JERUSALEM — Many Israelis are buoyed by signs that President Trump will be a friend to Israel. But the recent wave of toppled tombstones and threats against Jewish centers in the United States has at least as many worrying that his rise may also not be good for Jews.
“Jews in America, that’s supposed to work,” said Einat Wilf, a former member of the Knesset for the center-left Labor Party. “To have these instances, is that an aberration? Or has the American president unleashed forces — willingly, unwillingly, consciously, unconsciously — but maybe he has unleashed forces that will challenge the place of Jews in America?”
Israelis have grown used to rising nationalism in Europe that has fed anti-Semitism. But many have looked to the United States, home to the largest number of Jews outside Israel, as a relative refuge from anti-Semitism, not another front for it.
Few here suggest that has permanently changed (though the Labor Party leader, Isaac Herzog, recently said Israel should prepare for a wave of American immigrants).
But worry spans left and right, even if they disagree on exactly how much to blame Mr. Trump, who is seen here as growing more confusing by the day. What to make of a president who, on the same day, denounced the anti-Semitic attacks but also suggested — in remarks widely covered here — that they might have been carried out by his own enemies?
There is the Mr. Trump whom Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described in their meeting in February: “There is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump,” he said, citing personal ties of decades and agreement on many policies, including the perils of Iran and of Islamic extremism.
There is also the Mr. Trump in the photograph on the front page of Israel’s leading newspaper. “Living in Fear in His Country,” read the headline in the newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, previewing a six-page special section to Friday’s weekend supplement on “the new America” with “swastikas, desecration of tombstones, curses and threats.”
Reuven and Negina Abrahamov, grocery owners outside Tel Aviv, are Trump supporters and disturbed by what they see in United States.
“It’s a combination of racism and violence, and I’m not sure it’s directly related to Trump,” said Mr. Abrahamov, 43. “This could be just what America is.”
“Of course it’s related to Trump,” Ms. Abrahamov, 40, answered. “Now that Trump came into power, all he does is support Israel. And I do not think Trump is someone who plays a double game. He just goes with his truth the whole way.”
“But in this case, his truth screws over Jews, and it also might screw over Israel,” she said.
It is causing a particular quandary for Mr. Netanyahu, who is charged with guiding the relationship, always deep and complicated, with Israel’s closest ally.
“The unenviable challenge facing the Israeli government is how to express its visceral horror over the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the U.S. without becoming a pawn in America’s partisan debate or jeopardizing its critical working relationship with the administration,” said Shalom Lipner, a former Israeli official and now a nonresident fellow with the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
At a time of weakness for Mr. Netanyahu, amid several corruption investigations, he has found both political renewal and common cause with Mr. Trump. Many who share Mr. Netanyahu’s politics thought that, finally, Israel had an American president who was an unconditional friend.
Mr. Trump initially promised to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, long a dream of many Israelis but opposed by Palestinians as a de facto recognition of Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem after the 1967 war. And Mr. Trump at first remained conspicuously silent as Mr. Netanyahu announced thousands of new Israeli settler units in the occupied West Bank and pushed through a contentious law granting retroactive legality to thousands of Israeli houses built on Palestinian property.
But the president has distanced himself somewhat since then, raising questions about whether he would ultimately toe a more traditional American line on critical Israeli issues. The embassy move has been postponed at a minimum. At a news conference during their meeting, Mr. Trump publicly asked Mr. Netanyahu to “hold back on the settlements.”
At that same news conference, other apparent divisions rose: Mr. Trump pointedly refused to denounce anti-Semitic sentiment among some of his supporters — and the next day he similarly refused, as he berated a religious Jewish reporter who asked a question about it.
In turn, the prime minister faced much criticism here for being reluctant to take his own public stand against anti-Semitism in the United States — apparently not wishing to anger Mr. Trump, or perhaps willing to give a pass, of sorts, to a sympathetic conservative.
Mr. Netanyahu did, however, speak out on Wednesday, after Mr. Trump used the opening of his speech in Congress to denounce the attacks and threats.
“Anti-Semitism certainly has not disappeared. But there is much we can do to fight back,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a videotaped address, praising Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who has also spoken out against the attacks.
Still, this has been a jarring time for Israelis of all political beliefs.
Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and head of the Jewish Agency, said he did not blame Mr. Trump for the attacks, even if, he said, the president is “clearly a reflection” of rising nationalism generally. And while Mr. Sharansky said he was also troubled by the White House’s failure to mention Jews in its statement this year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, he repeated his contention that anti-Semitism was not solely a problem of the right.
“We saw a lot of this left-radical, anti-Israeli feelings in the last 15 to 20 years,” he said. “And a lot of people were trying to separate it from the anti-Semitism of the right. In fact, this difference is erasing itself.”
Joni Catalano-Sherman, 61, moved here nearly 40 years ago from the United States and does not recall anti-Semitism as a problem, she said. Now vandals have toppled graves in the cemetery in St. Louis where her grandparents and many other members of her family are buried.
“It validates that there should be an Israel, if these things can happen in the States,” she said.
Otherwise, she described her emotions as “very complicated.” She has maintained her American passport and cast her ballot for Hillary Clinton. Yet she hopes Mr. Trump will fulfill his promises to broker a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
“However,” she added, “I am still shocked by what he says every day.”