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July 17, 2018 3:18 pm

Trump’s Helsinki Controversy Has Overshadowed Significance of US-Russia Alignment on Israel, Top US Jewish Leader Says

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US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Kevin Lamarque.

The controversy over US President Donald Trump’s remarks alongside his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday has overshadowed the significant commitment to Israel’s security expressed by both leaders at the same press conference, a prominent US Jewish leader argued on Tuesday.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), told The Algemeiner that while Trump’s criticism of US intelligence agencies — which the president backtracked from on Tuesday afternoon — had “understandably taken center stage,” the significance of Trump and Putin’s statements on the situation in the Middle East should not be overlooked.

“President Putin also is helping Israel,” Trump told journalists on Monday. “And we both spoke with [Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi Netanyahu, and they would like to do certain things with respect to Syria, having to do with the safety of Israel.”

For his part, Putin said that a return to the May 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement would “bring peace to Golan Heights, and bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel, and also to provide security of the State of Israel.”

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Hier said that Putin’s statement was a “direct signal to everyone in the Middle East — Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranian regime — that the US and Israel are on the same page when it comes to the protection of the State of Israel.”

Asked if Putin could be trusted on the question of Israel’s security, Hier posited that Netanyahu’s frequent meetings with the Russian president suggested that the bilateral relationship was bearing fruit. He expressed similar support for Trump’s outreach to Putin, saying, “If you want to make the planet safer, you need to have a direct dialogue.”

Hier, who recited a benediction at Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, applauded Trump’s Tuesday clarification that he accepted the intelligence community’s finding that Russia had meddled in the election, saying the president had corrected a “terrible mistake.”

Hier added that when Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, reached the 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran, criticism was comparatively muted.

“Obama made a deal with the world’s greatest terrorist state, a state that denies the Holocaust, and there was no similar outraged reaction from the Western world,” Hier said. “The question is, why not?”

Hier said he believed that Netanyahu and Trump were convinced that Putin could play a constructive role in the region. “Russia telling the Iranians and Hezbollah to watch out may be more effective than if it comes from the US, which is their mortal enemy,” he argued.

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