U.S. President Donald Trump’s election and the start of his administration were received in Israel with almost general enthusiasm. Many in the Israeli right may be thinking ”at last we got rid of this liberal/leftist Barack Hussein Obama who criticized Israel and is probably an hidden anti-Semite. Now, we have a pro-Israeli President the does not give a damn about these Palestinians and will let us realize all our wet dreams; settle everywhere at the West Bank, annex territories, and ignore human rights.”
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest flop, praising Trump’s decision to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, damaged relations with Mexico and tarnished Israel’s image all over Latin America (no small feat for a man who also serves as Israel's foreign minister) was a product of this sort of enthusiasm. It will probably not be the last.
What is at stake is a decision whether Israel wishes to be identified with “Trumpworld,” which represents a system of values that stands in clear contradiction with the values of the post-World War II world order. We should bear in mind that when a majority voted against the policies of this Israeli government in international forums, it consoled itself and the Israeli public with the argument that it still enjoys the support of the “moral majority,” namely, the enlightened Western world, a world that developed the idea of liberal democracy and adopted it universally after the calamity of World War II. It encompasses a set of norms and values such as support of human rights, equality, implying opposition to racism, homophobia and misogyny, freedom and the right to live in peace.
Donald Trump despises most of these norms and values. He is racist and misogynic. He is indifferent to human rights and supports torture. In his dark and divisive inaugural speech he used the term “America First” which reminded us of dark times in Germany, and for him America is only the white United States, which does not include these “terrible” Latinos and Blacks. His conduct during his first week in office shows that he is going to shape his administration in his own image.
Trump is not alone. He follows Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and Viktor Orbán in Hungary, heads of state that are using the cover of formal democracy to build an authoritarian reality. Furthermore, all leaders of right-wing populist parties in Europe rejoiced at Trump's election, hoping to emulate him in elections this year in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy. Against that backdrop, one can envisage the emergence of a block of likeminded states who will share Trump’s "illiberal world," as an alternative to the liberal order.
Eventually all these leaders will fail. Then the time for retribution will come. Those who belonged to “Trumpworld” will pay dearly for it. Israel should listen to Professor Eliot Cohen, a renowned American scholar with vast experience in security, foreign policy and strategy, whom many Israelis know. He is not a bleeding-heart liberal. He is an ardent Republican and a Hawk when it comes to security and foreign policy. In an article he wrote for the Atlantic, he raised the issue of the nature of the Trump administration, and warned Americans who cooperate with this administration that they will start paying for their complicity already while this administration is in power because of Trump’s character, but when it falls, possibly before the end of its term, there will be time for retribution. This is also true for states, and Israel that is already not benefiting from a positive image will find it difficult to rid itself of this stain.
Against the backdrop of Israel’s dependency on the U.S., every Israeli government is committed to deepen and strengthen the relationship with any incoming administration. Does that commitment mean that Israel must always fully identify itself with the norms and values represented by President Trump and his Likes? Clearly not. Doing so will not only further tarnish Israel‘s image but also, betray the very foundation on which Israel was established.
Brig.Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom and Ambassador Shimon Stein are senior fellows at the Institute for National Security Studies.