January 2, 2019
News Press Release

ZOA: NY Times’ Bret Stephens Wrong – Pres. Trump Has Been Good for Israel

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has criticized New York Times columnist Bret Stephen’s latest column condemning the Trump Administration as being bad for Israel. ZOA National President Morton A. Klein and Director of the ZOA’s Center for Middle East Policy Dr. Daniel Mandel have issued the following statement in response: 

“The ZOA believes that the Trump Administration’s record in this regard is remarkably good and refutes Mr. Stephens’ charge. Indeed, Mr. Stephens himself admits that, ‘I write this as someone who supported Trump moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and who praised his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal as courageous and correct.’

Mr. Stephens failed to note that the Trump Administration has done far more in the way of being pro-Israel than merely moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, taking numerous steps, both symbolic and substantive, many of which President Obama refused to do or about which he did the opposite.

“So, if President Trump has executed these two steps, both of which Mr. Stephens agrees are pro-Israel, what then are Mr. Stephens’ charges?

“Basically, that moving the embassy is ‘mostly a matter of symbolism’ and thus, presumably, not all that important; and that the withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal makes things only ‘marginally’ better for Israel. 

“In short, he regards these steps as not all that important to Israel. 

“Also, he ‘would have opposed the president’s decision to remove U.S. forces from Syria under nearly any circumstances’ so that ISIS remains beaten, the Kurds protected and U.S. leverage in Syria preserved so as to prevent Russian and Iranian entrenchment in Syria. 

“Mr. Stephens also claims that ‘What Israel most needs from the U.S. today is what it needed at its birth in 1948; an America committed to defending the liberal-international order against totalitarian enemies, as opposed to one that conducts a purely transactional foreign policy based on the needs of the moment or the whims of a president’ (Bret Stephens, ‘Donald Trump Is Bad for Israel,’ New York Times, December 26, 2018).

“These charges don’t hold water.

“First, the embassy move is far more important than a matter of mere ‘symbolism’ (which itself is important in this conflict) because it served notice to Mahmoud Abbas’ pro-terror, anti-peace PA that the U.S. will no longer indulge its threats and narrative that Jerusalem somehow doesn’t belong to Israel, and with it, the concomitant PA hope that Israel can one day be dislodged from it. It also rectified the anomalous, anti-Israel international status quo of refusing to place embassies in even the western half of Jerusalem, thereby implying that this part of the city, though lying within the 1949 armistice lines, is somehow not part of internationally-recognized sovereign Israel.

“Second, the withdrawal from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal, which had laid out a glide path for Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons, essentially by agreement and international consensus, in the next decade or so, is vitally important. Only the U.S. could have reversed the international course on President Obama’s terrible, dishonest, bait-and-switch Iran nuclear deal, which violated every commitment President Obama publicly declared in seeking a deal with Tehran and did not remove a single element of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, while vastly empowering Iran across the Middle East. 

“Mr. Stephens did not note that the Trump Administration has not only reversed the deal, but re-imposed powerful sanctions on Iran which are weakening Tehran, a fact which will prove of benefit to Israel and the whole region grappling with Iranian designs and aggression.

“Also, Mr. Stephens failed to note that the Trump Administration has done far more in the way of being pro-Israel than merely moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, taking numerous steps, both symbolic and substantive, many of which President Obama refused to do or about which he did the opposite:

  • Supported Congressional efforts to give effect to the Taylor Force Act to cut funds to the PA for its financial support for terrorists and their families, while also publicly calling on Abbas and the PA to cease such payments.
  • Been the first to send a U.S. envoy to meet with Jewish leaders from Judea/Samaria.
  • Been the first to send its ambassador to Israel to attend Jerusalem Day celebrations.
  • Been the first to have an incumbent President visit Jerusalem’s Western Wall.
  • Been the first to have its ambassador to Israel correctly dismiss the label of Israel’s residual presence in Judea/Samaria as an ‘alleged occupation.’
  • Withdrawn the U.S. from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on account of its extreme and persistent anti-Israel bias and politicization of its work.
  • Terminated U.S. funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
  • Cut U.S. funding to the PA on account of its refusal to end glorification and funding of terrorists and their families, as well as the PA’s outrage over the U.S. embassy being moved to Jerusalem.
  • Has not supported Jerusalem’s re-division, saying that ‘the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem remain subject to negotiations between the parties.’
  • Called upon Abbas’ PA to free U.S. citizen Isaam Akel, arrested for allegedly selling real estate in the eastern half of Jerusalem to Jews, demanding ‘his immediate release.’ (The PA has ignored the Trump Administration’s plea and just sentenced Akel to life imprisonment.)

“Given this record, how absurd of Mr. Stephens to seriously suggest that Israel was better off with the Obama Administration.

“As to Mr. Stephens’ remaining charges, it is by no means clear that the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, which is also a matter of concern to the ZOA, will necessarily affect Israel adversely. Indeed, one of Israel’s most thoughtful strategists, Major-General Gershon Hacohen, has opined in an analysis just published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, that it might actually redound to Israel’s advantage.

“It is true that President Trump rejects nation-building and long-term foreign interventions for America. But is does not follow from this that he opposes as ‘liberal international order’ – as evidenced by holding Iran much more firmly to account and acting to reverse its Middle Eastern aggressions and expansion of influence that has so harmed Israel in recent years. Nor has he been opposed to using American firepower against U.S. enemies in the region. Compare this to President Obama’s imaginary Syrian ‘red line’ and other withholdings of American power that has so compromised America’s reputation in the region among its Sunni allies.

“Additionally, it is the Trump Administration that has imposed sanctions on Russia for its military aggression, endorsed genuine self-government for the Iranians, and supported the Egyptian government against the Muslim Brotherhood and the Saudis against Wahhabi jihadists –– far better practical support for a more liberal international order than the choices of his predecessor under whom, according to Mr. Stephens, Israel and the world was allegedly better off.

“Mr. Stephen’s column is simply marred by defective reasoning and an inability to grant that the Republican nominee and now President he opposed has actually done good. 

“The ZOA has criticized a number of President Trump’s decisions –– we opposed his appointment of General James Mattis as Defense Secretary; we criticized his January 2017 statement on the Holocaust; we called for his first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, to resign; for his former National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, to be reassigned; and expressed concern at the appointment of David Satterfield as Middle East director at the State Department. We also criticized the President for comparing neo-Nazis and Antifa in Charlottesville. We don’t think it can be fairly said that we are reluctant to criticize this President and Administration when they take what we regard as bad or poor decisions.

“Conversely, when President Trump and his Administration take good decisions, we have no hesitation in acknowledging and praising them. And overall President Trump has been the greatest U.S. president for Israel-ever!”