Many Americans, including many American Jews, are upset and angry that Israel conceded to President Trump’s pressure and has decided not to allow a visit to Israel by Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar. (Actually, according to the congresswomen, the visit was to be to “Palestine,” which tells you a little about the agenda.)
Americans are angry that Israel is aiding Trump in his campaign, at least partially fueled by racism, to ostracize the congresswomen. American Jews who care about Israel as well as their place in the Democratic Party are angry that Israel conceded to an obvious effort to create division in the Democratic Party and to weaken crucial bipartisan support for Israel. American Jewish leaders are also concerned that Israel’s doing Trump’s bidding will further exacerbate the divides in the American Jewish community.
All are right to be angry and upset. I am angry and upset that Trump pressured Israel. I am upset that Israel caved in. I fear the long-term consequences to the American Jewish community and to the bi-partisan support for Israel, which is vital.
But these Americans and, in particular, American Jews, who are angry at Israel are directing their anger at the wrong place. And these Americans are displaying an unfathomable degree of hypocrisy and inconsistency. And American Jews are demonstrating a complete inability to even acknowledge that perhaps Israelis have a legitimate reason for seeing things differently. Moreover, they cannot see the irony in the current situation, even though it should be hitting them in the face.
Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer first announced that Israel would permit the visit. Then President Trump, undoubtedly for narcissistic, racist political reasons, leaned on Israel not to do it. Unfortunately, despite the deplorable motivations, Trump is nonetheless the president of the United States and he has control over things that are crucial to Israel’s security, some of them existential. And he is vindictive.
Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, something other presidents committed to do but did not do. He recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and he has taken on anti-Israel activities and organizations at the UN and other world bodies to an extent no other president ever did. It may pain pro-Israel Democrats like me to to have to recognize that President Trump did these things, but they are facts nonetheless.
And it is of no matter what Trump’s motivations were for taking these positive steps. If we undid every good thing politicians do for personal, self-interested political reasons, we would have to erase much of the progress of the last 100 years.
To defy any president of the United States is a substantial risk for Israel. To say “no” to this one, who has taken positive actions for it and who surely thinks he has been a great friend, is to take a huge risk. As I said, the man is vindictive, and he is petty.
Saying “no” to this president could have deadly consequences for Israelis. If attacked by Iran, Israel needs the president to act decisively in support. If Israel needs more Iron Dome batteries, it needs the Administration. If Israel needs parts or technological support, the Administration could refuse or stall. If Israel needs American ships stationed in places to ensure no one encroaches from the sea, the Administration could refuse.
These are not theoretical concerns. Recall the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was peeved at Israel. He counseled President Nixon, and Nixon agreed, to delay sending crucial supplies for several days. Israel’s ability to counter the surprise attack was severely jeopardized, to the point that Defense Minister Dayan raised the possibility of using nuclear weapons. Fortunately, Prime Minister Golda Meir ignored him and the supplies were released in time, but not before Israeli soldiers died.
The point is that for Israel, saying “no” to any president can have life-and-death consequences. This president, narcissist that he is, might very well say “no” at a crucial moment if he feels that he was crossed.
As an Israeli citizen who lives in Israel a good part of the year and has been through wars there, and as a parent with a daughter living in Israel, these are not abstract concerns to me. It is real-life, and it is more important than how campaigns are impacted. It is more important than how members of a political party in the US feel about it. It is more important than how Jews in the US feel about it.
Some have said that, like Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu was acting not with the interests of Israel in mind but, rather, for narrow, self-interested political reasons. Perhaps. Politicians usually act out of a mix of motivations. But it is doubtful that Israel’s security and President Trump’s impact on it was not a significant consideration in the decision to refuse entry to the congresswomen.
As mentioned above, originally Israeli Ambassador Dermer announced that Israel was going to permit the visit. Dermer is, if nothing else, Netanyahu’s man. He would not have made that announcement without Netanyahu’s approval. The decision to reverse the original decision was made by a group of ministers and other officials after the president pressured Israel.
Anyone who knows Israel knows that if anyone had dissented, it would have been public by now. Most importantly, even if Netanyahu benefits personally from this decision to cave into Trump’s wishes, it is a decision that is in Israel’s interests nonetheless. The country cannot afford to have Trump angry at it.
The irony and hypocrisy: recall when Israel strenuously objected to the Iran deal. This was not just Netanyahu’s position. Israeli leaders across the political spectrum said that the deal represented an existential threat to Israel.
Many American Jews thought it was wrong that Israel defied an American president, even on an issue Israel viewed as an existential threat. And, yet, those same Americans want Israel to defy a president on the issue of a visit by some members of Congress.
Americans might argue that Obama was a decent person doing the deal for noble reasons, while President Trump is a terrible person doing something for selfish, destructive political reasons.
But Israelis are in their shoes, not in the shoes of Americans. What they saw in Obama was an unfriendly president who was doing a deal that put them in mortal danger. What they see in Trump is a president who has done some good things for them, who takes things awfully personally, and who has asked the country to reject entry to a couple of congresswomen who don’t like the country anyway. Looked at from that perspective, it’s virtually a no-brainer.
Many Americans, including many American Jews, seem only to be able to see things from an American point of view.
Israelis are playing with the cards Americans dealt them. Is it not fair for them to say: “You Americans, not us, elected this narcissistic, hateful, vindictive game-show host. Now you are mad at us because we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place: Defy the guy who, by the way, has been pretty good to us, and incur his considerable wrath, or displease half the American public by not letting in a couple of freshman American congresswomen who hate us anyway. You elected this guy but it is our security that’s at stake.”
I don’t expect Americans to lessen their anger and concern at what has happened. I am angry and concerned.
I do suggest directing that anger at the right place: the Americans who voted for President Trump. The media that promoted him. The politicians who have acquiesced to him. The educational system that has produced a public that would vote for him. The society that has created attitudes and conditions that have made it possible for him to succeed.
And, while you’re at it, direct some anger at Democratic candidates and other officials whose infighting and proposals seem designed to help re-elect President Trump. Direct your anger there and not at a small country that is playing the hand it was dealt by you.