The annual assessments of the Jewish People Policy Institute rarely tell us stuff we don’t know. But the latest report, presented to the Israeli government and published on the JPPI’s website earlier this month, did include a paragraph that caught the eye of some journalists.
"Israel and U.S. Jewish organizations should sharpen their awareness," the report noted – "of a trend of growing frustration within the Trump administration that the president’s pro-Israel moves (especially the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem) are not sufficiently appreciated by large segments of the American Jewish community."
This is a basically nice way of saying that Donald Trump and his sycophantic toadies are unimpressed that the majority of American Jews are grown-up enough and sufficiently informed to see that his "pro-Israel" policies may help the Likud government in the short-term, but certainly won't ensure Israel’s long-term security and peace with its neighbors.
It’s hard to see, however, how anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to the goings-on of American politics over the last two years could be more aware that Trump craves constant and absolute adulation.
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But besides stating the bleeding obvious, the JPPI’s experts don’t seem to have any recommendations how Israel and American Jews should be dealing with an insecure and unhinged president. Especially as, and the report omits this part, many of those within his administration who are so apparently frustrated over the lack of appreciation from "large segments of the American Jewish community," are themselves Jewish.
Sure, they are a minority among American Jews, but the Trump Jews not only think that cutting off any realistic possibility of Israel achieving some sort of viable accommodation with the Palestinians is a good thing. They actually think we must express, in our Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayers, eternal gratitude to Trump for wishing upon us a future in which we continue to brutally rule over millions of Palestinians living without a minimum of self-determination and civil rights.
Putting aside the internal contradiction of these proud Jews’ thinking, who would surely argue that Trump’s policy is in the United States’ benefit as well. So why the craven need for our gratitude? What does the JPPI think we should do with this unique and rather dismal situation?
Sadly, this leading think-tank has no new ideas. "Israel and the leading U.S. Jewish organizations should work to foster the Triangular Relationship: Jerusalem-Washington-American Jewry," it recommends. Apparently this triad "is a decisive force multiplier of the power of Israel and the Jewish people." Old and tired prescriptions for new challenges. Makes sense.
The mindset that sees the relationship between the two largest Jewish communities in the world as some kind of "power" alliance is both outdated and harmful. It’s outdated, because Israel’s relationship with the U.S. has long ago transcended the cosy ties where well-connected Jews in either major American party were needed to pass messages between Jerusalem and Washington. Sure, there remain, as ever, influential Jewish-American individuals, donors and lobbyists, but their influence is greatly exaggerated.
Even AIPAC is no longer important to Israel’s foreign policy; from the viewpoint of Israel's government, its main use nowadays is to balance other Jewish groups critical of his politics, like JStreet. In any case, Israel’s main support in the U.S. comes from Christian Evangelists, not from Jews who can’t be trusted to show sufficient gratitude to Netanyahu's friend President Trump.
The belief that Israel needs American Jews as a "strategic asset" who will be there for in its hour of need is part of the lingering trauma of the Yom Kippur War. During the war, the narrative goes, the Israeli government was extremely anxious to ensure that an airlift of American arms would arrive before Israel's own reserves of ammunition ran out.
But this is largely a historical myth. The airlift was sent, not because of American Jews, but largely because the Nixon administration saw Israel as its ally in a region dominated by Soviet-backed Arab regimes.
And when the airlift arrived, it was too late anyway to make a difference to the war’s course, which had already turned in Israel’s favor. Very few freshly arrived American arms and munitions were used during the Yom Kippur War itself - and even if the airlift had arrived a few days earlier, as some claimed was possible (which it probably wasn’t), it’s highly unlikely it would have made much of a difference during the crucial stages of fighting on the Golan and the banks of the Suez Canal.
In any case, that was 45 years ago. It’s impossible nowadays, when Egypt and Jordan are allies and Syria no longer constitutes a major military threat, to concoct a hypothetical scenario in which Israel would face a similar predicament, with numerically superior enemies attacking it simultaneously on two fronts. Israel is secure and powerful enough to hold its own in the region, and the ten-year 38 billion dollar military assistance program is much more important to the American weapons industry as a backdoor subsidy, than it is to Israel’s survival.
The notion that the influence and money of American Jews is somehow key to ensuring Israel’s security is downright harmful to Jews. Perhaps not so much for those in America at this point, but it has reinforced a dangerous and anti-Semitic myth which is being wielded against Jews in other places. If American Jews are looking for a taste of the backlash they may soon be feeling from their own left-wingers, just look across the pond.
British Jews who are daring to speak out against the surge of anti-Semitism within the highest echelons of the Labour Party, which could soon gain power, are being branded by close allies of party leader Jeremy Corbyn as "Trump fanatics," – and their accusations summarily discounted and dismissed.
The perception of Jewish power at the heart of the world’s major capitals is a double-edged sword. The JPPI report calls it "a decisive force multiplier" – tellingly, a crude translation of Israeli military jargon. With the toxic combination of an ignorant and vainglorious U.S. president, opposed by the vast majority of U.S. Jews, and an extremely intelligent Israeli prime minister, who believes the Diaspora exist only to serve his narrow self-interest, there is no prospect of aligning the interests of Israeli and non-Israeli Jews.
But an institute like the JPPI, which has a vested interest in coming up with joint Jewish policy recommendations, cannot contemplate such a situation, exposing its current irrelevance. As things stand, neither the Netanyahu nor Trump's Jewish advisors are heeding its well-meaning recommendations.
This is a unique moment in history. When a large majority of American Jews understand how dangerous their president is, to their own country and to Israel. And a majority of Israelis are convinced otherwise.
At this juncture, the only responsible policy recommendation for U.S. Jews would be to plot their own course. They can’t look out for Israel’s interests when their president is impervious to anything but flattery - and Israelis won’t listen to their warnings anyway.
If it’s any consolation, Israel is strong enough to fend for itself in the meanwhile. When the Trump-Netanyahu nightmare is over, there will be time enough for reconciliation.