Love or loathe him, Donald Trump gave Israelis of all political stripes a poignant moment full of pride and naches on Sunday Night. Trump’s physical embrace with members of the special-needs Shalva band right after they sang God Bless America to his attentive ears was the one highlight of the Israeli American Council conference in Washington that will stir the hearts of all Israelis, right, left and center.
Not that the rest of Trump’s performance – as seen on a live stream – was boring or unremarkable. On the contrary, in the annals of relations between Israel and the United States, there’s probably been nothing like it. In between rambling and sometimes incomprehensible depictions of the minute details of his own foresight and courage, Trump gave settler-supporting, Palestinian-despising Israelis and Jews 45 minutes of pure heaven.
He blasted Iran, denigrated Palestinians and even pronounced that his May 2018 embassy move had miraculously made Jerusalem into the capital of Israel. He delighted the enthusiastic crowd by managing to insult Native Americans with his reference to Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” while concurrently hurling a vaguely anti-Semitic slur at his business-minded, wealth-oriented Jewish audience, which, he said, would naturally resist Warren’s tax-taking policies.
Proving once again that no one hates liberal Jews like non-liberal Jews, Trump garnered another round of applause and chants of “Four more years” by equating a vote for his rivals with disloyalty to Israel. He blasted anti-Semitism and even gave his newly appointed federal anti-Semitism czar Elan Carr a few minutes to laud the president’s unyielding opposition, but failed to mention the kind of anti-Semitism that is uppermost on the minds of American Jews – the right-wing kind that led to the Pittsburgh massacre and others – mainly because he knows they believe that he is partly responsible for it in the first place.
Also absent, most notably, from both Trump’s speech and Miriam Adelson’s glowing introduction – which could have furnished the opening pages of the Book of Trump she thinks should be added to the Bible – was any mention whatsoever of one Benjamin Netanyahu. The man for whom Adelson set up a newspaper and invested hundreds of millions in its free and costly distribution, the prime minister still being touted by his fans as Trump’s best friend forever, was suddenly rendered invisible. A non-entity. Persona non-grata. The man who never was.
Nonetheless, for right-wing Israelis and American Jews who believe Adelson’s adulating depiction of Trump as “the greatest president,” it was a joyous celebration of his unyielding, one-sided support for Israel, which he reiterated from the podium. For everyone else, including the vast majority of U.S. Jews, Trump’s speech must have been excruciating – and his rousing reception by the Israeli-American audience more than slightly nauseating.
It would have been a field day for American anti-Semites too, were it not for the fact that most of them are such firm Trump fans. Under any other circumstances, the sight of a U.S. president serving as speaker, host and standup comedian at a gala funded and orchestrated by a gambling magnate who just happens to be the top Republican donor – and, who, by sheer coincidence, approved of Trump’s every word – could have been added as an appendix to the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
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But even if Sheldon Adelson is not seeking world domination, as Jew-haters would surmise, Trump’s appearance at the IAC conference marks the final stages of the Las Vegas billionaire’s successful bid to outflank the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and effectively replace it. The visibly ailing Adelson and his increasingly visible wife Miriam injected millions of dollars into IAC, turned it into a thriving hub for homesick Israeli expats, branched out throughout the United States and gradually injected right-tilted political content to the organization’s national conferences.
When Trump was elected, the Adelsons hit pay dirt: AIPAC’s modest coffers were no match for Adelson’s large pockets. And the lobby’s discreet, center-right bipartisan approach – which infuriated Sheldon Adelson in the first place – was rendered obsolete by the kind of polarizing, divisive and inciting politics preached and practiced by the president and favored by his generous donor.
Coming straight on the heels of J Street’s success in lobbying for House Resolution 326, which called on Israel to avoid any annexation in the West Bank, the once predominant Israeli lobby was hit with a double whammy within the space of 24 hours, which left it, in image terms, weak-kneed and groggy. In an era where left is left, right is right and the moderate center is an endangered species, AIPAC risks being increasingly sidelined, if not made superfluous.
Trump, for his part, never forgives a slight and never forgets to exact retribution. He well remembers his one and only appearance at an AIPAC forum, during the 2016 election campaign, when the audience’s surprisingly warm reception was marred, from his point of view, by the distinctly cool reaction of AIPAC leaders. His words of effusive praise for the IAC were like daggers in the heart of AIPAC leaders.
The entire spectacle of thousands of Israeli Americans rooting for Trump and roaring approval for his every word, no matter how outlandish, vulgar or simply false, was an even worse experience for most American Jews and a sizeable chunk of Israelis. It marked the zenith of influence and power achieved by the nationalist, xenophobic, peace-rejecting right wing in the ages of both Trump and the unmentionable Netanyahu.
The right’s moment of triumph may be fleeting, of course, as Netanyahu is teetering on the edge of political oblivion and Trump stands a reasonable chance of losing the 2020 elections. As far as his IAC audience is concerned, however, Trump will get at least four more years and possibly, as he mischievously hinted, many, many more. Their dream, of course, is much of America’s nightmare.