//  5/24/17  //  Commentary

President Trump’s visit to Israel comes at a fraught time for his Administration and a pivotal moment for the relationship between the two countries. It will also constitute the next chapter in a bilateral relationship that has been shaken in recent years by sharp differences between the Obama Administration and the Netanyahu government. These differences took the form of policy tensions over settlements, peace talks, and the Iran nuclear deal, and were accentuated and aggravated by clashes of personality between the two leaders. They boiled over in the Obama Administration’s final days, when the U.S. abstained from U.N. Resolution 2334, a breach of the U.S.-maintained diplomatic shield at the United Nations that left many Israelis believing that the United States had crossed the line between tough love and betrayal.

Trump endeared himself to many supporters when he urged Obama to veto Resolution 2334, but for a candidate and President who has promised a decisive shift in policy towards Israel, the story has thus far been more complicated. The appointment of his personal bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, a supporter of West Bank causes and institutions, as Ambassador to Israel seemed to augur a rightward shift. However, Trump’s own statements on settlements have been characteristically mixed.

Perhaps the issue that has most consumed Trump is the location of the American embassy in Israel.  Despite legislation that supports moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, ultimate authority over this issue rests with the President, as the Supreme Court made clear in Zivotofsky v. Kerry (2015). Yet Trump’s early promises to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its capital but much of the world considers disputed territory, seem to have yielded to many of the same considerations that have prevented the move thus far: the explosiveness of the symbolism involved, and a lingering sense that even the Israelis are cautious about such a move at a precarious time in the region.

While Israelis have greeted Trump’s ascension with cautious optimism, the potential for significant tensions is already evident. Reports that the President may have divulged highly classified Israeli-gleaned intelligence to the Russian Foreign Minister were greeted with less than copious enthusiasm by spymasters at the Mossad. Moreover, Trump’s reputation as a ‘deal-maker’ graphs uneasily onto a conflict whose life span might now be tallied at over a century, since the 1917 Balfour Declaration expressed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

History aside, building hotels in Atlantic City poses different challenges than negotiating for sacred tombs in Hebron. A recent flap over leaked comments by an American diplomat over Israel’s claim to the Western Wall shows just how bedeviling zoning can be in the Holy Land.

Air Force One has begun criss-crossing a region in the painful throes of new formations. The old shuttle route between Jerusalem and Ramallah is increasingly being replaced by clandestine conversations between Israel and generals and princes in Cairo and Riyadh. As Washington consumes itself with scandal and Iran exerts growing regional influence, Israel and the Sunni states increasingly share dangers and interests. The Middle East is moving; for the sake of its inhabitants, Trump better keep up. 


Versus Trump: Easha's Back, To Talk Qualified Immunity and Police Reform

6/21/20  //  Commentary

On this week’s Versus Trump, Easha Anand makes her triumphant return to talk qualified immunity and police reform. The trio talk about the proposal to reform qualified immunity and debate whether that will do much. They then break down other new legal innovations in the various proposals and ask: is it enough to create new grounds for people to sue? Or are other reforms more important? Listen now!

Easha Anand

San Francisco

Charlie Gerstein

Civil Rights Corps

On Bill Stuntz, the Supreme Court’s (Sort of) Unanimous Opinion In Bostock, and the Relationship To Black Lives Matter

6/16/20  //  Commentary

Following the Supreme Court's decision in Bostock, it's worth asking: Why has the law been so successful at improving the lives of gay people but much less successful at improving the lives of people of color?

Versus Trump: The Military in the U.S. and Proxy Voting in the House

6/7/20  //  In-Depth Analysis

On this week’s Versus Trump, Jason and Charlie take on two topics. First, what can the president legally do to use the military on American soil? Second, is it legal for the House of Representatives to vote by proxy, without being physically present in D.C., as alleged in a new lawsuit by House Republicans? Listen now!

Charlie Gerstein

Civil Rights Corps