WASHINGTON — A day after it was reported that President Donald Trump had given top secret intelligence from Israel to Russia, a bipartisan group of lawmakers met a roomful of Jews in the U.S. Capitol. They fondly recalled their first visit to Israel and called on Trump to make good on his campaign pledge to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The May 17 event marked the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem by Israel, after it captured the eastern part of the city from Jordan in the Six-Day War. Hosted by the Religious Zionists of America, it was feel-good gathering in which none of the elected officials mentioned any of the controversies swirling around the Trump administration.
Not until they left the room. Pressed by reporters in the hallway, the legislators were more forthcoming.
New York’s Lee Zeldin, one of two Jewish Republicans in the House, was asked if Republicans were applying a double standard by not criticizing Trump for his intelligence leaks after they had criticized President Barack Obama for eight years over his Mideast policies. Zeldin said that he had been critical of Trump.
“When the president released a statement on the Holocaust at the beginning of the year and left out a reference to Jews, I put out a statement that I disagreed,” he said. “When he was at a press conference and was asked about anti-Semitism, he either gave a wrong answer to the right question or the right answer to a different question, and I was vocal on that as well.”
Zeldin’s Republican Party is known for being passionate about national security and hawkish on Israel. But he and others have taken a wait and see attitude before determining whether Trump’s leak to Russia — The Washington Post reported that it concerned an ISIS plot to blow up an airplane using a laptop bomb — has undermined Israel’s security. (Some reports a day after the Capitol Hill event suggested that the intelligence might have been gathered by Jordan, and not Israel.)
Zeldin noted that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said May 16 that the leak “in no way undermined sources or methods.”
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) agreed.
“I think there’s two sides to the story, and when the national security adviser says it was done in an appropriate manner I believe him,” he said. “I do think we should be careful sharing any intelligence that another agent gives us, so it does give you a concern.”
Stewart said Trump poses no danger to Israel and was optimistic about Trump’s visit there this week. He said he hopes the president can improve relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from what it was during the Obama administration.
“We don’t want there to be light between them like the previous administrations,” he said.
While Democrats at the event said they don’t know if Trump will be good for Israel, they voiced concern about the president’s intelligence leak.
“It’s so devastating that the president is addressing some of these issues so cavalierly,” said Rep. Tom Suizzi (D-N.Y.). “These are life and death situations that involve our national security, and the president is new to government and new to the intelligence community.”
Suizzi said “at this stage in the game” he would not label Trump a danger to Israel but that the sharing of classified information sets a bad precedent.
“The president has got to learn from this type of blunder,” he said. “Blunder’s too weak a word, quite frankly. This is endangering people’s lives and some of our important sources. You know, who’s going to trust us going forward that the president’s not going to cavalierly say something to someone?”
Dan Schere writes for Washington Jewish Week, an affiliated publication of The Jewish Chronicle.