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By: Dave Gordon

Within his first few months of office, President Trump not only visited Israel, but made history by being the first US President to include the Jewish State in his first trip abroad last May. President Trump also became the first sitting US president to visit the Kotel.

In light of this visit, foreign policy analyst and Executive Director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) Mitchell Bard, weighs in on current US-Israel relations. In this interview with Community he opines on the extent of Trump’s allegiance to Israel, the nefarious but ineffective BDS movement, and how we can engender bipartisan support for Israel.

CM: Has President Trump shown himself to be in line with Jewish and Israeli expectations?

Bard:In the campaign, Trump did said most of the things that
the pro-Israel community wanted to hear, in terms of his commitment to Israel. But in some of his pronouncements, he’s been a bit wobbly.

At one point, he said he was neutral on the conflict with the Palestinians. At another point he thought a one-state solution was a good idea. Then, he said a two-state solution was a good idea. Finally, he said whatever the two parties come up with is a good solution. He’s talked about applying his negotiating skills to the problem in the belief that he can maybe do what no one else has done.

He certainly put good people in place that have been reassuring to most supporters of Israel: The United States Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman; and the UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who has come out, guns blazing, in terms of defending Israel at the UN. She is making clear that the United States is not going to sit by and allow Israel to be pilloried the way it has in the past.

Trump still seems to be someone with a commitment to Israel, but it will remain to be seen just how strong that commitment is, and how it manifests itself in the course of negotiations.

Initially, Trump made remarks that suggested he was going to be disinterested in, or certainly not critical of, Israeli settlement construction. This led people in Israel, especially those on the right, to believe it was going to be an open season for construction. But he’s backed away from that and now talked about expecting Israel to restrain settlement construction, which Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed to do.

Trump talked about moving the Embassy to Jerusalem immediately, but has been backtracking from that after hearing from, I presume the State Department, that Arab officials are warning of some apocalyptic outcome if that were to happen – something I don’t believe will really come to pass.

One last point is that Congress remains solidly behind Israel in a bipartisan way. Probably the only thing that the two parties can agree on, at the moment, is support for Israel. Congress is still going to be a reliable friend to Israel and will back up anything Trump does that is supportive of Israel.

CM: What about President Trump and the Iran Deal?

Bard:There are going to be new sanctions and added elements of the Iranian threat that were not covered by the nuclear deal, in particular sponsorship of terrorism and research and development of ballistic missiles.

CM: What can be done, and what is being done to answer the BDS movement?

Bard:BDS has been a complete failure; the growing numbers of people exposed to it are recognizing that it’s basically an anti-Semitic means of delegitimizing and ultimately destroying Israel.

And that realization has created a backlash in the last two years, which has resulted in about fifteen different U.S. states passing legislation that prohibits certain types of State cooperation with companies and organizations that boycott Israel.

On college campuses, hundreds of student government organizations have tried to pass a resolution calling on the university to divest from companies that do business with Israel. Those resolutions have been defeated about seventy percent of the time, and even those that have been adopted have no power.

The other factor has been the faculty who have been increasingly active in trying to use their professional associations to boycott Israel. But they also had no practical effect. The people who boycott Israel boycott Israel regardless of what anybody says, and the people who are interested in working with Israel don’t pay attention to any of these boycotts calls.

Cooperation between American universities and Israeli universities has grown dramatically. So, on every level the movement to boycott Israel has been a failure in the United States, to the extent that you can’t identify any marginal impact.

Part of the general drumbeat of criticism of Israel, though, includes the major media. On social media, there’s been some erosion of Israel’s image. Day after day, Israel is guilty of or accused of one thing or another. And, while the majority of Americans still are very pro-Israel, they are more susceptible to arguments that Israel is not as democratic as it should be, or is not defending human rights as vigorously as it should.

CM: How can someone best show their support for the land
of Israel?

Bard:I think there are a lot of different ways. The first is by making aliyah. Short of that, you can educate yourself. It’s important to be able to explain to your friends and neighbors why Israel is such an important haven for the Jewish people and why it’s a valuable ally for the United States.

You can also invest your money in Israeli bonds – invest your philanthropic dollars in any number of organizations that are trying to strengthen the U.S./Israeli relationship.

You can invest in campus activities and try to help educate students so that they, too, will understand and appreciate Israel’s rich history, which is something that most do not at this point. They’re not really given that kind of education, even in Jewish day school.

And finally, just be active working with community organizations and other individuals who are interested in seeing that the Jewish homeland remains strong, and that its relationship to the United States continues to prosper.

CM: Talk about non-Jewish support for Israel.

Bard:Large groups, in particular Christians United For Israel (CUFI), have become very active over the years in this regard. They’ve been very generous in raising money for Israel and actively lobbying for legislation that benefits Israel.

I always tell people who raise questions about Christian support for Israel: Do you think we’re better off with two million lobbyists or two million plus seventy-five million lobbyists?

Evangelicals and other Christians who support Israel play an important role because the United States would not have the alliance it does with Israel if it was based solely on what Jews believe. The alliance exists because it’s a fundamental belief of most Americans that the U.S/Israel relationship is beneficial, and that we share values and interests that make it possible to continue to strengthen the relationship from year to year. Christian supporters create the atmosphere and public support that allows members of Congress to feel confident that they can support Israel, provide aid, and do things that are sometimes controversial with their constituents.

CM: Leftists have framed support for Israel as a right-wing issue. How do we make Israel more of a bipartisan cause?

Bard:Well, it’s become difficult. If you listen to members of Congress who are bipartisan in their support for Israel, they get it. They understand. They don’t have any qualms about it. They know America and Israel share base values. But on college campuses, too often you have students who are less informed and easily manipulated by some of the propagandists on campus – especially professors who use their platforms to push their political agendas and fool too many students about what Israel is all about.

For them to suggest, for example, that Israel is the worst human rights abuser, and to ignore what’s going on in Syria, or China, or Yemen, or all the other places where human rights abuses are exponentially worse, just shows there is a bias, a double standard, a lack of knowledge – and that’s very difficult to overcome.

But students are, I think, being trained to build coalitions, and do a better job of explaining just what kind of a place Israel is. And so far they’ve succeeded in building coalitions with college Republicans, college Democrats, Evangelical groups, and African American groups.

Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst and the Executive Director of the American-IsraeliCooperative Enterprise (AICE). Additionally, he is the director of the Jewish Virtual Library.He also co-chairs the task force on BDS & Delegitimization for the Global Forum on Combating Anti-Semitism, created by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The editor/author of 23 books, he is a member of a similar task force established by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.