At his Times of Israel blog on September 24, University of Maryland Distinguished Professor Jeffrey Herf cites “the great American weakening, which has been the hallmark of the Trump era.” He eviscerates “Trumpism,” defined as “isolationist and nationalist sentiments and appeals to white grievance.” Indeed, Trump’s “authoritarianism,” according to Herf, displays “the whiff of fascism.” His defeat in the forthcoming election “would pave the way for a restoration of American moral stature.”
Professor Herf is, of course, entitled to his opinions. But for a historian, as he surely knows, facts trump rants. Herf cites Trump’s “record of lies and unfounded insinuations” that render him “a fickle and unreliable ally for the Jewish state.” If reelected, it would mean “the practical end of the US as a significant actor on the world stage, and with that … its capacity to support the State of Israel against its adversaries.” Israelis who — for good reason — applaud Trump as “good for Israel” and “the greatest friend of the Jewish state” among his presidential predecessors, are supposedly misguided. But perhaps it is Professor Herf who is misguided.
It is worth remembering — as even Professor Herf does — what President Trump has done to Israel’s benefit. He recognizes that Trump — contrary to his predecessor Barack Obama, the most hostile to Israel of any American president — withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and “launched a campaign of maximum pressure” against its nuclear program. Trump, not Obama, relocated the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing the ancient holy Jewish city as the true capital of Israel. Trump, not Obama, extended Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, vital to its security.
But Obama, as Caroline Glick has written in Israel Hayom (September 25), “made supporting the Palestinians and their unrelenting war against Israel his highest goal. His method for advancing it was applying unrelenting pressure on Israel and showering it with abuse, threats and condemnations.” For good reason Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described Trump as “the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House.” Only Harry S. Truman, who instantly recognized Israel upon its Declaration of Independence, comes close.
Professor Herf seems obsessed with the need to lacerate his White House nemesis. Trump’s reelection, Herf imagines, would not only “signal the practical end of the US as a significant actor on the world stage” but (in ways unidentified because they are a fantasy) also “its capacity to support the State of Israel against its enemies.” That, as lawyers are fond of saying, is a non sequitur. But for Herf, “a whiff of fascism” hovers over Trump. To date, however, this “fickle and unreliable ally” has done far more to Israel’s benefit in four years than his predecessor did in eight.
Professor Herf might benefit from reading a Jerusalem Post article (August 17) by Eytan Gilboa, an Israeli professor with a Harvard Ph.D. whose outstanding academic career — to say nothing of his work as a consultant to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs — eviscerates Herf’s presumptions and conclusions.
Writing in The Jerusalem Post (August 18) Professor Gilboa cites the extreme importance of the recent Israel-UAE agreement. He anticipates that the third Israeli peace treaty with an Arab nation (preceded by agreements with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994) “will increase the prospects for peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East” and “increase the legitimacy of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state” in the region. It is hardly coincidental that this breakthrough occurred during the term of a supportive American president who, unlike his predecessor, seems to recognize the pivotal role that Israel plays in securing Middle East peace.
There are, to be sure, ample reasons for criticizing President Trump. But his strong support for Israel and encouragement of Arab acceptance of its presence as a valuable ally compare more than favorably with his liberal predecessor, who never missed an opportunity to increase Israel’s vulnerability and criticize its policies — whether by ignoring Iran’s nuclear development, denouncing Jewish settlements, or favoring a Palestinian state in the Biblical homeland of the Jewish people.
How ironic, but revealing, that Israel’s best presidential friend since 1948 should be the target of unrelenting criticism from those who profess support for the Jewish state while serving as its constant critics.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016, selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a Best Book for 2019.