In Whom Can Israelis Now Trust?

Israelis are dealing with graft and corruption at the highest levels at home, and lying and betrayals by their ‘best friend’, the U.S. president. There’s no better recipe for insecurity and political disaffection.

Trump Netanyahu
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Israelis who have been following the news over the last couple of days must surely be wondering in whom they can trust. 

Can they maintain their faith in elected officials? Let’s start at home, then go abroad.

The former Defense Minister and Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon declared that he had no doubt that Prime Minister Netanyahu was guilty of graft and corruption in the case of a submarine deal with Germany, and threatened to tell all if the PM wasn’t indicted. The case raises the question: Is the welfare of the state its leader’s paramount concern or his own self-enrichment? 

Similar, if less existential questions of trust and the public purse have recently emerged against another government minister.

Israel’s State Comptroller suggested a criminal investigation might be launched into Uri Ariel’s alleged transfer of millions of shekels to nonprofit organizations run by his political confidants. The money, earmarked for Israelis living in both urban poverty and in the rural periphery, was channeled to apparatchiks in his Tekuma faction of the Naftali Bennett-run Habayit Hayehudi party.

That’s a party that wraps itself in the mantle of Jewish Orthodoxy and hyper-nationalism. To discover that these same people who claim to represent the values of the Jewish home and the Jewish state are willing to cheat on those who are in need, in favor of their cronies, echoes the Orwellian motto that all are equal, but some are more equal than others.

And above all of these is the question of trust in the great ally, the United States of America, and its administration under Donald J. Trump, who so many of the Israelis were assured were the Jewish state’s best friends. 

Trump and his appointees were going to be far better for Israel’s security than Obama. He would recognize the territories Israel had annexed, would move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, would not press for the two-state solution, accept the need for settlement-building, and most assuredly provide the strongest security guarantees Israel could ever want. 

But now, on the eve of his first Presidential visit to Israel, the man who embraces an “America first” policy, who has made lying a hallmark of his young presidency, has announced that contrary to his oft-repeated promises, the U.S. embassy will not be moved to Jerusalem in the foreseeable future and that settlement building should be paused. His national security advisor has refused to acknowledge that the Western Wall is in Israel, rather than occupied territory.

And, most significantly of all, the new president has divulged intelligence shared by Israel about the plans of the Islamic State to the Russians, who no doubt will pass it on to Israel’s mortal enemies, Iran and Syria. 

All of these betrayals damage Israeli citizens’ sense of security and confidence in all political leadership, they they’re led by or allied with leaders with morals and scruples. As the saying goes, in democracies people not only get the leaders they choose but also the ones they deserve. To judge by what we hear in the news in the last few days, the people need to rethink their choices, and fast.

For Israelis, this means rethinking the coalition they put into power and for American Jews who voted for Trump because their Israeli counterparts convinced them he was the better choice for those concerned with Israeli interests, it means admitting they might have made a serious error.

As the Psalmist (146: 3) warns: “Put not your trust in the act of promising, nor in the son of man, from whom there comes no salvation.”  It is not what seems that matters, but what is that counts.  As we now see, when it comes to trust, actions speak louder than words.

Samuel Heilman holds the Harold Proshansky Chair in Jewish Studies at the Graduate Center and is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Queens College of the City University of New York.