Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Vic Rosenthal's weekly column

Here we go again. Another yawning gulf between Israelis and American Jews, “a rupture that threatens Jews everywhere, the trust between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, and in the long run, Israel,” say Evan Morris and Dennis Jett.
It’s not bad enough that the Israeli religious establishment does not show respect for Reform “Judaism,” or that we can’t appreciate how much Barack Obama really “[had] our back,” or that we keep electing “right-wing” governments with Bibi Netanyahu as PM, or that we keep failing to understand how an enemy state in mortar range of our center of population and our single international airport would actually be good for us.
It’s much worse than any of that. In fact, we are “going off the rails” and have “betrayed our American cousins.”
We did this by preferring Donald Trump to Joe Biden.
Oh sure, Trump did what no American president cared to do, carried out the will of the Congress and moved the embassy to the capital of the Jewish state. Clinton, Bush, and Obama loved to talk about our “unbreakable relationship,” but when it came down to the legitimacy of our presence in Jerusalem, they religiously signed that waiver every six months. Trump even instructed the oft-antisemitic State Department to allow those born in Jerusalem to have “Jerusalem, Israel” on their passports. Compare that to the Obama Administration’s refusal to say what country Jerusalem was in – they even scrubbed “Jerusalem, Israel” from official websites.
No big deal, Morris and Jett said. “Trump is not a reliable ally and could never be … Given the right circumstance or perceived slight, Trump would turn on Israel.” So then Trump went and recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and sponsored the development of a peace plan that was for the first time based on reality, rather than Henry Kissinger’s 1974 promise to the Arabs to reverse the result of the 1967 war.
Trump did even more. He spurned the view that the Palestinians should be given unlimited aid regardless of their behavior, and enforced the Taylor Force act that demanded aid be reduced when it was used to pay terrorists. He ended the perpetual support for the descendants of the Arab refugees of 1948, and disproved the idea – expressed by John Kerry (ironic video) in 2016 – that appeasement of the Palestinians was a precondition for normalization with the larger Arab world.
And now, although already a lame duck, Trump continues to promote normalization between Israel and multiple Arab and Muslim countries. We’re still waiting for him to “turn on us.” Are you surprised that Israelis overwhelmingly prefer Trump to Biden, who promises to re-enter the Iran deal and go back to giving the Palestinians a free pass in an interminable “peace process?” How could it be otherwise?
Nevertheless Morris and Jett insist that Trump is Bad For The Jews. They say he represents “emerging Fascism.” And how do we know this? Because Trump “alternately excused and encouraged” “the white supremacists that marched in Charlottesville.” In fact, he did no such thing. The accusation is a perfect example of the Big Lie technique: it has been repeated countless times, and has now entered the realm of conventional wisdom. But it still isn’t true.
Morris and Jett say Trump supporters “promulgate conspiracy theories based on antisemitic lies.” Maybe some do, just like some of the remarkably vicious members of the American Left who are on the other side. Israelis are not in touch with the details of American politics, nor do we follow the swirling winds of accusations thrown at each other by the two sides. But I have yet to hear anything antisemitic from Trump himself.
Antisemitism is clearly burgeoning in America, and that is rightly a serious concern for American Jews. But the attempt to blame Trump for it – while ignoring the anti-Trump extremists like the Pittsburgh shooter, the Farrakhanists, the Black Hebrews, and the misozionist Left – is dangerously mistaken, despite its wholesale adoption by the Trump-hostile media.
Apparently Morris and Jett think as little of Netanyahu as they do of Trump, calling our PM “boorish” for waiting about 12 hours after other foreign leaders to congratulate Biden on the election. This is the cheapest shot imaginable, considering that the official announcement came on Shabbat, 7 November, and Netanyahu tweeted his congratulations on Sunday.
The piece concludes with an accusation that Israelis are “willing to ignore the very real threat to our democracy, to our way of life and safety, just to help advance [their] own parochial needs.” I admit to being struck almost dumb by this. The Iran deal and the conflict with the Palestinians could have existential consequences for Israel. America has enormous power and influence, which its presidents often wield in our region, sometimes to our great disadvantage, as in the case of President Obama. Israel, on the other hand, has little power to influence America; PM Netanyahu pulled out all the stops to derail the pernicious Iran deal, without success. Perhaps our concerns are “parochial,” but they are quite serious. And I remind them that Donald Trump received more votes than any previous American presidential candidate, even if he did not win the election.* So the vileness of Trump is not a forgone conclusion.
The entire article has an unfriendly, even threatening tone, as if to suggest that if we don’t fall in line with the 77% of American Jews who voted for Biden, we’ll be sorry.
The two authors are not just a pair of idiots, as the content of the article suggests. Morris is a specialist in biomedical engineering and radiology and a psychiatrist who teaches at Yale. Jett is a former ambassador who had a long career with the US State Department, and now teaches International Affairs at Penn State. Both were Fulbright scholars who worked in Israel.
But they share the arrogance of Americans who don’t understand the interests and apprehensions of Israelis, and who would prefer that we play our role as a banana republic that is an American satellite, quietly.
* No, I’m not going to comment on whether the election was fair.


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