Trump, Biden, and Israel


As Trump and Biden have just officially won their party primaries, a recent poll showed that Israelis favored Trump over Biden, at 44% to 30%, the opposite of the same poll in December, when Biden was very popular in Israel following the attacks of October 7th and massive support for the country.

This ambivalence emphasizes the differences in approach toward Israel by the two candidates in the upcoming presidential election.


A different view of the Jews

While both men are grandfathers of Jewish children, through some of their kids’ weddings, their relationship with Jews is very different. Without being openly anti-Semitic, Trump carries many prejudices that are, such as Jews and money, or their supposed exclusive allegiance to Israel.


Seeing American Jews in this light, he can address them by referring to Netanyahu as “their” Prime Minister and especially labels them as disloyal, as he did on March 18th, for their stubborn refusal to vote for him despite his gestures towards Israel, an accusation of disloyalty that also echoes an old anti-Semitic refrain.


Nothing could be further away from Biden, whose attachment to the Jewish people and to Israel is sincere and enduring. Like his father before him, Biden took his children and grandchildren to Dachau to show them the Nazi barbarism.


He takes the rise of anti-Semitic acts very seriously, as evidenced by the establishment of a task force on the subject, under the responsibility of Doug Emhoff, Kamala Harris’s Jewish husband, something Trump never did (although anti-Semitic acts had increased significantly during his tenure).


Biden also restored the celebration of Jewish holidays at the White House, suspended by Trump. Close to the Jewish people, Joe Biden also calls himself a Zionist, and his relationship to Israel is unsurprisingly another sharp dividing line with Trump.


Trump’s transactional approach, Biden’s deep attachment to Israel

The Zionist project, its significance in Jewish history, matter little to Trump. He sees Israel primarily as a winning electoral theme, highlighting Trump’s transactional approach to this issue, as with all others.


For Trump, Israel is above all a political marker and a means of winning votes, not with Jews who are loyal to the democrats and do not vote on Israel for the most part, but with Evangelicals, who may be put off by his lack of fervor or numerous escapades but are won over by the transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem or the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.


Calling Trump pro-Israel is not factually incorrect but very incomplete.

His attachment to Israel could change tomorrow if it were demonstrated to him that it would cost him electorally or be bad for his business.

This is diametrically opposed to Biden’s position, a president who defines himself as a Zionist. Immediately after October 7th, he showed complete empathy and solidarity with Israel while Trump praised Hezbollah’s intelligence.

He also invested political capital in defending Israel at the UN and within his party, at the cost of a loss of popularity within his own camp and a risk to his reelection.


His criticisms of Netanyahu are of the same nature as those expressed in 2023 for the defense of Israeli democracy; they reflect his attachment to Israel and his concern about what he sees as negative developments for the country. In a recent interview where he reiterated his criticisms of Netanyahu, he said in the same breath that he would “never leave Israel”.


It is unlikely that Trump would make such a statement, especially as the very idea of foreign assistance is now being challenged within his party, at his request.

Trump is a conditional ally, while Biden is a sincere friend, concerned about Israel’s internal and diplomatic evolution.


Transactional approach versus principled diplomacy: this fundamental difference extends beyond Israel to the approach to the world in general.


Trump’s isolationism versus Biden’s traditional view of American leadership

One constant in Trump’s worldview is his isolationism. “America First” is the foundational matrix of Trumpism even before his emergence on the American political scene.


Biden, on this issue as on so many others, is the exact opposite of Trump. He is an internationalist and believes in alliances and the positive role of the United States in the world to promote stability and democracy, notions that are of no concern to Trump.

For Trump, American leadership does not truly matter because alliances are negotiable, commitments conditional, loyalties temporary, according to the interests of the moment. This American disengagement, this loss of influence, pose real risks for Israel.


If the United States were to continue to defend Israel under Trump, they would do so with less influence, making this support less valuable for the country.

Two visions are thus opposed between Trump and Biden: a world where the law of the strongest or the highest bidder reigns, against a world governed by alliances and the promotion of democracy under American leadership.


To the dismay of many friends of Israel around the world, Netanyahu and the majority of Israelis, according to the aforementioned poll, prefer Trump to Biden, an isolationist president rather than a Zionist one …


Sebastien Levi


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