Kafe Knesset May 19

Sign up for the Daily Kickoff newsletter to read Kafe Knesset in your inbox each day

A not-so-warm welcome for Trump: Israelis are not as excited about President Trump as they were a few months ago, a new Jerusalem Post poll revealed Thursday night. Since January, the number of Israelis who think Trump is more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian dropped 23 percentage points. But, at 56%, that approval rating is still 10 points higher than the one Politico published yesterday for Trump in the country where he is actually President. So maybe the President will feel like Israelis really love him, anyway. Reflecting Trump’s mixed messages towards Israel, the numbers that shifted away from thinking Trump is pro-Israel moved to the “neutral” or “I don’t know” category. There is only a one percentage point change in thinking that Trump is more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel when compared to the January poll.

This morning, the enthusiasm among Israeli right wingers probably dropped even more, as the White House posted a video promoting Trump’s first foreign visit, including a map of Israel – under pre 1967 lines. Even though this coincides with longstanding US policy, it is still perceived by many as another big blow to the high expectations from the Trump administration. “I hope this is ignorance and not policy,” Jewish Home’s Ayelet Shaked said today. Shaked also used the opportunity to defend her party leader, Naftali Bennett, in the wake of a Channel 2 report last night. The report quoted associates close to the President expressing anger to their Israeli counterparts about some recent statements from Israeli politicians, specifically pointing a finger at Bennett. “If someone buried the chance to move the US Embassy, it is Bennett,” the report said. Bennett immediately tweeted: “I welcome President Trump. My responsibility is to preserve Israel’s security – I was not elected to serve the interests of the White House but those of the citizens of Israel and I will continue to do so.” Shaked elaborated today, stating: “No one will put tape on our mouths. We were not elected to warm a chair but to implement a clear policy, to ensure that a Palestinian state is not established and to ensure that the US Embassy is transferred, for example.”

But pressure on BB is mounting from within his own party, as well. This week, ahead of the President’s visit, 800 members of the Likud’s Central Committee signed a petition demanding a vote on a decision to apply Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria. The signatures were collected by Shevach Stern and Natan Engelsman, heads of the Likud settler lobby, and will be brought to a vote within 30 days. Other senior Likud Ministers like Zeev Elkin and Yuval Steinitz gathered with hundreds of party activists this morning for a special event held by Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat under the title “Unite with Jerusalem.” Barkat referred to the US Embassy move and said “I hear that there are people whispering to President Trump that moving the Embassy to Jerusalem will harm peace efforts … the truth is the opposite. Only US and international recognition of Israeli sovereignty will bring us closer to peace. President Trump, there is no deal without a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty – move the Embassy to the capital.”

Crash the Kotel: Meanwhile, Israelis are still talking about how Trump won’t meet any Israeli officials at the Western Wall. MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) came up with his own creative solution for what many saw as disrespectful treatment of Israel. Smotrich threatened to use his parliamentary immunity to show up at the Kotel in protest, and called for other lawmakers to join him. Smotrich also called on Netanyahu not to allow Trump to go to the Western Wall without him, “because there’s a limit to the trampling of national pride that we can agree to.”

Knesset snub: At the same time, some in the Knesset are wondering why Trump won’t visit the legislature. The answer that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s office gave is that this is a “working visit” and not a state visit. This distinction was also used to explain why Trump will not meet with opposition leader Isaac Herzog. But several MKs did not accept that excuse. Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai posited that the real reason Trump won’t be visiting the Knesset is that Edelstein is afraid Arab MKs will disrupt, like they did when former UK Prime Minister David Cameron or when former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke at the Knesset. (MK Ahmad Tibi told Harper that he should join the Likud, among other heckles.) Shai told Kafe Knesset: “Trump should speak in the Knesset. If he doesn’t, that is disrespectful to the House. Obama spoke at the Jerusalem Conference Center, and that was a mistake. World leaders must speak to the public through the Knesset, which was elected by the public.”

Don’t want to Miss Aerosmith: in between intense preparations for Trump’s arrival, and meeting with Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, Netanyahu took a break from politics yesterday and welcomed Aerosmith to his chambers. “Where have you been? This is your second visit to Israel -you don’t want to miss a thing, right?” Netanyahu told the band, who performed before a packed crowd in Tel Aviv this week. Then he gave them a special tour of the unique archeological artifacts he has in his office, including the ancient seal which dates back 2,700 years, with a name of the Jewish official inscribed in Hebrew whose name was Netanyahu. The band reacted with a big “wow,” and Netanyahu stressed: “We have been here for a long while.”

In any case, Steven Tyler seems to be very interested in Israeli politics. Earlier this week, he coincidently ran into new US Ambassador David Friedman at the Western Wall, and according to eyewitnesses –Tyler had many questions about Israeli-US politics. Moreover, during the Tel Aviv concert this week, he told an estimated 50,000 fans that he is “making Aliyah.” The Jewish Agency bit back on the gimmick, and officially invited Tyler to begin the immigration process, releasing the number of the Agency’s global service center. “Walk this way – to a Jewish Agency Shaliach,” said Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky. “While some believe the Israeli experience entails living on the edge, life in Israel puts one back in the saddle of Jewish history, and we know Mr. Tyler doesn’t want to miss a thing. Theodor Herzl said that if you will it, it is no dream. Mr. Tyler no longer has to dream on.”

Tyler also met Mike Evans, a prominent evangelical author and preacher and Founder and Chair of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center in Jerusalem, during their visit. Kafe Knesset has been wondering if Evans told him how he prophesied that BB would be Israel’s Prime Minister twice early in the 1980’s, and the tale of his attempt to persuade former PM Menachem Begin to give Netanyahu his first position in the Israeli embassy in DC. Evans is also preparing for Trump’s visit, and this morning he lined the streets of Jerusalem with billboards and signs proclaiming “Trump Is A Friend of Zion” and “Trump Make Israel Great.” “Who could have imagined a US President coming to Israel in the first 6 months of his term of office, and boldly going to the Western Wall – something no president has ever done before while in office,” Evans said in a statement. Evans added that “Trump won the election because of a historic evangelical voter turnout – the largest in American history. Evangelicals tend not to be monolithic except on two issues – the Supreme Court and Israel. President Trump promised us he would recognize Jerusalem and move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. We wholeheartedly believe that this promise is non-negotiable and will happen while he is president.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.