able to predict than their American counterparts.

Marc Schulman is the editor of Historycentral.com.

Tel Aviv Diary: Will Trump Be Good or Bad for Israel? | Opinion