While the world may think that Jewish Israelis are raucously celebrating Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Jerusalem’s Jewish community appears split on their feelings towards not only the announcement, but also the US president himself.
Meah Shearim is an ultra- Orthodox area of Jerusalem, and one of the oldest Jewish areas of the holy city. The residents are mainly Haredi Jews, who follow a strict adherence to Jewish tradition and religious practice. On getting out of her parked car, Jerusalem-born Batsheva Shamama is covering up the trousers she is wearing with a long jacket. “You have to be careful here, people don’t like women wearing pants,” Shamama comments on the traditional long skirts and stockings women must wear.
“I think he is a crazy man,” Shamama remarks on Trump. “He doesn’t think about what he says and what he’s doing. His decision is good for me [as a Jew], but I’m not sure it’s a good system,” Shamama continues, between organising with her sister on the phone where they’re meeting for lunch.
Further down the street, 50-year-old Ronit Levi agrees on the crazy aspect. “He has a lot of passion. Trump’s a crazy man, but I like it. I think he does things others are afraid to do,” Levi said.
Avi Samat, 39, a kitchen worker and Orthodox Jew, is a clear supporter of Trump. “He’s good for the Jewish, very good, because he supports Israel, not like Obama. He thinks like [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” Samat explained. “Obama never gave money to Israel. He said we weren’t allowed to build in [occupied East] Jerusalem because it’s not legal, but Trump allows us.”
Amid the bustle of Mahane Yehuda Market in West Jerusalem, 25-year-old Yarin Ariv talks between serving customers in a bar. “I don’t know him personally but yes [I like him], I think the world needs a strong leader,” Ariv said.
Twenty-four year-old Eden, working in a delicatessen, straight up said she doesn’t like Trump. “When you think of a president or leader you’re meant to look up to them. I don’t see him as someone to trust,” Eden said, adding she didn’t like his attitude towards women.
A recent survey by the American Jewish Committee found the majority of American Jews don’t like Trump, even though he seems to support what they term Jewish interests. The results showed 77% of American Jews have an ‘unfavorable’ view of Trump, while only 21% had a ‘favorable’ opinion. The pool of participants showed 57% of American Jews were Democrats compared with 15% who were Republican, in 2017. Interestingly, the majority of those surveyed said they didn’t like the way Trump handled national security and terrorism.
Back in Meah Shearim, 65-year-old Nehenia Ashkenzy’s reasoning on the opinion of Trump is somewhat in line with the survey. “No, I think they like Trump!,” Ashkenzy said initially in defence. “Or maybe all the Jews in America are Democrats,” he continued.
Samat had his own explanation: “I know why, because 60 or 50% of American Jews are very liberal. They think Palestinians have nothing and they need to support them. [Seeing as] Israel is a rich country, they don’t need their support.”
Eden suggested the American Jews who support Trump are like the Israelis who support Netanyahu. “They have the same ideas and views. I don’t support Netanhayu,” Eden said laughing. “So many friends don’t agree with his ways of making peace, we want change.” Out the front of a Sufganiyah (a filled donut eaten during Hannukah) store, 32-year-old Smadar Regev said she believed Jews in Israel are more Orthodox and politically conservative. “Most Jews in America are more liberal than what Trump represents.”
On the day of interviewing, a large portion of people approached were actually American born and had immigrated to Israel, or were studying the Torah in Jerusalem for three months. One of them, a 23-year-old Yeshiva student, originally from California, who didn’t want to provide his name, said polls misrepresented American Jewish opinion on Trump. “As you can tell from the polls pre election, before Trump won, polls are false,” the student said.
The survey, released in September, also touched on the possible move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 16% of American Jews wanted to ‘move the embassy to Jerusalem immediately’ compared to 44% saying it shouldn’t be moved at all. Once again, the Israeli Jewish reactions are mixed.
David, who wouldn’t provide his last name, is American born but has lived in Jerusalem for ten years. Still holding his voting rights in America, he voted for Trump in the last election. David said he had no problem with the embassy move. “I don’t think it will do much. At the end of the day the Arabs don’t need another reason to be violent. Whether he moves it or doesn’t, says it’s the capital or not, they’re still going to be violent, there’s still going to be riots and violence,” David said, as he worked at Mahane Yehuda Market.
Ariv said he thought the embassy move was important. “Israeli’s say Jerusalem is our capital. USA is our best friend in the world, so if they recognise it too, it’s great.”
According to the American Jewish Committee survey, 36% said they wanted the embassy move, though ‘at a later date, in conjunction with Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.’ You can feel people lean more towards this option in Jerusalem as well and are somewhat afraid of what such a drastic decision could do in a fragile city.
Even though Levi believes Jerusalem is the capital, as written in the bible, she feels Trump should have waited for a peace deal to come to fruition. “I think we need to do this step by step, not rush, it doesn’t need to be a big noise.” Eden also agreed on the larger front: the embassy move is a good thing.
“But firstly it’s making problems. Everything is so tense, [people are worried the Palestinians] might bomb everything. All the peace we had in the last few months, now it’s gone.” Finishing with a Sufganiyah, Regev said she isn’t happy with the announcement. “We have enough tension in Jerusalem, this is going to make a lot of fire, so it’s not good for us.”