After Trump's Meatless Speech, Israeli Politicos Fish for Takeaways (And Fawn Over Sheldon Adelson)

In the absence of any real content, we were left with the schmoozing, the suits and the power relations ■ But one concrete point could be extracted from Trump's sentimental mumbo jumbo

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauds as U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while delivering an address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem May 23, 2017
JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

The skeptical face of right-wing leader Naftali Bennett at the end of U.S. President Donald Trump’s speech at the Israel Museum summed it up.

“It was the right speech from an emotional perspective,” the education minister said, trying to sound positive as he left the museum. “But it had no meat.” Had the chairwoman of the leftist Meretz party, Zehava Galon, been invited to Trump’s narcissistic bar mitzvah celebration at the museum, she could have said exactly the same thing.

Children of all religions living in safety and with hope — who could object to such a thing? A coalition against extremism is always good. Determination, compromise and faith — why not?

Only one concrete point could be extracted from the sentimental mumbo jumbo that Trump lavished on the leaders of his adoring audience: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to delegitimize Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, when he linked him to the terror attack in Manchester (by saying that if the terrorist had been Palestinian and the victims Israeli children, the Palestinian Authority would have rewarded the terrorist’s family), while Trump gave Abbas a stamp of approval after meeting him (perhaps he will be upgraded, after the Saudi king, to “very wise man No. 2”).

Unlike his effusive remarks about the Western Wall, God, Israeli innovation and the strength of the U.S.-Israeli alliance, this approval wasn’t received with applause by this specific audience, so Trump, an approval junkie, began to chatter aimlessly and say things like, “Netanyahu loves people” (he just likes Jews more) and “This man wants peace.”

Sheldon Adelson, center, talks with Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, before a speech by President Donald Trump at the Israel Museum, Tuesday, May 23, 2017, in Jerusalem.
Evan Vucci/AP

In the utilitarian realm between the ideological right and left, everyone tried to appropriate the speech and to see, as in a Rorschach test, primarily what they wanted to see. National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, who remained seated after the museum hall emptied out, said it was a very good speech with regard to the Iran issue, which is the most important. He was also encouraged that the speech didn’t refer to the two-state solution or say anything negative about the settlements.

Samaria Regional Council Chairman Yossi Dagan, who has a pretty clear agenda, apparently adopted some diplomatic pragmatism when donning his suit. “They look very close, those two,” he said, referring to Trump and Netanyahu. Wait, I asked, what about the settlements, annexation, the embassy and united Jerusalem? “The ball is in our court,” Dagan said. How does that square with the excited responses of supporters of the two-state solution, who found comfort in the very same speech? All were patrons of the Trump circus. Every kid left with a balloon.

In the absence of any real content, we were left with the schmoozing, the suits and the power relations. The most interesting view was actually from the stage into the hall, to learn who the political elites are nowadays. Along with important figures like entertainer Moti Giladi and the known underwear photographer Natan Eshel, who was sitting in the front row, one could see a prominent representation of the settler establishment, of American Jews of the AIPAC variety and various right-wing conservatives. There were no Arabs to be seen (perhaps I missed one token religious leader) and only a handful of liberal fig leaves, such as opposition heads Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog and the president of the Israel Democracy Institute, Yohanan Plesner, who said he thought his invitation had come through the embassy. They were swallowed up in the sea of kippot.

What happens when Sheldon Adelson descends with his electric scooter into this crowd is hard to describe. The only ones who would understand are those who have attended events of the Zionist ultra-Orthodox community, when the crowd rises to its feet in ecstasy when one of it rabbis enters the room, or those who had children of the right age when the stars of the “Rebelde Way” Argentine telenovela visited Israel. Adelson is surrounded, people want to shake his hand, to introduce themselves to him. He was second only to Trump in terms of the number of cellphones pulled out to take pictures, which in general was the main activity of those present.

Because like MK Oren Hazan, no one really listens to speeches. Everyone, dignitary, courtier and journalist alike, wants a selfie with Sheldon or Trump to post on Twitter or Facebook. Hazan is no more than a blatant cultural symbol of our times, just like President Donald J. Trump.