Israelis’ post-Pittsburgh Defense of Trump Isn’t Just Realpolitik: They Just Don’t Get It

For American Jews, the Tree of Life atrocity is a product of America’s violent, hate-filled present but for Israelis it reflects 2000 years of Jewish persecution

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Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, second right and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, third right, walk near the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, October 28, 2018.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, second right and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, third right, walk near the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, October 28, 2018.Credit: Matt Rourke,AP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
Chattanooga, Tenn.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Many liberal American Jews are dismayed at Israel’s vigorous defense of Donald Trump in the wake of the murderous attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.

After declaring that Trump is not an anti-Semite and that hatred of Jews is actually far worse on the radical left than it is on the supremacist right, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer went so far as to accompany Trump on his controversial visit to the city, as if his job was to guard the U.S. President against the protests mounted by thousands of angry Pittsburgh residents, Jews and non-Jews alike.

The rationale for Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield (of POTUS) is clear. It’s a matter of simple realpolitik. Between a controversial U.S. President, who is the Israeli right’s dream come true, and liberal American Jews who have joined the ranks of “sourpusses,” as Netanyahu describes his leftist critics, the choice is clear.  Netanyahu and his cohorts know which side of their bread is buttered, and they intend to keep it that way for as long as they can.

>> While Trump is president, violence against Jews will keep rising. We must prepare accordingly | Opinion ■ Trump, the Jews and anti-Semitism: A dangerous double game | Explained ■ Why I call the Pittsburgh massacre a pogrom, and Trump a czar | Opinion 

Then there is the matter of cognitive dissonance. A right wing government that spends enormous amounts of money and energy on combatting the left, especially the BDS movement, and which detains and questions leftists at Ben Gurion Airport, has a hard time coming to terms with violent hatred of Jews that emanates from the right.

Given the striking similarities between Trump and Netanyahu’s modus operandi – savaging the media, attacking minorities and describing the left as traitors, to name just the obvious – it’s much easier for official Israeli representatives to dismiss mass murderer Robert Bowers as a deranged deviant completely detached from Trump’s incitement and fear-mongering, rather than their inevitable product.

They’ve had 23 years to practice, anyway: Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir was also a freak of nature, a “wild weed,” as the Hebrew saying goes. His decision to kill the Prime Minister, right wingers have proclaimed ever since, had nothing to do with right wing incitement against Rabin or the atmosphere of extreme hate engendered by its leaders, especially Netanyahu. The fact that Amir uttered the same vicious slogans that were routinely heard at right-wing demonstrations against the Oslo Accords is a coincidence.

From the balcony overlooking Zion Square in Jerusalem, Netanyahu simply couldn’t hear the thousands of angry protestors shouting in unison “Rabin is a traitor” just below him, his supporters assert. Trump could similarly claim that he couldn’t quite make out the shouts of “Soros, Soros” and “Lock him up” coming from thousands of attendees at his political rallies at the mere mention of the word “globalist.”

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump stand with Rabbi Jeffrey Myers as they place stones at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagoguein Pittsburgh, October 30, 2018Credit: \ KEVIN LAMARQUE/ REUTERS

Trump, however, couldn’t care less. He says the most outrageous things and, with a few notable exceptions, rarely backs away from them. Which is one of the reasons why the Israeli right adores his brashness and political incorrectness. Trump boldly says out loud what many Israelis, especially right wingers, believe to be true, about Muslims, refugees, liberals, leftists, foreigners, Europe, and what have you. Like Trump, many Israelis would proudly declare themselves “nationalist” as well.  As Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign slogan stated, in their hearts they know he’s right.

All of which leads to the inevitable conclusion that the vigorous Israeli defense of Trump isn’t just a matter of political expediency but of deep-seated ideological identification and conviction. The concerted decision to stand by Trump’s side isn’t just a cynical political ploy, nor does it necessarily reflect a conscious effort to dismiss the grievances of liberal American Jews. The truth is, even in this day and age, or maybe especially in this day and age, Israelis just don’t get it.

For most Israelis, especially on the insular right, the attack on the Pittsburgh Conservative synagogue wasn’t part of a general pattern of murderous mass shootings that occur in the U.S. with sickening regularity.

Attacks on Jews are, by definition, unique. The Tree of Life atrocity isn’t a follow up to Charleston, Parkland, Sandy Hook or Columbine, but to the bombings of Jewish institutions in Paris, Istanbul, Rome and Buenos Aires. In Israeli eyes, the Tree of Life massacre is somehow detached from American history and from the recent rise of white, Jew-hating supremacism. It was automatically inducted into 2000 years of Jewish persecution and suffering.

Which is why the Israeli delegates to Pittsburgh and their compatriots back home dismissed the glaring evidence that Bowers decided to kill Jews not because they were simply Jews, as they insisted, but because these Jews were active on behalf of refugees who, as Trump told him over and over again, are coming to kill him and to destroy white America. Israelis are used to Jews being killed because of their religion or because of their identification with Israel, but Jews being murdered because of their liberal views is a completely alien concept, at least outside of Israel itself.

Thus, the insistence of American Jews that the Pittsburgh attack was part of a pattern of mass shootings, which increasingly target houses of worship, was seen as yet another manifestation of their naive liberalism and universalism. If there is a general uptick in the boldness and violence of white supremacists, it can legitimately be traced to Trump’s stoking of white rage and fear. But if the attack on the Jews is singular and unique, if it is another sad station in two millennia of Jewish history in the Diaspora rather than an outgrowth of Trump’s two years in office, then the protest against Trump is simply a political ploy, so typical of the treacherous left.

By the same token, the liberal Jewish advocacy for solidarity amongst minorities in multicultural America is completely foreign for today’s right wing Israel. On the one hand, the recent nation-state bill, even in its most benign interpretation, intentionally confers an inferior status on minorities.  Most American minorities, on the other hand - especially Muslims and African Americans - are increasingly seen as inherently hostile. They vote for Democrats, don’t they?

Israelis who would have happened upon one of the many memorial vigils held this week throughout America would have felt completely out of place. Jewish liberals seemed to be drawing far more comfort from the condolences and expressions of sympathy emanating from Americans, in general, and from fellow minorities, in particular, than they did from official Israel. Especially galling, for most Israelis, were the Muslim Imams and civic leaders, who not only attended the vigils and identified with their Jewish brethren, but even raised tens of thousands of dollars to help the victims. It’s just a ruse, most would say.

Aazaan Anjum (L) and Jannat Anjum join with others for a Community-Wide Solidarity Vigil at the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach to remember the victims of the mass shooting in Pittsburgh, Oct. 30, 2018Credit: AFP

All of which proves, once again, that Israeli and American Jews may be one people, but they are nonetheless breeds apart. As I’ve written before, ad nauseam perhaps, Israelis are from Mars and American Jews are from Venus. But while American Jews have instinctively leapt to Israel’s defense, no questions asked, in times of crisis, the representatives of the Jewish state did not reciprocate. Instead of listening, they lectured. Instead of empathizing, they preached.  Instead of comforting, they made things worse. Their reaction to the Pittsburgh crisis wasn’t very Jewish, but it was Israeli through and through.

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