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Trump Has the Power to Make His Jerusalem Syndrome Hallucinations Come True

Historic May 22 visit could reveal if the president is a serious Middle East peacemaker or a delusional wannabe messiah

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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U.S. President Donald Trump attends a National Day of Prayer event at the White House on May 4, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump attends a National Day of Prayer event at the White House on May 4, 2017.Credit: CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Author, photographer and publisher Ralph Ginzburg is known in American history as a victim of censorship. He served eight months in jail in 1972 for illegal marketing of his magazine Eros, which was a kind of pseudo-intellectual Playboy that offered thoughtful articles about Shakespeare’s homosexuality and the sexual aspects of anti-Semitism.

Ginzburg, also renowned for his exposure of lynchings of blacks in the South and for his iconic photos of New York, is a regular fixture in lists compiled by anti-Semites of Jewish purveyors of porn who sullied the pure soul of white and Christian America.

In recent months, however, Ginzburg’s name is being repeatedly mentioned in connection with the libel suit that he lost to Barry Goldwater. Two months before the 1964 elections, another Ginzburg magazine called Fact published a special edition dedicated to Goldwater’s “unconscious mind,” including a flimsily based article titled “1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to be President!”

The article claimed that based on his public appearances and statements, psychiatrists had diagnosed Goldwater as suffering from paranoia, psychosis and sexual inadequacy as well as anti-Semitism stemming from Goldwater’s efforts to deny his Jewish roots.

After Goldwater was awarded $1 in compensation for damage to his good name and another $75,000 in punitive damages that were imposed on Ginzburg, the American Psychiatric Association adopted the “Goldwater Rule” that states that when a psychiatrist is asked to give an opinion about a public figure it is “unethical to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.” Psychologists, though not bound by a similar ethical code, soon followed suit.

But like so many other taboos that he’s broken and conventions that he’s breached, Donald Trump made mincemeat of the hitherto consensual adherence to the Goldwater Rule, sparking conflict and mayhem among psychiatrists instead. Last month, following a convention at Yale University, a group of psychiatrists released a statement saying that Trump suffered from paranoia and delusions and was unfit to serve as president.

Dr. John Gartner, who heads a group called Duty to Warn, rebuffed the outcry against the bold breach the Goldwater Rule by saying that “We have an ethical responsibility to warn the public about Donald Trump’s dangerous mental illness” that exceeds the specific ethics of the psychiatric profession. No less than 53,000 self-described mental health professionals have already signed Gartner’s petition, which diagnoses Trump as mentally ill. The petition demands that Trump “be removed from office, according to Article 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which states that the president will be replaced if he is ‘unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.’”

The public diagnoses and petitions were met, of course, by harsh criticism from Republicans and the conservative media, which described them as a cheap partisan gimmick. Besides our ethical duty to warn, Gartner and others replied, the Goldwater Rule is archaic anyway.

It was written in an era before networks started to broadcast news 24 hours a day, before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media amplified the exposure of politicians exponentially, before a candidate like Trump hijacked the airwaves with biting tweets and a constant supply of controversy and scandal. And before said Trump showed, time after time, that he was indeed unstable, suffering from acute emotional problems and thus unfit, the psychiatrists maintain, to serve as president.

Judging by a recent crop of analyses and opinion articles published in the past few days alone, many commentators seem to agree. “Trump: Crazy or Crazy Like a Fox?” Thomas Friedman pondered. “Trump has a Dangerous Disability,” conservative never-Trumper George Will wrote in The Washington Post, that disqualifies him from serving as Commander in Chief.

His conservative, staunchly pro-Israel colleague Jennifer Rubin wondered “When is it okay to say the president might be nuts?” adding, “Voters don’t need doctors to tell them that Trump is unfit.” Even loyal administration officials confessed, following a particularly bizarre spate of statements in media interviews, “In the past 24 hours, he just went crazy.”

In the preceding week alone, Trump wondered what the Civil War was all about and said that Andrew Jackson could have averted it, even though he was a notorious slave owner and dead, in any case, 16 years before the war broke out. While threatening North Korea with a “major, major conflict” Trump suddenly said he would be “honored” to meet its dictator, Kim Jong Un; he promised to withdraw from NAFTA but changed his mind; he said he’d look at dismantling big banks and sent their stocks diving.

In a Pennsylvania rally to mark his first 100 days, he cited all sorts of stellar achievements that no one had heard of but him; he abruptly cut off an interview with one of America’s most respected journalist, CBS’ John Dickerson, accusing him of spreading “fake news” after being asked about his accusation that Barack Obama had wiretapped his campaign headquarters.

Against this backdrop, Trump’s seemingly cool, calm and calculated approach to the Israeli-Palestinian issue so far stands out as a surprisingly sane exception to the otherwise demented rule.

Trump may not have given Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the same grandiose reception he accorded Israel’s regal couple, Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, but he more than made up for that in their joint appearance on Wednesday by displaying just the right amount of warmth and sympathy, accompanied by a proper mix of gentle criticism and hearty support.

For Israelis and right-wing Jews who view Abbas as a Holocaust-denying terrorist who should have been boycotted by the White House or at least publicly shamed, Trump’s friendly welcome, along with his surprising public approval of the Oslo Accords, should have come as an unpleasant surprise. Trump, moreover, spared Abbas the kind of public humiliation he gave Netanyahu when he turned to him during their joint press conference in February and told him, with the tone of an offer that can’t be refused, to restrain new building in Jewish settlements.

Even though Trump condemned incitement and hate, he pointedly refrained from reprimanding Abbas in public about the sensitive issue of payments to convicted Palestinians prisoners in Israeli jails. Perhaps his intelligence experts told him of their concern that forcing Abbas to stop the payments irrespective of progress in the peace process could further undermine the last remnants of the Palestinian Authority’s legitimacy. Perhaps they informed him that this was the position of their Israeli counterparts as well, until they decided or were ordered to obfuscate it.

It’s hard not to be impressed by Trump’s uncharacteristically methodical deliberations on the Israeli-Palestinian question, which will reach their climax in his upcoming May 22 visit, announced on Thursday by the White House. He’s met with regional leaders, solicited their opinion, refused to commit one way or another but gave interlocutors the impression he has their backs. He’s left all options open for himself, from convening a regional peace conference through calling for an Israeli-Palestinian summit – perhaps at his rich-man’s Camp David at Mar-a-Lago in Florida – to submitting his own U.S. peace plan.

And even though this would contradict his ambition to achieve the impossible and to conclude the deal that no one thinks possible, he could still announce that after careful thought he’s come to the conclusion that the sides aren’t ready and the time is not ripe. After all, Trump surely believes he’s got eight years ahead of him, more than enough to give Israelis and Palestinians ample time to stew.

But what appear to be an island of sanity in what many people view as an ocean of lunacy could very well turn out to be just a mirage, a fata morgana that will evaporate as soon as Trump is put to the test. After all, his pretensions to be the president who will succeed where all his predecessors failed and to be the one who could secure the “ultimate deal” already sounds wacky to most people in the area.

His statement this week that “there’s really no reason why Israelis and Palestinians can’t live in peace” sounds equally delusional, as if Israelis and Palestinians haven’t found peace because no one before him thought to suggest it. “We will work hard and we will do it,” Trump promised with Abbas at his side, and everyone nodded in agreement until Trump left the room, at which point they did that familiar circular movement with their finger near their temples.

Trump may be a unique case of someone who is suffering from Jerusalem Syndrome even before he sets foot in the city itself. His itinerary, which includes the cities and sites most revered by the three monotheistic religions, can certainly be seen as an indication of messianic aspirations. If this is the case, it should send alarm bells ringing about the possible shock to Trump’s system that could be caused by an actual physical visit to the Israel’s Eternal Capital, especially as it is taking place just before Israel launches its no less messianic celebrations marking 50 years since the reunification of its capital.

Jerusalem Syndrome is a well-documented and diagnosed psychiatric phenomenon that afflicts people with pre-exiting mental issues as well as those considered sane before they went bonkers. Trump won’t be the first visitor who is struck by delusions of grandeur when he enters Jerusalem’s gates, leading him and others afflicted to believe that they are the messiah who will bring world peace or, alternatively, God’s instrument to start the War of Gog and Magog that will usher in the End of Days. But Trump could very well be the first Jerusalem Syndrome sufferer who could, theoretically, turn his hallucinations into reality.

It should be noted that despite the strange behavior and deranged statements that overtake sufferers of Jerusalem Syndrome when they are in town, most calm down and eventually go back home to resume their normal lives. Only a few are struck so severely that they require involuntary, long-term commitment so that they no longer pose a danger to themselves or their surroundings.

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