columnU.S.-Israel Relations

Would Democrats reverse Trump’s pro-Israel moves?

Liberal Jews’ Judaism is often said to consist of whatever is the latest position of the Democratic Party.

U.S. President Donald Trump, joined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and administration officials, signs a proclamation formally recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, on March 25, 2019, at the White House. Credit: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead.
U.S. President Donald Trump, joined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and administration officials, signs a proclamation formally recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, on March 25, 2019, at the White House. Credit: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead.
Carol Greenwald

The next president of the United States will be able to reverse nearly every one of U.S. President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel actions because most of them have been executive orders. In light of this, ascertaining where the Democratic Party presidential candidates stand is critical: Would they reverse Trump’s pro-Israel policies if elected?

Whether it’s withdrawing from the Iran deal, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, placing crushing sanctions on Iran, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C., or ending funding for the hate-promoting United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Trump’s successor can reverse these actions just as easily as Trump himself was able to reverse many of the actions of his predecessor, Barack Obama. Even the U.S. embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Congress authorized, can effectively be reversed.

Indeed, we already know where the Democratic presidential hopefuls stand on many of these policies, because they’ve told us.

Four of the declared candidates—Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)—have already promised to return the United States to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka “the Iran deal,” and while he hasn’t said so, it is quite likely that former Vice President Joe Biden would, too.

It is Sanders, though, who has really set the bar for Democratic candidates’ relationship with the State of Israel, by labeling the newly elected (in an overwhelming victory) Israeli government “racist.” Has any Democratic candidate had either the courage or conviction to publicly call out Sanders for this outrage?  By separating support for the Israeli government from support for Israelis the Democrats are employing the same rhetorical tricks boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) supporters use. Such tricks are merely a device employed to deflect accusations of anti-Semitism.

What about Israeli sovereignty over the Golan? Why not ask Democratic candidates what they would do on this issue if elected? Would their answers matter to Jewish Democrats? To Democratic friends of Israel?

What about ending UNRWA funding? Thirty-four Senate Democrats have already called on the Trump administration to restore funding to the U.N. agency in Gaza. Restoring that funding means continuing to allow the use of American taxpayers’ money to foment hatred of Jews through UNRWA schools and textbooks, helping Hamas to create future generations of Jew-murderers. Included in the 34 Democratic signatories to that request are six of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, with Sanders, Harris, Warren and Klobuchar being joined by senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

What should we read into the coincidence that on the day that Trump tweeted his recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, all the Democratic presidential candidates publicly ditched the AIPAC conference in favor of “Reverend” Al Sharpton’s conference, to kiss his ring and to pledge support for reparations? While it is true that AIPAC does not ask presidential primaries candidates to speak at its conference, in 2012 candidates Hillary Clinton and Obama held receptions for their supporters at the AIPAC conference. The Democratic candidates could have done the same, but they went to Sharpton, the Jew-hater, instead.

What about Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? All presidential candidates since the ’90s had promised to do this and none did once in office, excepting Trump. The embassy move is the only pro-Israel action taken by Trump that Congress authorized via legislation. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 called for moving the embassy to Jerusalem but gave the president the authority to exercise a waiver in the interests of national security. Every president before Trump exercised that waiver.

A future president, however, with a Democratic Congress—which there will surely be if a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020—could change the law to bring it into alignment with international law, which considers Jerusalem a territory in conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The U.S. embassy building in Tel Aviv is still there; no new building was built in Jerusalem. There were only some renovations to the existing consulate and a change of signs. The embassy could easily become a consulate again and be “moved” back to Tel Aviv.

Other countries have moved their embassies to Jerusalem and then back to Tel Aviv. In the 1970s the Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya did so. In 1980, the Netherlands, Haiti and several Latin American countries moved their diplomatic mission from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv. In 1984, Costa Rica and El Salvador moved their embassies to Jerusalem and in 2006 moved them back to Tel Aviv.

The European Union and Japan have announced that they will not follow the United States in moving their embassies to Jerusalem.

Is there any doubt that a Democratic president will bow to the will of our allies, whom Trump is always accused of angering? Why not ask the Democratic candidates now and see what they say?

We know what Sanders would say—he’s already said it. After Trump announced the embassy move, Sanders tweeted: “There’s a reason why all past U.S. administrations have not made this move, and why leaders around the world have warned Trump against it: It would undermine the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and severely, perhaps irreparably, damage our ability to broker it.”

A new president could echo Sanders and say that to further the prospects for peace, the United States was opening another embassy in Jerusalem, for the Palestinians, just as the United States had two consulates in Jerusalem for many years, one for western Jerusalem and one for the Palestinians.

Or the new president could simply “temporarily” conduct embassy business from Tel Aviv and send the ambassador back to Tel Aviv indefinitely.

All of these scenarios are being debated in Democratic circles.

What we know is that none of the Democratic candidates has come out in support of the move to Jerusalem.

Liberal Jews’ Judaism is often said to consist of whatever is the latest position of the Democratic Party. Here is a real test of that accusation, and the choice is stark: Jewish Democrats must decide whether they support Trump’s pro-Israel policies or the increasingly anti-Israel policies of the Democratic Party.

Carol Greenwald is chairman of

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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