By Ruth Eglash
July 7, 2017
JERUSALEM – Israelis have never hidden their love and admiration for President Donald Trump, but now it’s official – or at been least scientifically proven.
An international survey carried out over the past few months by the Pew Research Center found that regard for the United States, its new leader and its policies has tumbled drastically around the world since Barack Obama left the presidency five months ago, except for in two countries: Russia and Israel. In Israel, there was little surprise at the poll’s results.
Trump, his family and his senior advisers visited here recently as part of his first international trip. During his 28-hour stay, he received a five-star welcome from Israeli leaders.
And images of him, his wife, Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner at the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, warmed Israeli and Jewish hearts.
There are other areas too where the Israelis seemed to view Trump favorably, according to Pew’s research.
When it comes to world affairs and some of his more prominent policy proposals, such as building a wall between the United States and Mexico and withdrawing from trade and climate agreements, more than half Israelis (56 percent) said they had confidence in Trump to do the right thing.
His suggestion that the United States could withdraw from the Iranian nuclear agreement reached under Obama, was welcomed by a majority of the public (67 percent) in Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government officials consistently opposed the deal Obama signed with Iran, seeing it as a betrayal of the Jewish state.
Trump’s controversial travel ban for citizens of Muslim-majority countries is also viewed favorably by most Israelis, the Pew report found.
Lior Weintraub, former chief of staff and spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said that the reason Israelis view Trump favorably are quite different to Russia.
“He made his first trip abroad to Israel, he reached out to the people here and Israelis respect that,” he said. “There is also the feeling among Israelis that Washington really understands their security challenges, especially when it comes to Iran, terrorism and the situation of the whole region.”
Weintraub said this is all in contrast to how Israelis viewed Obama, especially in his final years as president.
Particularly the refusal by Obama to veto a United Nation’s resolution last December declaring Jewish settlements built on land Israel has occupied since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war have “no legal validity” and are a threat to the possibility of creating two states – one for Israelis and one for Palestinians, created a very negative sentiment among Israelis, he said.
According to Pew, while most other countries in the Middle East felt their relationship with the United States would most likely worsen under Trump, only Israelis anticipated a better relationship now.
“In survey after survey, Israelis give the U.S. some of its highest favorability ratings, and that’s true again this year, with 81% saying they have a positive view of the U.S.,” wrote the authors of the Pew report.
“Israelis thought that Obama’s approach to the Middle East was wrong, was bad,” said Jonathan Rynhold, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University and author of “The Arab-Israeli Conflict in American Political Culture.”
“Trump has not done anything yet but he has shown more affection to Israel than Obama did,” said Rynhold. “It could all change very easily, eventually he is going to annoy someone one way or the other.”