Nevada NewsMakers

News - July 22, 2019 - by Ray Hagar

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, a strong supporter of Israel during her time in Congress, praised Donald Trump for some of his stances on Israel but stopped short when asked if Trump "is the best president Israel ever had."

"No," Berkley said on Nevada Newsmakers after host Sam Shad asked the Trump question. "But that does not mean I don't appreciate some of the decisions he has made."

Berkley -- whose mother's family were Sephardic Jews from Ottoman-era Thessaloniki, now northern Greece -- praised the Republican president for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the nation's capital, Jerusalem.

"When I was in Congress, I always supported moving the embassy, the United States embassy to Jerusalem," Berkley said. "It seemed to me that Israel was being singled out and being treated differently. Every county on the planet has their embassy in the host nation's capital, with some exceptions and those are exceptions that the host country has determined."

Ironically, Berkley's stance on the U.S. embassy in Israel is very similar to that of former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller. Heller defeated Berkley in the 2014 U.S. Senate race by a close margin. The defeat ended Berkley's long political career in Nevada, which began in 1981 with her election to the Nevada Assembly.

Berkely, who served as Las Vegas' U.S. House District One representative from 1999 to 2013, was not as enthusiastic about Trump's recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, an area of strategic importance for Israeli defense.

Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan in March, making the U.S. the only country in the world to do so.

The Golan Heights, which was seized by Israel from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967, is regarded as illegally occupied territory by the global community.

"I'm a little less sure about the Golan," Berkley said. "In Israel's history, they have never been occupiers. They always wanted to use the land that was acquired in the '67 war to make peace, you know, land for peace. I'm a little troubled by the fact that they are now planning or been given permission to annex the Golan Heights into Israel proper but there are a lot of questions that need to be answered on that.

"But I appreciate the fact that he (Trump) has been supportive of Israel, yes."

Berkley said she has visited the Golan 18 times and realizes its important to the security of the nation.

"It is strategically necessary for Israel to hold on to the Golan but it has done so since 1967 without a formal annexation," she said. "I'm not quite sure why the annexation decision came now but I am fully aware of the importance of the Golan to Israeli security."

Berkley is not surprised that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently announced a new settlement in the Golan Heights as "Trump Heights."

Netanyahu said the naming of settlement after Trump was a way to thank Trump for breaking with the international community to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the region. Trump's announcement on the Golan was seen as a big boost for Netanyahu's successful re-election campaign earlier this year.

"I am not surprised in the least," she said. "He (Trump) has a very good relationship with Bibi Netanyahu, I mean, imagine being the prime minister of Israel, knowing that any decision you make might trigger a war or the end of the country you lead. The responsibility of any prime minister of Israel is extraordinary and I don't believe people fully appreciate the pressure that is on any prime minister to ensure Israel's survival."

Berkley noted Trump Heights is a small settlement.