January 23, 2019

Following Trump’s inauguration: What’s next?

As President-elect Donald Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration approached, Jewish Insider — a division of TRIBE Media, which produces the Journal — asked a diverse group of experts and activists from across the Jewish community about their expectations for the upcoming administration in its first 100 days, its relationship with Israel and more.

Analysts in Israel, for example, are hoping the new commander in chief adopts a more assertive approach in the Middle East. “I hope President Trump will restore America’s deterrent power, making its enemies think twice before they drag the U.S. or its allies into another war,” Dore Gold, former director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.

Questions remain as to whether Trump’s presidency might push Israel away from the bipartisan support it traditionally has received. As former White House Communications Director Ann Lewis explained, “Unfortunately, it seems the Trump administration strategy is to make Israel a partisan issue, one that divides the Jewish community and our allies. That’s bad math and bad politics.” 

And there is still the eternally thorny issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how it might be impacted by the change in American leadership. Millennial activist Erin Schrode, a former congressional candidate in Marin County, said she remains hopeful: “The United States leadership cannot — and hopefully will not — allow Israel as a whole or specific Jewish communities to be singled out and blamed as the impediment to regional peace in any forum or global context.”

What follows are not definitive answers to what we’re all wondering as the Trump era in America begins, but a sampling of perspectives from politicos, domestic and abroad, liberal and conservative. 

Jewish Insider: What are your expectations of a President Trump?

Danny Ayalon, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S.: President-elect Trump should abide by his word and move the American embassy to Jerusalem. He should strengthen the natural alliance between Israel and the U.S. through strengthening Israel’s deterrence capability. He should help us to fight BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement), especially by blocking biased U.N. resolutions.

New York City Councilman David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn): I expect President Trump will be more pragmatic than candidate Trump.

Noam Neusner, White House Jewish liaison for George W. Bush: Washington has never seen anything like a Donald Trump administration. It’s impossible to predict what he will do, but one thing is for sure — 100 days won’t limit him in any way.

Andrew Weinstein, a prominent Democratic donor: My expectations of Donald Trump are extraordinarily low. I believe he and his team are historically unprepared to assume the awesome responsibilities of the presidency. As someone who loves his country, I am rooting for Trump to succeed, but given his post-election conduct and comments, I don’t think it’s likely. 

Tevi Troy, former deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and Jewish liaison for President George W. Bush: President-elect Trump has defied expectations so often that I am loath to make predictions. I have been generally pleased with his cabinet and staff picks, who have been both qualified and conservative. Based on what I’ve seen in the transition, I expect to see an activist first 200 — not 100 — days, with lots of both regulatory and legislative activity. 

Hank Sheinkopf, Democratic political consultant: President Trump will do exactly what President-elect Trump said he would do.

Erin Schrode, activist: I’m an eternal optimist, yet in this case, I fear the worst — especially for the most vulnerable among us. In 100 short days, the U.S. government could, or lay the groundwork to, reverse decades of veritable real-world progress. I see Trump already beginning to dismantle the very infrastructure that allows us — the activists, the citizens, the stakeholders — to push for and bring about change. I see Congress repealing without replacement, following that similar and perilous trend.


JI: What will the relationship between the Trump administration and the Jewish community look like?

Greenfield: The relationship between President Trump and most Jewish groups will likely be contentious with the exception of Orthodox Jewish groups that traditionally skew Republican.

Neusner: Cautious and wary, on both sides. But both sides of that relationship have a lot to gain by regular dialogue, and they’d both be smart to focus on where they can work together.

Weinstein: Trump’s relationship with Jewish organizations will be similar to his relationship with other entities and individuals. Those that praise him will have a seat at the table, and those that don’t will be left out in the cold. That’s unfortunate because listening to all of the voices would give him a better understanding of our diverse community.

Troy: There is a healthy number in the cabinet and the White House staff, with more likely to come. And Trump seems certain to have much friendlier relations with Israel than the outgoing Obama administration. I fear that will not improve relations with the Democratic-leaning American-Jewish community writ large, but it should lead to strong relations with the increasingly Republican Orthodox Jewish world. 

Alan Dershowitz, attorney and author: I have an open mind. I’m concerned about the growing instability around the world and worry that his unpredictability may contribute to that instability. But I want to give him a chance to do the right things. 

Sheinkopf: Liberal Jewish organizations will continue to lose influence. Israel advocates will be quiet initially. 

Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, scholar and author: I would urge them to play a moderating role and advocate for more inclusive, less-polarized behaviors — as they did during the election campaign. Whether President Trump will listen to them is as yet uncertain. If the present behavior pattern continues and policies unfold as they have started in the past month, then the liberal Jewish organizations will be at constant loggerheads with the administration. The right-wing organizations (such as ZOA [Zionist Organization of America] and pro-settler groups) will be supportive and laudatory. 


JI: Will Israel become more of a partisan issue?

Ayalon: I hope not. U.S. national security interests and morals should not be partisan. Hence, support for Israel should remain bipartisan, as it has always been. Unfortunately, lately we have seen some far-left elements of the Democratic Party that are trying to change this, such as Bernie Sanders and Keith Ellison. 

Greenfield: There is enough political support in both parties for Israel to remain bipartisan. A good example of that is the significant number of senior Democratic members of Congress who slammed President Obama for the U.N. resolution [critical of Israeli settlements]. That’s good. Because it’s not in Israel’s interest for Israel to be a partisan issue.

Neusner: It already is — the party’s leadership and major supporters are still meaningfully and overwhelmingly pro-Israel, but a party’s base determines the party’s future — and the Democratic base has turned against Israel. The pro-Israel Democratic activists have their work cut out for them.

Weinstein: The United States and Israel share an unbreakable bond that should never be subjected to partisan politics. Our common values and interests demand nothing less. Sadly, some Republicans try to equate blind devotion to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu with support for Israel. That’s just wrong. The reality is many of the most pro-Israel members of congress are Democrats and that’s not going to change. 

Dershowitz: If Keith Ellison becomes chairman of the Democratic National Committee, that would endanger the bipartisan nature of support for Israel. No one who voted against funding the Iron Dome can be deemed pro-Israel, especially in light of his past associations with [Louis] Farrakhan. 

Sheinkopf: Israel will continue to be defined as a partisan issue. The more conservative, more religious, the more support. Jewish activists, however, will have to increase their activities and not take younger evangelicals for granted. 

Ann Lewis, White House communications director in the Clinton administration: I think this new administration poses a serious challenge for the Jewish community. For decades, we have built bipartisan support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, based on shared values and shared strategic interests. Unfortunately, it seems the Trump administration strategy is to make Israel a partisan issue. … It would reduce our ability to be effective on everything we care about: U.S.-Israel and domestic issues alike. With so much at stake, I think the American Jewish community will be smart enough to overcome attempts to divide us — but we will have work to do. 


JI: What about the state of the Iran deal going forward?

Dore Gold, former director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry: The agreement with Iran is dangerous for Israel and the West as a whole. It expires after little more than a decade, allowing Iran to resume unlimited uranium enrichment with fast centrifuges. The agreement puts no limits on Iran’s ballistic missile program, which will give it the ability to strike America, just as its enrichment program is restarted. The West needs an entirely new approach.

Ayalon: Israel and the U.S. must tighten their coordination and make sure that the Iranians abide by the current agreement to every letter. Any breach, however slight, must bear severe consequences. The other members of the P5+1 should follow suit, with renewed American leadership.

Dalia Dassa Kaye, director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy and a senior political scientist at the Rand Corp.: It’s extremely difficult to predict what the new president’s policies will be on a range of foreign policy issues, including the Iran deal. Of course, he has made no secret of his dislike of the agreement, but key Cabinet nominees like [Secretary of Defense designate] Gen. James Mattis have indicated they would support working with allies to enforce it. And at the end of the day, it is an international agreement that, by and large, is working to keep the lid on Iran’s nuclear program. The wisest course of action would be to strictly enforce the deal as it exists. But I would expect increased pressure on Iran in an array of other areas with the full support of the new Congress. We may be back to a period of escalation with Iran, which could be dangerous, particularly if the communication channels Secretary of State John Kerry set up with his Iranian counterpart do not continue.

Dershowitz: I hope Trump insists on enforcing the prologue to the agreement, which reaffirms that Iran will never seek to develop or obtain nuclear weapons. 

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