Opinion

Bang! Bang! Friedman’s Silwan Hammer Came Down – on U.S. Credibility and Israel’s Sanity

The participation of the American 'peace team' in the East Jerusalem ceremony shows that in times of Trump, lunacy has no limits

U.S. ambassador David Friedman breaks ground in a tunnel under a Palestinian village in East Jerusalem, June 30, 2019.
Screen capture from "City of David" Facebook page

Words do not suffice for the bizarre spectacle that unfolded on Sunday in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. The ludicrousness of U.S. Ambassador David Friedman and “peace envoy” Jason Greenblatt’s participation in the inauguration of the so-called “Pilgrimage Road” underneath Silwan showed that reality trumps even the most feverish of imaginations. The hammer that Friedman wielded, messianic glint in his eyes, to breach the ceremonial wall leading to the excavated tunnel proves that in the days of Donald Trump, lunacy has no limits.

The willingness of Friedman and Greenblatt to stamp a presidential seal of approval on the archeological excavations of the settler-backed NGO Elad, which often serve as cover for the “legal” eviction of Silwan’s Arab residents, gives further indication of the immense influence if not direct control exerted by the messianic right, both Christian and Jewish, on Trump’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump may be a total cynic who likely couldn’t care less for ancient paths used by Jews 2,000 years ago to reach their sacred temple, but his political fate hinges on continued support from messianic Evangelicals, who dream of the End of Days and yearn for the war of Gog and Magog.

>> Read more: When Trump lawyers and casino moguls took a hammer to coexistence in Jerusalem | Analysis ■ Settlers from the White House | Editorial

Watching the ceremony, many of them must have heard the bells of the approaching messiah ring louder.

The star role played by Trump’s diplomatic duo – with the Netanyahus and Adelsons watching with ecstatic approval by their side – positions the Trump administration inside Israel’s messianic-settler right wing and pours more heaps of salt on the open wounds of the Palestinians.

The Silwan ceremony underscored the folly of Mossad chief Yossi Cohen’s assertion at the Herzliya Conference on Monday that there is a “rare opportunity to achieve a comprehensive peace deal” – unless Cohen has joined those who maintain that Palestinians are not essential to the process.

U.S. ambassador David Friedman with Sheldon Adelson at the ceremony, Silwan, June 30, 2019.
AFP

Friedman and Greenblatt, who habitually reprimand Palestinians and praise Netanyahu with a fervor that puts Israeli propagandists to shame, damaged their own country’s reputation, first and foremost. The video of Friedman waving his hammer, a la superhero Thor, a few meters underneath the homes of Silwan’s Palestinian residents, provided world capitals with further proof, as if any was needed, of the dangerous preposterousness of Trump’s foreign policy, in the Middle East and around the world.

The ceremony distilled Trump’s radical departure from 70 years of U.S. foreign policy as practiced by his predecessors – including the decidedly pro-Israel Ronald Reagan and George W, Bush – into its macabre essence. It heralds an American abandonment of any presumption that it can serve as an honest broker, or as any kind of broker at all.

Small wonder that Friedman and Greenblatt have been embraced by the settler lobby, which views them as divine emissaries to derailing the peace process and annexing Judea and Samaria.

The ripple effects of Trump’s policies on Israeli life, however, are wider, deeper and far more dangerous than simply fortifying the settler lobby.

Trump’s pro-Israeli policies, effusively and repeatedly praised by Netanyahu as historic, unprecedented, etc. understandably garner widespread approval in Israeli public opinion.

Their heartfelt appreciation, however, tends to blind Israelis to the darker sides of Trump’s overall conduct, paving the way for the wholesale importation of his malignant values and their injection into Israel’s political arena.

Netanyahu, of course, didn’t need Trump to malign rivals, incite against the media or undermine Israel’s liberal legacy: He’s been there and done that since launching his political career over three decades ago.

Nonetheless, Trump is his role model. The U.S. president gives his Israeli counterpart the inspiration, motivation, determination and courage to emulate his blatant disregard for norms and traditions, cultivate his own cult of personality, view state coffers as his personal petty cash, undermine the rule of law and distort democracy and the separation of powers.

Trump also provides Netanyahu with a valuable defensive shield: The prime minister’s misdeeds, grave as they may be, invariably pale in comparison with the U.S. president’s. And because Trump is indifferent to the occupation, the plight of the Palestinians or the fate of Israeli democracy, Netanyahu is free of the nanny-like supervision from the White House practiced, to one degree or another, by all previous presidents.

Netanyahu can trample on any remaining prospects for peace and sap the strength of Israeli democracy until it surrenders to his whims. 

All of which means that describing the November 2020 U.S. presidential elections as no less critical to Israel’s future resilience – and sanity – than the decision awaiting Israeli voters on September 17 is no exaggeration. If Trump wins and Netanyahu is still around, he’ll have four more years to finish the job.