Donald Trump admitted his decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was made largely for Evangelical Christians, a community staunchly supportive of his presidency.
Speaking at a campaign rally in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on Monday, the president also suggested that ”the evangelicals” were more enthusiastic about his decision than Jewish people.
“And we moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem. That’s for the evangelicals,” Mr Trump told supporters at Wittman Regional Airport on Monday, as Democrats prepared for the first night of the party’s virtual convention.
“You know it’s amazing … the evangelicals are more excited about that than Jewish people. That’s really right, it’s incredible,” the president added, to raucous applause from the crowd.
The president also visited Mankato, Minnesota on Monday as he attempted to counter attacks coming from the Democratic National Convention (DNC).
Mr Trump in December 2017 formally recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a decision that broke with decades of US foreign policy towards the region, provoking mixed reactions on Capitol Hill, and international condemnation.
Announcing the move, which led to deadly protests on the ground in the West Bank, Mr Trump said he acted “in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinian.”
“This is a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement,” the president said, in a video message played at the May 2018 inauguration of the embassy in Jerusalem.
“Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital. Acknowledging this as a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace,” he added.
Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the decision as a “historic landmark”. But Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas interpreted the move as the US making a “declaration of withdrawal” from its role in the peace process.
While Trump claimed his decision was motivated by peace, political commentators and analysts largely agreed that the president had one eye on the evangelical Christian community, many of whom backed him in the 2016 presidential race and whose votes will likely play a key role in November’s poll.
There is a small but not insignificant group of evangelical Christians in the US who believe Trump has been chosen by God to advance the kingdom of God on Earth; Israel is a key issue for many of these voters.
Earlier this year, Joe Biden said he would keep the US embassy in Israel should he be elected to the White House.
During Monday’s rally, the president also launched into another broadside on Obama’s legacy, before attacking Mr Biden, who will be formally nominated on the second night of the DNC, which continues on Tuesday night, with speeches from former president Bill Clinton and New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The president sought to paint Mr Biden as weak on China, an issue that is becoming increasingly important in the election, as privacy concerns grow over social media firm TikTok, and the telecoms company, Huawei.
“He’s going to get tough on China, sure,” Trump said in a sarcastic tone. “If we don’t get elected, China will own – mark my word. Well, I hope you’re not going to be able to test it out, okay? China will, China will own the United States,” he added.
In front of a crowd of around 1,000 supporters, Mr Trump, who has attempted to position himself as the “jobs” candidate, said the faltering US economy, tanking due to the Covid-19 pandemic, would rebound if he was re-elected.
He also repeated false claims that the upcoming election could be “rigged” as he appeared to lay the ground for a potential defeat in two months’ time.
“The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged,” he said.
Well behind in a host of major polls – including in swing states that he needs to win – Tump travels to Yuma, Arizona, on Tuesday and Biden’s home town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Thursday.
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