Donald Trump is arguably the most pro-Israel president in U.S. history and it could be that the roots of this beneficence towards the Jewish state go deep into the president’s family history.
Donald Trump is not Jewish nor does he have Jewish ancestry. His father, Fred, was a Lutheran and his Scottish-born mother a Presbyterian. In his book, The Art of the Deal, Trump, inaccurately claimed that he was of Swedish ancestry. Trump’s grandfather, Freidrich, was born in Kallstadt, which was, at the time, in Bavaria, but is now part of Germany. Trump’s cousin and family historian John Walter told The New York Times, that Donald knowingly continued this ruse at the request of his realtor father, Fred, who was a landlord and real estate investor in New York. Fred felt the claim to be Swedish would be more palatable to his Jewish tenants and business associates. This concern seemed reasonable in the period following World War II.
Whether to win favor with his Jewish tenants or not, Fred was a noted philanthropist who gave generously to Jewish causes including the Long Island Jewish Hospital. In The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a Presidential Candidate it was noted that “[Fred] Trump was so active in Jewish and Israeli causes that some believed that he belonged to the Jewish faith.”
This suspicion was bolstered about 50 years ago when Fred Trump donated the land for the Talmud Torah of the Beach Haven Jewish Center in Flatbush, New York.
This Trump family tradition of donating to Jewish causes took on a decidedly political twist in the 1980’s when Donald Trump donated heavily to help build new infrastructure for the Israelis removed from the northern Sinai as part of the peace agreement with Egypt. Again, in 2005, Trump generously helped resettle the Jews expelled from Gush Katif. At about the same time, Trump also donated $10,000 to American Friends of Beit El Institutions, a fund for religious institutions in Samaria.
It is well-known that Donald Trump has been a long-time friend of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Though this is clearly a manifestation of the strong political alliance between the two countries, it has its roots in the president’s family. Fred Trump, the president’s father, became friends with Netanyahu while he was the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations in Manhattan.
This affinity for Jews was also espoused by Fred Trump Jr., Donald Trump’s older brother, who joined a Jewish fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu, while attending Lehigh University, even though he was not Jewish. In a strange note, several of the fraternity brothers have been quoted as saying that while in university, Fred Jr. claimed that his father was Jewish. This was incongruous as his middle name was Christ and there were no similar claims from anyone else in the Trump clan.
Though Fred Jr.’s claim to be Jewish has never been taken seriously, the president does have a family connection to Judaism. His daughter, Ivanka converted to Judaism in 2009 before marrying Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew. Ivanka (her Hebrew name is Yael) has said that her father supported her decision to convert “from day one”, adding that he has “tremendous respect” for the Jewish religion. Trump is blessed with three Jewish grandchildren. His respect for Judaism was so great that he made a special request from his daughter in the heat of the presidential campaign: pray for him in the synagogue during the Jewish high-holidays in order to “cover all of the bases.”
Trump’s first visit to the Holy land was in May 2017 when he became the first sitting U.S. President to visit the Western Wall. But this was not supposed to be his first visit. In 1989, Moshe Arad, Israel’s ambassador to Washington at the time, formally invited the prominent businessman for a visit in the name of Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir. Trump wanted to come to Israel because he was considering several business deals, including building a casino in Eilat and purchasing the country’s national airline, El Al. Extensive preparations were made but whether or not the visit ever actually took place is the source of debate.
Mark Zell , chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, acknowledges this history of Trump connection to the Jews but does not believe that the president’s policies have a much obvious source.
“Trump grew up in New York which is heavily Jewish and it is clear that he had a lot of Jewish friends and associates,” Zell told Breaking Israel News. “He grew up in this environment. He has been unfairly criticized by the left-wing for being anti-Semitic which is complete sophistry. Tragically, many people in the American Jewish community have serious identity problems which lead them to criticize the president despite how pro-Israel policies.”
“It isn’t necessary to dig in order to find some personal or vested interest for the president to be pro-Jewish and pro-Israel,” Zell said. “It is sad that this is the case, that this is what people try to do. Most politicians, especially Jewish, are cautious in their support of Israel. Donald Trump is not. He is not cautious in the least. He is true to his beliefs and his world view, part of which is that Israel is, from an objective point of view, an important ally and an asset to the security of the United States. It is clear to him that the Jewish people are entitled to a secure state. That recognition from a president is unprecedented. But what is more amazing is that he acts on this belief, unabashedly and unequivocally.”