Last December, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying, “Prime Minister Netanyahu rejects Donald Trump’s recent remarks about Muslims. The State of Israel respects all religions and strictly guarantees the rights of all its citizens.”
It was a proper statement, expressing all the best sentiments regarding respectful interfaith relations, but its timing made it a potential disaster for the Israeli leader’s future relationship with the White House, should Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump win in November.
Back in 2013, Donald Trump announced his endorsement of Netanyahu for prime minister of Israel. It’s not clear why Bibi needed that show of support, but there it was. “I think he would have been a great president of the United States,” Trump said at the time. Now, the Netanyahu circle expected, Trump would expect to be rewarded in kind, with an endorsement from Netanyahu before the start of the primaries, which would have gone a long way to attract the pro-Israel vote.
It’s not even certain that Netanyahu was entirely against endorsing Trump, or at least giving the candidate a useful, very friendly photo-op. The meeting had been arranged two weeks earlier, according to the PM’s office, and Trump disclosed his plans to visit Israel in a Twitter post: “Prior to the end of the year, I will be traveling to Israel. I am very much looking forward to it.”
But then the Jerusalem Post reported that Trump wanted to visit the Temple Mount, and that “the campaign was looking into the logistics of visiting the site.” Talk about starting WW3. One can only imagine the Arab reaction had the US presidential candidate who promised to oust Muslims who tried to set foot in his country come to spread his message in the eternal city.
This is why Netanyahu felt compelled to reject Trump’s views openly, and to continue to state, in the same release, that the PM had decided this time around “on a uniform policy to agree to meet with all presidential candidates from either party” who visit Israel, but “this policy does not represent an endorsement of any candidate or his or her views, rather, it is an expression of the importance that Prime Minister Netanyahu attributes to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States.”
In the context of the clandestine yet at the same time hyper-publicized relationship between Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Benjamin Netanyahu, that unavoidable error of December 9, 2015, where the modern-day ruler of Judea snubbed the modern-day Roman Emperor-to-be, had to be mended. Anyone who has followed the Trump campaign so far know that the candidate does not forgive slights, ever, and that being rejected publicly by “his friend” Netanyahu, as he had defined their relationship had to sting, and that there would be hell to pay.
And so Netanyahu’s patron Adelson has taken on himself the mission of mending the rift between the PM and the candidate. Adelson had initially passed on Trump in favor of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Texas Governor Rick Perry. It’s doubtful that Trump’s flashy public style appealed to Adelson, whose demeanor is reserved and secretive. But one week after the Netanyahu rejection note, Adelson asked for a meeting with Trump. At that stage of the race Adelson did not endorse Trump, but came out of the meeting telling reporters he found Trump to be “very charming.”
A few hours later, Trump issued the statement Adelson had been waiting to hear: “Sheldon knows that nobody will be more loyal to Israel than Donald Trump.”
Since then, Trump has stuck by his very positive views about Israel, and even endorsed continued settlement construction. Granted, he would have done it regardless of his meeting with Adelson. It is paramount for Trump to position himself as a greater friend of the Jewish State than his presumptive opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. But general sentiment and access to the White House for the Israeli PM are two very different things, as Netanyahu has learned so painfully during the Obama Administration.
Now, with the primary campaign all but over, Adelson told Trump in a private meeting last week that he was willing to contribute more than $100 million to his campaign. Adelson has also appointed himself Trump’s envoy to wealthy and influential Republican Jews, and this week sent fifty of them an email soliciting their support for the candidate. The Republican Jewish Coalition is not in Trump’s pocket. It is much more concerned with shielding Republican candidates in blue states from the Trump toxins than it is with endorsing the winning candidate. So Sheldon has his work cut out for him.
Meanwhile, as Trump has announced that he abandoned his plan to fund his campaign with his own money in favor of soliciting $1 billion from donors, Adelson would be a pivotal gain for him, on his way to reaching Jewish billionaires like hedge fund head Paul Singer. Singer is easily as pro-Israel as Adelson.
Of course, Adelson’s choice would have naturally been Trump, but it is doubtful their relationship would have been forged as it has done without Adelson’s concerns for Netanyahu’s political future.