It is a truth universally acknowledged that autocratic strong men types are always jonesing for union with other Alpha males. But how badly must Benjamin Netanyahu want to be wedded to the Trump regime or the current Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, or to be as far away as possible from Islamic anything, that he’s willing to swap out Jewish identity for Donald-style white nationalism?
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And how long can that tension hold before the law of diminishing returns begins to take a toll on Israel?
Nevertheless, Netanyahu, who insists on the Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist before even sitting down at the negotiation table, got all cozy his first time out with the president. Never mind that Trump’s fealty to his white supremacist base is so absolute that he literally won’t say “anti-Semitism” or “Holocaust” – not even when an Israeli reporter asked a direct question about the sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. since his election.
Trump’s painfully circuitous response – not so much English as the verbal equivalent of indoor soccer, where the ball has to touch three walls before going into the net – was mangled even by the standards of a man who supports torture. Still, Trump’s response made one thing crystal clear: he has nada to say to those Jewish communities in the States, in Israel and around the world that are, as the reporter put it, shocked and concerned by his administration’s flirtation with xenophobia and racism.
In fact, even when asked a question that offered Trump a golden opportunity to atone for his infamously Jew-and-Holocaust-free Holocaust Denial Day Remembrance Day statement and denounce anti-Semitism, the famously rambling, Tweet-happy leader of the free world went mum on specifics. Instead, he reverted to that most tired syllogism of bigots: that his family includes Jews – son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who converted to Orthodox Judaism before marrying Kushner and having children – and therefore, by implication, can neither harbor nor breed anti-Semitism.
Yet Netanyahu, who must be familiar with that circus and those monkeys, came to the fumbling Trump’s rescue, praising him for his fight against “radical Islamic terrorism” and declaring that “there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump,” despite Trump’s failure ever to visit Israel or truly acknowledge its reason or right to exist. Trump, recently smarting from Justin Trudeau’s much-memed hesitation at the sight of his proffered hand, reciprocated with the grateful look of a stranded teenager saved from the wall at the high school dance.
Ultimately, Netanyahu’s praise for Trump’s war on Islamic terror and his restraint over the Donald’s continued Holocaust denial did more than save Trump’s bacon. It also signaled Bibi’s willingness to trade in his usual championing of Jewish identity for America’s complicity in rolling back the two-state solution, broadly embraced by American presidents since George W. Bush in 2001.
Politics makes for famously strange bedfellows, but Netanyahu may be going further than he bargained for by embracing Trump’s America First agenda in exchange for continuing with his own contentious Jewish Israelis First policies. It’s not just that Bibi’s sleight of hand, whereby he builds more illegal settlements to offset closing one, further fuels international condemnation of Israel.
It’s also that Trump’s nationalism is defined by a laser-like focus on putting two things first: white Christian citizenry and America’s business interests, represented primarily by Wall Street and the oil industry. Currently Trump’s party line insists that this hierarchy represents not aggression, but rather the defensive response of peace-loving native-born whites besieged by dark, dangerous, foreign others looking to soak up goods and services while fomenting terror – those oft-mentioned “Islamic terrorists.”
But it’s worth noting that in Donald-world, radical Islam takes the form of immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries where Trump has no business investments. As for Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Saudi Arabia – home to 15 of the 19 terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks as well as the proposed site for a recently canceled Trump hotel project – not so much.
Eventually, oil will out, as it has in slowing Trump’s haste to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As for Trump’s debt to white supremacists who are as anti-Semitic as they are racist, we have already seen plenty of evidence that he has no plans to renege. Instead Trump deploys a cynical strategy whereby he fends off charges of anti-Semitism using his family and key Jewish staffers (Boris Ephshteyn, Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller) while continuing to blow Bannon’s dog whistle in his statements and staffing picks.
There is no way this marriage of convenience ends well.
Nancy Goldstein’s work has appeared in the Guardian, the Washington Post, and the Nation. Follow her on Twitter.