With President Donald Trump’s fulfillment of his campaign promise to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, his moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, his subsequent refusal to ratify the Obama administration’s Iran Nuclear Deal, and official statements from the White House twitter account such as:
“The U.S. condemns the Iranian regime’s provocative rocket attacks from Syria against Israeli citizens, and we strongly support Israel’s right to act in self-defense.” – @WhiteHouse, May 10, 2018
(and all of this in just one year!), Trump has set the foundations for what could be the most stalwartly pro-Israel American foreign policy since Israel’s birth in 1947.
With religiously anti-Trump pundits (see here, or here) insisting that Trump’s policies and rhetoric are actually damaging to Israel and somehow worse than those of his predecessors, it’s worth taking a stroll down memory lane to see how past presidents perceived Israel, and how they conducted their foreign policies.
Harry Truman (Democrat) (April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1953)
Despite the dispute over Truman’s true feeling towards the Jewish people (he wrote in his diary in 1947, “when they [Jews]have power, physical, financial or political, neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment for the underdog.”), Harry Truman is known as the United States President who helped create the State of Israel. On May 14th, 1948, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion read the proclamation of statehood; Truman recognized the Jewish State of Israel on the same day.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (Republican) (January 20, 1953 – January 20, 1961)
Republican president Eisenhower’s approach to the Middle East was to maintain peace at any price. When Israel, with the aid of France and Britain, took control of the Sinai Peninsula over the course of the Suez Crisis, Eisenhower made draconian threats against Israel (withholding more than $100 million in private donations), forcing them to withdraw completely in attempts to maintain strong Egyptian-U.S. relations to avoid angering the Arabs because they might embargo oil.
John F. Kennedy (Democrat) (January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963)
As president, Democrat leader John F. Kennedy was the first to describe the U.S. Israeli alliance as a special relationship, stating that unconditional support and protection of Israel is a moral obligation. Furthermore, Kennedy initiated U.S. Israeli security ties and founded the US-Israeli military alliance.
Lyndon Johnson (Democrat) (November 22, 1963 – January 20, 1969)
Under the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, the percentage of American aid to Israel for military expenditures rose dramatically. As the Soviet Union increased its military aid to Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, President Johnson backed Israel, helping develop their military. As noted by Jason Maoz in Commentary, LBJ was the first president to sell offensive arms to Israel – prior weapon sales were strictly defensive.
After Israel’s territorial gains in the aftermath of the Six Day War, LBJ didn’t attempt to pressure Israel into returning any land it had acquired; not without an explicit peace deal with belligerent, neighboring Arabs. After the Arabs rejected what President Johnson agreed was an evenhanded deal, LBJ concluded Israel shouldn’t withdraw forces from territory that had been won through defensive measures.
Richard Nixon (Republican) (January 20, 1969 – August 9, 1974)
In October 1973 Israel was attacked by a Soviet-backed Egypt and Syria in what would later be known as the Yom Kippur War. Along the Golan Heights (Israel’s border with Syria), 180 Israeli tanks faced an outnumbering 1,400 Syrian tanks (courtesy of the USSR). Several days into the conflict, Nixon decided to overstep government bureaucracy, ignoring his advisor, Henry Kissinger, and saved Israel, helping them win the war.
Gerald Ford (Republican) (August 9, 1974 – January 20, 1977)
President Ford pushed to bring peace between Egypt and Israel.When, in 1974 when Israeli forces were still present in the Sinai Peninsula, Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger insisted a full withdrawal was necessary. President Ford threatened to withhold shipments of F-15 fighter planes to Israel, and Kissinger advocated to put Israel “at the bottom of the list.”
The deal with Egypt stated that both sides will settle disagreements by peaceful means, refraining from the threat of force or military blockade, permitting non-military Israeli cargo to use the Suez Canal.
Finally, President Ford proposed U.S. support to Israel of $4.2billion for a 27-month period; this accounts for 40% of all U.S. aid to Israel since 1948.
Jimmy Carter (Democrat) (January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981)
Under Jimmy Carter, the peace deal was officially signed between Egypt and Israel. Carter had voiced his support of Israel while president, “The special relationship between Israel and the United States still stands.” His actions and statements since leaving the presidency have been severely critical to Israel, bordering on anti-Semitism.
In 2006, Carter had a book published, titled: “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” where he presents pure fictitious fantasies villainizing Israel as fact. In 2011, Carter and the book’s publisher were sued for essentially publishing Harry Potter and calling it an autobiography.
Ronald Reagan (Republican) (January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989)
When in 1982 an offshoot of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) – a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel – made an attempt at assassinating Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Israel retaliated, launching an assault on southern Lebanon (the PLO’s stronghold). An infuriated Reagan administration posthumously abstained from vetoing a UN resolution (517) condemning Israel.
In further efforts to obtain some semblance of peace, Reagan helped create the Multinational Force in Lebanon (MNF) which secured safe passage for Yasser Arafat from Beirut to Tunis where he established the new PLO headquarters. Here, Yasser Arafat planned what would become the First Intifada, resulting in the deaths of 175 Israeli citizens.
In 1985, President Reagan signed the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement. This allowed Israeli companies to compete equally with European companies in the United States. Since then, trade between the U.S. and Israel has increased by over 400%.
Furthermore, with Israel’s economic crisis of 1985, where inflation rates went as high as 445%, President Reagan approved, $1.5 billion in emergency assistance to Israel’s economy. Ushering in an economic reform that would see Israel rise to 19th out of 187 nations on the UN’s Human Development Index.
George H. W. Bush (Republican) (January 20, 1989 – January 20, 1993)
Republican President George H. W. Bush was a fierce critic of Israel’s settlement building in the West Bank and Gaza. Bush threatened to withhold U.S. aid to Israel should Israeli President Chaim Herzog not cease development.
After determined lobbying from American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Bush infamously blubbered to the media that he was: “one lonely little guy, up against some powerful political forces made up of a thousand lobbyists on the Hill.” His remarks towards AIPAC sparked a barrage of anti-Semitic comments and letters for which Bush later apologized, agreeing to send Israel its grants in foreign aid.
Bill Clinton (Democrat) (January 20, 1993 – January 20, 2001)
Bill Clinton was sworn into office promising to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. In 1995, the Jerusalem Embassy Act was officially passed by the House and Senate. The President, however, never signed it, opting to invoke a six-month waiver citing concerns of national security.
Bill Clinton is best known for his efforts to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
Over several secret negotiations in Oslo, Norway, a declaration of peace was drawn up in 1993 called the Oslo Accords. These negotiations were mediated by President Clinton between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman, Yasser Arafat.
Peace talks came to a pause in 2000 when Arafat rejected peace settlement offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, which would have led to a Palestinian state.
George W. Bush (Republican) (January 20, 2001 – January 20, 2009)
As the Republican presidential candidate, W. Bush (like Bill Clinton before him) promised he would come through where his predecessor had fallen short and move the US embassy to Jerusalem. He never did.
Presiding under the tried-and-true presumption that giving swaths of land to Palestinian leadership will result in the abandonment of their century-old dedication to wiping out the Jewish people, Bush strongly supported Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to unilaterally withdraw all Israeli presence(forcing 9,000 Jews to leave their homes) from the Gaza Strip. As a result, Palestinians elected a radical terrorist organization dedicated to wiping out the Jewish people.
In his first meeting with Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon,George Bush said: “I will use force to protect Israel.” As he did in 2006 when the United States stood firmly with Israel in their campaign against Hezbollah.
Finally in 2007, Bush signed an agreement with Israel for $30 billion in U.S. military aid to Israel for a 10 year period.
Barack Obama (Democrat) (January 20, 2009 – January 20, 2017)
Barak Obama made strong statements in his campaign for the oval office, marketing himself as an ostensibly pro-Israel candidate. He even called Jerusalem the capital of Israel: “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided. I have no illusions that this will be easy.”
When speaking with Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy bewailed Israel’s PM saying, “I can’t stand Netanyahu; he is a coward and a liar.” Rather than defend Netanyahu, Obama replied, “You can’t stand him? I have to deal with him more than you.”
Obama also signed 38-billion-dollars in aid to Israel. The 10-year foreign aid package came on the heels of Obama’s Iran nuclear deal which Israel warned would only further empower Iran and do nothing to mitigate its funding of terrorist organizations or pursuit of nuclear weapons. Moreover, under a provision of the deal called, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), Israel is barred from receiving any additional funds with the notable exception of wartime.
As one of his final actions as US president, Obama refused to exercise the United States’s veto power in the United Nations, allowing a virulently anti-Israel resolution calling for a halt to Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem (a region Obama previously stated was without question part of Israel’s undivided capital).
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