Opinion

Intoxicated by Trump and Netanyahu, Diaspora Jews Are Abandoning Their Conscience

During the contrived spectacle of the U.S. Embassy opening in Jerusalem, innocents died in Gaza. But to be considered a 'friend of Israel' it's now taboo to deplore their deaths, to fear for Israel's rule of law, and to ask who's bringing peace nearer

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara attend the opening ceremony of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. May 14, 2018
Sebastian Scheiner/AP

It was supposed to be a day of joy.

For 3000 years, Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people. We’ve yearned for it. From the youngest age we spoke of it. We pray for it, in our festivals and celebrations. We’ve returned to it.

Even in the 1850s, before the advent of modern Zionism and mass Jewish migration to the land of Israel, when the first census of the city was taken, it had a Jewish plurality and by the early 20th century an overwhelming Jewish majority. The Old City is home to Judaism’s holiest places, even though between 1948 and 1967, under Jordanian occupation, Jews were brutally excluded from them. Since 1967, however, Jews, Muslims and Christians live, work and pray in the Old City.

Jerusalem is home to Israel’s parliament, its prime minister’s residence, its president and supreme court. It is, quite demonstrably, Israel’s capital in every respect.

Denying these facts is an act of historical vandalism perpetrated by too many, from UNESCO to the Palestinian Authority, and it is true that if peace is ever to come, the Palestinians and the broader Arab world will need to accept them. They remain facts, whether others recognize them or not.

Yet did we need the president of the United States’ affirmation of all of this? And did we need it now?

The footage from the U.S. embassy ceremony left me cold. Israel and the United States are unwavering allies united by democratic values. But the occasion felt contrived and divorced from the real world; the pressing needs of Israeli society, and the urgent demands of peace

Recognition, for so long unjustly denied to Israel and the Jewish people, is an intoxicating drug. In craving a hit from which we’d been starved, we didn’t ask questions of who was providing it, how, why and when. When the intoxication of this unfamiliar substance wears off, those drunk on it will face a very grim and sobering reality.

An elderly Palestinian man falls on the ground after being shot by Israeli troops during a deadly protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip. May 14, 2018
Khalil Hamra/AP

Because on the ground, whether in terms of the regional threats Israel faces, its international reputation or its relationship with the Diaspora communities who are its most committed supporters, Israel’s recognition binge changes nothing.

In Gaza, away from the fanfare around an administrative building in Jerusalem, the scene was harrowing, if morbidly predictable. 58 Palestinians dead in one day, including children.

It is true that the people of Gaza are held hostage by a brutal Hamas terrorist regime, indulged by international institutions such as UNWRA. It is also the case that Hamas has itself subsequently claimed its members comprised a majority of those killed.

But Israel and the international community have shown sheer complacency in thinking that the situation can be allowed to fester without any consequences. Israel must defend its border, and it is doubtless the case that Hamas seeks to exploit popular protest as cover to mount attacks on Israeli communities. But is live fire the only way to prevent that?

And what of empathy for the innocents among the dead? Has that become a taboo?

What about the clear footage a few weeks ago of a young Israeli sniper, wearing the uniform of the IDF - a source of pride for Jews everywhere - celebrating as he shoots an unarmed protester?

Protesters at the Tel Aviv rally in aid of IDF soldier Elor Azaria, April 19, 2016.
Moti Milrod

What about the release of the Israeli soldier who shot an already disarmed terrorist in the head in Hebron, celebrated by many in the political class for whom the rule of law, the linchpin of Israel’s democratic society, is merely a talking point for overseas consumption?

Has it become taboo among Israel’s friends to ask what this stagnant situation, and what the absence of even a language of peace, let alone a vision of it, is doing to our own morality and the moral wellbeing of our youth?

What will we become if we are constantly asking Israel’s advocates to adopt positions so far removed from the reality the world can see?

Alas, even if all was different among the leadership elite of Israel, the Palestinian leadership, whether through the terrorists of Hamas or the mercurial President Abbas trading in anti-Semitic lies, offers no vision. But does that abrogate Israel of a responsibility to advance one? Is advancing such a vision not in Israel’s interests?

Just last week we saw how alarming the Iranian threat now is, as Iran’s forces in Syria attacked. Israel responded swiftly, justly and appropriately to a radical, aggressive and genocidal foe. We hear constantly about a realignment within the Middle East, and of Israel’s closer than ever before understanding with Arab countries that could become a driving force for peace.

President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House. March 5, 2018
Evan Vucci/AP

But how does the failure of both Israel and the U.S. to articulate any substantive vision of progress between Israel and the Palestinians make it easier to maintain those newfound, hard-won alliances with Arab states against Iran, Hezbollah and their friends in Hamas? Is Israel really willing to undermine its regional relationships over a plaque on a Jerusalem wall and a mounting death toll at the Gaza fence?

We are witnessing recklessness, complacency and a dearth of responsible leadership, packaged as a masterstroke in a grand plan we never get to see.

But long after President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu have left office, Israelis will be picking up the pieces. And those of us in the Jewish world, who went along with their vanity projects and became intoxicated on their fumes, will wake up to one hell of a hangover.

Mick Davis is a former chairman of the UK Jewish Leadership Council and is writing in a personal capacity