Love him or hate him, President Trump is never boring. And it seems that most people do either love him or hate him.
Those who love him do so for his strong stance on issues, his tough talk and no-nonsense manner. Those who hate him feel this way for much the same reasons since his tough stances often come across as racist, his tough talk as bullying and sexist, and his manner as uncouth and ignorant.
Unlike Americans, who judge their own president on a variety of issues both domestic and foreign, Israelis have one main aspect on which to judge Trump, namely, will he be good for the Jewish state? Add to that the fascination with his daughter, who is a convert to Judaism, and the view from Israel on Trump is different from that of anywhere else.
For many Israelis, Trump’s election promised a change from what they saw as an unfriendly Obama administration, which had attempted to interfere with Israel’s elections, backed down from its Syrian red lines, and harshly criticised the Israeli government’s policies, including a last minute UN vote which many saw as a stab in the back. For other Israelis, Trump is boorish, unqualified, and unlikely to assist us in finding the peace they hope the US will help facilitate.
Throughout his campaign Trump spoke warmly of Israel and promised to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Since being elected, however, he has not yet come through on this pledge and has avoided the question when asked. He has, however, appointed a very pro- Israel UN ambassador. The shift that this has created for Israel in the UN, especially in the UN Security Council where Israel is often singled out and vilified, cannot be overstated.
That Trump’s first trip abroad included Israel was seen as positive. The country scrambled to get ready, rolling out the red carpet and greeting him with tremendous enthusiasm — even I, not a Trump fan, could not deny feeling excitement and hope, and more than a little pride at seeing the regard Trump seems to have for Israel and her people.
His first hour here, spent on the tarmac, consisted of brief speeches, many handshakes, a stolen selfie by a renegade member of parliament (to the chagrin of the Prime Minister and half of the country), and genuine warmth.
From there he flew to Jerusalem, where he spoke at the president’s residence and then left for the Old City. There, he visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and afterwards, Trump became the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews are allowed to pray (Judaism’s holiest site, Temple Mount is restricted to solely Muslim prayer).
But it wasn’t the President or even the First Lady who Israelis were most fascinated to see at their beloved wall. It was his daughter Ivanka, demurely dressed and wearing a fascinator (in marked contrast to going bareheaded in Saudi Arabia), who captured the eyes and hearts of Israelis. Truly, the First Daughter could have been any Jewish woman praying at the Kotel, touching the stones with closed eyes and bowed head. News commentators voiced these thoughts as they showed footage of Ivanka at the wall surreptitiously wiping away tears after a few moments of silent prayer.
And it wasn’t only Ivanka who touched the hearts of Israelis. Photos of First Lady Melania Trump holding hands with Nechama Rivlin — wife of Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin — who has a respiratory illness and uses an oxygen concentrator to help her breathe, circulated widely across social media. Israelis were touched by the sight of the First Lady walking hand in hand supporting Mrs Rivlin.
Trump spoke both in Bethlehem, a Palestinian Authority-controlled area, and at the Israel Museum in western Jerusalem, but perhaps most telling were the things he did not say. He spoke to the concept of peace and a bright future but not of the barriers that have kept them from becoming a reality.
Overall, President Trump’s trip seemed most focused on the things that we have in common: respect for holy sites, hope for the future, interpersonal relationships, the need to eradicate terror, and Trump’s commitment to “always stand with Israel.” And unlike other trips, it might best be remembered in the human gestures we witnessed: the touching of stones, the holding of hands, and even the taking of a selfie. Perhaps, the path to peace can be found within them.
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is a writer and activist