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Liberal Jews Should Brace for the Trauma of Trump’s Israel Visit

The sight of Benjamin Netanyahu fawning over the president and Israel feting him as a hero might be too much to bear

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he walks down the steps of Air Force One at General Mitchell International Airport, Tuesday, April 18, 2017.
President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he walks down the steps of Air Force One at General Mitchell International Airport, Tuesday, April 18, 2017.Credit: AP Photo/ Susan Walsh
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Picture this scenario: Donald Trump visits Israel at the end of May. Benjamin Netanyahu’s government decides to give him the royal treatment. The streets in Jerusalem are festooned with Israeli and American flags, thousands cheer Trump’s motorcade, he is invited to address the Knesset, Netanyahu describes Trump as a latter day King David, Trump says Netanyahu is Andrew Jackson’s worthy heir and even Israel’s so-called left-wing opposition leaders suck up to Trump as if he was the courageous and coherent President Sean Spicer pretends he is.

No one will mention Trump’s tirades against immigrants or Muslims or deal-making Jews. No one will take him to task for his war on the environment or on Obamacare or on the public school system or on the free press. No one will bring up the hundreds of falsehoods he has uttered in his hundred-plus days in office or his unending series of flip-flops and 180-degree turns or his massive conflicts of interest. No one will ask why he’s sucking up to ruthless dictators such as the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, because Israel is sucking up to Duterte even harder. In fact, according to some press reports, Duterte might reject Trump’s invitation to come to the U.S. because he’s too busy visiting Israel.

Because Israel, without a doubt, is a great place for Trump to hold his first visit as president, and whoever came up with the idea first should get a raise. There are very few countries in the world in which the 45th president will be more welcome than in Israel. There are very few world leaders who were as overjoyed to see Trump replace Barack Obama as Netanyahu. There are only a handful of countries in which Trump’s election was greeted as heralding the days of the Messiah, as Israel’s right wing did, although they’ve obviously gotten over it since.

Even so, Israeli right-wingers could still have a ball. If Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital; if he moves the U.S. embassy to the city; if he blasts Muslim anti-Semitism or lambasts Palestinian terrorism or thrashes Obama’s policies towards Israel; if he brushes aside news of massive new building in East Jerusalem or the West Bank; if he sneers at the Israeli press and mocks its “fake news”; if he does any of these, right-wingers will be able to say dayenu, we’re more than satisfied. Trump has fulfilled our dreams.

But the visit could theoretically go the other way as well. Instead of right-wingers, it might be Israeli left-wingers singing Trump’s praises. If Trump says he supports a two-state solution or endorses the Arab Peace Initiative or if he lays down his own peace plan; if he issues a shock public invitation to a regional peace summit based on the 1967 borders, including adjustments; if he surprisingly goes to Ramallah to hug his new best mate Mahmoud Abbas; if he turns to Netanyahu during their joint press conference in Jerusalem and asks “What didn’t you understand about my request in February to ‘hold back on settlements for a little bit’?, left-wingers will be dancing in the streets, mumbling shehecheyanu, thanking the Lord, whether they believe in him or not, for having allowed them to live to see such a moment.

Both scenarios could work well for Trump in the U.S. itself. If he has a successful visit that Israel is happy with, he will be lauded by Republicans and Evangelicals and pro-Israel Democrats and by the many Jews for whom U.S. relations with Israel are paramount. If he stands up to Netanyahu, on the other hand, and presses ahead with his plans to move the peace process forward, he will be praised by moderate Republicans and most Democrats and the diplomatic establishment and the Sunni Arab countries and Europe and the United Nations and Russia and China for proving himself a statesman, despite indications to the contrary.

The only people who will be mortified and embarrassed no matter what are liberal American Jews. For them, it’s a lose-lose situation. Of course, if Trump is feted in Israel as a king and if Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders sing his praises and ignore his shortcomings they will feel alienated and abandoned. Their disdain for Trump will rub off on their already ambivalent attitude toward right-wing Israel. Birds of a feather flock together, they will tell themselves as they eat their hearts out, and a pox on both their houses.

If Trump turns to out take his peacemaking seriously, on the other hand, liberal Jews will feel even more isolated. They don’t believe in Trump’s ability to achieve the “ultimate deal” of Middle East peace or anything else for that matter, but even if Trump surprises them, it won’t make much difference. His outrageous behavior, his outlandish statements, his assaults on almost every value liberal Jews hold dear far outweigh any progress Trump might achieve between Israelis and Palestinians. They will be dismayed to see some fellow liberals supporting him, they will be disgusted with the warm embrace that enlightened countries in Europe as well as the New York Times and fellow liberal Jews in Israel are giving him, they will feel as if the whole world has succumbed to Trump’s trickery, except for them.

So this might be a good time to plan that much-needed vacation in Ittoqqortoormiit, Liverpool Land, Greenland, one of the most secluded towns in the world; or to try out Vipassana Meditation and observe ten days of Noble Silence in order to experience the universal truths of impermanence, suffering and egolessness; or to remember that everything in life is relative. After all, the late AP reporter Helen Thomas once said that George W. Bush is the “worst President in U.S. history,” proving that just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, they usually do.

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