Since the election of Donald Trump, Israeli leftists and American Jewish liberals have bonded like never before. Both are confronted by hostile political regimes that alienate them and threaten the core values of the countries they love. After eight years in which Israeli leftists could only envy American liberals for having a president after their own hearts, Trump’s election once again proves the saying that misery loves company. Our boat may be sinking, Israeli leftists told themselves, but at least we’re not drowning alone anymore.
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This renewed sense of leftist solidarity sparked an outburst of outrage, shared by this writer, at the blind eye turned by Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition partners at Trump’s own anti-Semitic undertones and at the frightening eruption of anti-Semitism in America that sprouted under his wings. Netanyahu and others of his ilk, who were so quick to brand Barack Obama as an anti-Semite for acts of state such as the Iran nuclear deal or attempts to advance the peace process, were suddenly deaf, dumb and blind when Trump and his campaign peddled anti-Semitic stereotypes, stubbornly omitted Jews from International Holocaust Remembrance Day and repeatedly declined to condemn anti-Jewish hate crimes until their silence became a political liability.
Netanyahu is turning his back on the Jewish people that he purports to lead, commentators wrote, including this one. For the sake of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, right-wingers are willfully ignoring an open assault on their co-religionists in America. Maybe it even has something to do with the fact that most of them are left-wing Obama-supporters, some people opined, reviving long held myths about Menachem Begin and Israel’s military-industrial complex siding with the Argentinian military junta in their war against leftist and Marxist Jewish dissidents in the 1970’s.
And while all of that might be true, events of the past few weeks have unveiled a scenario in which the shoe might soon be on the other foot. When Donald Trump turned to Netanyahu in their February 15 press conference at the White House and said, with just a hint of condescension, “I’d like to see you hold back a little bit on settlements,” Israeli leftists perked up their ears with unexpected pleasure. When Trump’s emissary Jason Greenblatt came to Jerusalem and Ramallah this week and sounded exactly like countless emissaries before him, peace supporters sensed a glimmer of new and unexpected hope. Suddenly, Trump’s repeated assertions that he will seek “the ultimate peace deal” between Israelis and Palestinians, and that he will do so earlier rather than later, seemed to transform from empty campaign promises to a prospect that should be taken seriously.
After all, God works in mysterious ways, as do many Jews. Some of the most unlikely characters, including Jacob the cheater, Moses the murderer and Rahab the prostitute are among the most prominent members of the Biblical Hall of Fame. Israelis meanwhile, have a way of ignoring despicable traits in leaders that seem to serve their cause. Romanian tyrant Nicolai Ceausescu, for example, a self-centered megalomaniac and one of the harshest and most repressive leaders in post-war Europe, was long revered as a hero of Zionism, because he allowed Jews to leave Romania and agreed in the late 1980’s to open transit camps for Soviet Jews in order to block their path to the U.S. and send them to Israel instead. The misery of the Romanian people, Israelis told themselves then, isn’t really our concern.
If Donald Trump starts to take peacemaking seriously, the Israeli right will turn on him in a jiffy but the Israeli left will start to see his positive sides. If it turns out that his embrace of the concept of “regional peace” is more than mere evasion of reaching agreement with the Palestinians, as it is for Netanyahu and his ruling coalition, Israeli leftists will start making excuses for Trump’s other excesses. If he brings Israelis and Palestinians together they will tell themselves that Trump needs to be taken seriously but not literally, if he presents an American peace deal and tells the sides to take it or leave it, peace supporters will start kvelling over Ivanka and Jared and if he adds a bonus by humiliating Netanyahu in the process, Israeli leftists could start complaining about overwrought American liberals getting all worked up about a few bomb threats and desecrated cemeteries.
American presidents come and go, leftists will tell themselves, but Israeli-Palestinian peace is a once in an eon opportunity that can’t be missed. America will survive one or two terms of advanced plutocracy, acute chauvinism or white supremacism, but Israel won’t be a Jewish and democratic state for much longer if the occupation is not brought to an end. It’s a matter of Pikuach Nefesh, religious pro-peace Jews will explain, which means that the preservation of the State of Israel, and by extension of its residents, overrides all other considerations.
Sure, many leftists will continue to “tsk, tsk” when they read of Trump’s latest whoppers or insults or conflicts of interest or anti-Constitutional suppression of basic freedoms but their heart won’t be in it as it is today. They won’t be able to denounced Trump in the same harsh terms they use now, because in the peace arena, they will be cheering him on at the very same time, urging him to run like hell towards the end zone to score the ultimate peace touchdown. And when he does, he will be their hero, warts and all.
It is then that American liberal Jews will not only be left all alone, they might even split at the seams themselves. Those who are interested in Israel and in peace may learn to live with the ambivalence of supporting Trump abroad while opposing him at home. Others, however, could be repelled by the sights and sounds of Israelis praising Trump as a latter day messiah, while downplaying his many glaring sins and deficiencies. They will view Israeli leftists as they do Netanyahu and his cohorts today, as people willing to abandon their principles and their fellow Jews in order to achieve their own short-term egotistical aims. They will have a point, of course, but that’s the way of the world. As the now clichéd Israeli song title put it, things that you see from there you don’t see from here, but the same is true vice versa.