Pro-Israel community looks to incoming administration’s Mideast policy with hope
Janet Mostow considers herself “right in the middle” when it comes to her views on Israel.
She has a daughter who has made aliyah and she is an AIPAC supporter. She is in favor a two-state solution and is against settlement expansion in the West Bank, but not necessarily in Jerusalem. She is a Democrat who “did not vote for Donald Trump.”
And yet when it comes to Israel, Mostow says she will feel a sense of relief once the Obama administration turns in its keys.
“I’m optimistic that the relationship between the United States and Israel will improve,” Mostow said, although she is concerned that a two-state solution may not be pursued by the Trump administration.
“I think the new administration will be more supportive of Israel’s policies,” said Mostow, a computer architect from Mt. Lebanon. “It will certainly veto anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations, and will stand up for Israel, and continue strong military support. I think it will not place Israel in compromised positions.”
Mostow, like many in the mainstream Jewish community, was “disturbed” by the Obama administration’s refusal to veto the recently passed U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, including in East Jerusalem. She was also displeased by Secretary of State John Kerry’s Dec. 28 speech about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling it “unhelpful.”
With the inauguration just a week away, Pittsburgh’s Jewish community is largely looking forward to a more Israel-friendly administration.
“The consensus from the vast majority of people I’ve spoken to think that no matter who won this election — either Trump or Hillary Clinton — they would be better for Israel than the current administration,” said Josh Sayles, director of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
While the Jewish community is “split” on its opinion about the propriety of the recent U.N. resolution condemning Israel, “it is a far from even split,” Sayles noted.
“The vast majority of Jewish organizations have come out against the Security Council resolution, and in opposition to Secretary Kerry’s speech,” Sayles said. “A minority of this community — most notably J Street — has come out in favor of it.
“It goes without saying that a Trump administration would have vetoed the U.N. resolution,” added Sayles.
Still, Nancy Bernstein, co-chair of J Street Pittsburgh, has concerns about the incoming administration when it comes to Israel.
“Donald Trump’s promises during his campaign to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and his appointments of David Friedman as ambassador to Israel and Michael Flynn as national security advisor, could further inflame the already tense situation in the region,” she wrote in an email.
Bernstein also expressed apprehension over Trump’s position regarding a two-state solution, which she claims “runs counter to longstanding U.S. opposition to settlement expansion.”
“The settlement movement, which is actively pushing the Israeli government to abandon a two-state solution, will find close friends in the Trump administration,” she wrote. “Their positions pose a real threat to Palestinian self-determination and consequently, to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Relations between the United States and Israel may improve on a “personal, leader-to-leader level,” but Bernstein fears that confluence may not in the end promote peace.
“While relations between our own new administration and Israel’s governing coalition may flourish, the two-state solution and Israel’s future could be in grave danger,” Bernstein wrote. “The U.S.-Israel relationship is built on our shared values and shared interests. The Trump administration, with their aversion to a two-state solution and anti-democratic values, poses a threat to both.”
The CRC’s Sayles returned last week from a trip to the Jewish state, where he led a cohort of pro-Israel college students. There also is optimism among Israelis with regard to the incoming U.S. administration, he observed.
“We spoke to a lot of Israelis, and almost to a person they were much more optimistic with Trump,” he said. “There is a great deal of frustration over there. There is a consensus in the communities both in Israel and in Pittsburgh that Trump will be better for Israel.”
Lou Weiss of Squirrel Hill, a lifelong Israel supporter, said he didn’t know “how anyone could not be optimistic” with Trump moving into the White House.
“The last eight years were somewhat of a disaster,” he said. “We are thankful for the security support, but the general policy in the region was an unmitigated disaster.”
Weiss pointed to Obama’s “red line in Syria and the epic fail of the Iran deal,” as well as the president’s “hostility to the Zionist cause” among his frustrations with the current administration.
The recent U.N. resolution and Kerry’s speech were also troubling, Weiss said, calling Obama’s refusal to veto the resolution “the definition of passive-aggressive, and causing real harm to Israel as a result of that inaction.”
In contrast, the president-elect “seems to appreciate the special relationship between the United States and Israel; I don’t think these last guys got it,” said Weiss, who did not vote for Trump. (Instead, he wrote in his wife, Amy Weiss, for president, he said.)
Settlement construction is not the obstacle to peace in the region, Weiss said, but rather “existential hatred” on the part of the Palestinians toward Jews, and the Obama administration did not recognize that fact.
“The Obama administration was looking for blame in all the wrong places, and looking for love in all the wrong places,” Weiss said.
Like Weiss, Stuart Pavilack, executive director of the ZOA Pittsburgh chapter, is looking forward to Jan. 20.
“I think the overall attitude of the new administration will be much better for Israel,” Pavilack said, calling both the U.N. resolution and Kerry’s speech “direct attacks on Israel and Netanyahu.”
“In eight years, this administration has thrown away 80 years of political capital, and not only hurt Israel, but its lack of direction has helped enemies of the United States and Israel in the Middle East.”
Pavilack is hopeful for the future, though.
“From my perspective as an American and as a Jew, I think that Israel will be better situated and the U.S., in terms of foreign policy, will have a bit of an advantage [under Trump],” he said. “It’s been too divisive in this last administration. The next couple of years look really promising.”
Nonna Neft of Upper St. Clair, who cast her ballot in November for Trump, agrees.
“We’ve had such a negative attitude from our president for so long, it couldn’t get any worse,” she said. “Trump has expressed positive vibes toward Bibi [Netanyahu], toward Israel and toward Jews, and I think we have reason to be very optimistic.”
In fact, Trump’s attitude toward Israel was, said Neft, one of the primary reasons she voted for him.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.