To Israel's Right Wing, Trump Is Cyrus the Great

Naftali Bennett and his ilk believe the U.S. president will pave the way to an expanded Israel and care little about the price of that alliance.

U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House, February 6, 2017.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

U.S. President Donald Trump is the Cyrus the Great of our time. He will enable the Jewish people to return to their historical homeland. That’s what well-regarded right-wing pundits are declaring, with a straight face.

Until recently most right-wing spokespersons, from Menahem Begin to Ariel Sharon, from Ehud Olmert to Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke about a peace agreement as a supreme Zionist objective. They paid lip service, of course to the “land of our fathers,” but it was clear that the territories — at least in part — were seen as something being held in trust until an agreement is reached. The ultranationalist rabbis were the only ones who drew a map of the historical Land of Israel, including the building of the Temple, but everyone thought that these were extremist, irresponsible and even dangerous statements.

And then came Education Minister Naftali Bennett and his friends, who want to compel an entire nation to implement this approach, which is foreign to it, and to ignite an eternal war between us and the Arab world — even though we have overlapping interests with part of that world, especially with the Palestinians. For that purpose the terminology has been changed: There’s no occupation — there’s “akibush” [the right-wing dismissal of the concept of occupation]; there’s no annexation — there’s a Return to Zion; there’s no democracy as a value — there’s Jewish faith.

Most of the nation, including the part that supports Likud, doesn’t really identify with this conceptual world. We saw that at the height of the battle for the outpost of Amona — most of the public didn’t demonstrate support for the Amonaites. The public may want strength and deterrence, which it believes the right can provide. But the same public exhibits indifference towards the spirit of the Return to Zion that motivates the rabble­-rousing youth, who believe that they are fighting over kiddush hashem — sanctification of God’s name.

We should recall and internalize the fact that we realized our right to the land in 1948. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs were uprooted from their homes, some were expelled, and some believed that they could return as victors at the end of the war. But the “Nakba” (catastrophe, as Palestinians refer to the events of 1948) settled in their hearts. It’s true that it’s “their” Nakba, and perhaps it was unavoidable, but it constitutes an almost impassable obstacle to achieving an agreement.

Despite Israel’s great economic and military achievements, the facts on the ground have remained as they were, and the empty talk about the renewed “Return to Zion,” which is nothing more than another Nakba, will not change the reality. We are still an isolated country, a minority in the Arab Middle East, which finds it difficult to digest a Jewish state in “its” territory.

Zionist Israelis, myself among them, believe that the return of the Jewish people to its homeland was an entirely justified event, which fulfilled the longings of many generations. But it has already taken place. And now of all times, when the cards we are holding are not bad, we must foster confidence-building measures with the Palestinians and with parts of the Arab world. A renewed Return to Zion, which is motivated by imperialism for its own sake, and which will be perceived as such by the rest of the world, is nothing more than a cynical move by the coalition of the frightened.

Bizarre marginal figures such as Habayit Hayehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich want to exploit a political conjuncture to realize their foolish and dangerous vision. While most of the world is shocked by Trump’s lies and horror show, the new Lovers of Zion have been feeling empowered since he became president. Even the fact that anti-Semitism is liable to flourish during his tenure — not to mention the blow to democracy — doesn’t deter them. The important thing is that he, and his latent anti-Semitic friends in Europe, will give a seal of approval to additional Amonas.

It’s possible that their Cyrus will fulfill some of their hopes regarding the settlements, but one thing is clear: The alliance with what Trump represents only confirms what so many in the world already think of the present Israeli government.