Opinion

Why Trump's Israel Visit Was Actually Meaningless

There are things a fresh coat of paint — applied to the walls of the Prime Minister's Residence in Trump's honor — can't hide

Trump upon his arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport, May 22, 2017.
JACK GUEZ/AFP

“This ancient land,” Donald Trump called Israel in his speech at the President’s Residence as he stood alongside Reuven Rivlin, as if there are more ancient and less ancient lands and God didn’t create the whole world in those same seven days and place Jerusalem at its center (If I were an Israeli lawmaker I would add a laughing emoji here). Well, this land certainly did prove yesterday that the Hebrew word keduma (“ancient”) is a lot more apt for it than the similar word kedma (“progress”). But Trump doesn’t exactly embody enlightenment, and his visit, in all its aspects, can’t help but remind us of this disturbing truth. In this sense, yesterday was astoundingly revealing. How did all those involved manage to be so utterly authentic, so completely their true selves?

The television cameras stuck to the presidential couple and their hosts like a pair of too–snug pants. The coverage was unprecedented in its doggedness. There was no missing Melania’s unhappy expression, her small act of rebellion when she declined to take part in her husband’s little show and hold his hand on the red carpet. Right after the guests landed, they split up, as behooving ancient lands, by gender — with the guys on one side of the speaker’s podium and the gals on the other. The girls have nothing to say; they don’t hold official positions; they are there by courtesy and not by right. In the afternoon, like good wives, the women went to the hospital to visit the pediatric ward. Because, as everyone knows, women care about kids. The Channel 2 reporter who covered the hospital visit also mentioned that they would meet with “a number of doctors and nurses,” using the male Hebrew plural for doctors but indicating nurses of both genders — because, of course, doctors are all male. The intrusive cameras also allowed viewers to experience up close Sara Netanyahu’s lame and mortifying attempts at small talk, which culminated in the explanation that the prime minister’s residence, which is a “very old, very modest” house, was just painted in honor of the Trumps’ visit.

No matter how hard the multitude of political reporters, the anchorwomen in 50 shades of blue and the analysts in 50 shades of men try to convince me, it won’t work. Trump’s visit is meaningless. The commentators vied endlessly over the precise definition of a “historic visit.” Historic because he’s the first president to come to Israel on his first trip abroad, historic because he’s the first to go to the Western Wall, or historic because he’s the first to dine on chef Segev Moshe’s food for free. There’s nothing exciting about President Trump stuffing a note in a crevice of the Western Wall, or about his elegantly coiffed daughter wiping away a tear there, or about his wife visiting children in a hospital that’s abandoning cancer-stricken children due to internal management battles. There is no reason to rejoice over Sara and Melania’s dresses being suitable for the occasion, because it just underscores the fact that their only function in this event was as decoration. Nor is there reason to derive satisfaction from the police having prevented the Palestinians from ruining the visit with their disturbances, because they are still there, no matter how many coats of paint you try to put on it.