Jonathan Russo

Jews in Conflict: Israel’s Right and America’s Left

I recently returned from my annual visit to Israel. Amidst the flourishing tech economy, beautiful weather, creative energy in the visual arts, music, food, and cinema, I found a deep strain of venom. I cannot remember anything like it in 40 years of following Israeli politics. Who is this venom aimed at? Liberal American Jewry.

The venom, best expressed in the opinion pages of The Jerusalem Post, is aimed at those who do not think Donald Trump is the best friend Israel has ever had. If you at all doubt me, just read columns by any of these three: Melanie Phillips, Caroline B. Glick, and Isi Leibler. Go ahead, take your time and absorb the hate, intolerance, and even the questioning of the sanity of those with a different opinion. The personal attacks on writers like Peter Beinart and Bret Stephens are part and parcel of their modus operandi.

For the Israeli right, the current price of admission to Zionism comprises a three-fold process.

First, one must make it an article of faith that Trump and his cabinet are rational actors. They are sane and in possession of real policy skills. Second, one must accept that Obama and the previous administration were anti-Semitic incompetents. Obama consciously sought to weaken Israel and even conspired with its enemies. Lastly, one must believe that Trump will be able to stay in power long enough to deliver the “peace plan” that son-in-law Jared has been working on so diligently for the last two years. Or, failing that (an improbable absurdity), one must believe that keeping the status quo by rubber stamping everything Netanyahu wants is the best and only option.

If you doubt any or all of the above, you are, in the words of one of these columnists (and numerous other right-wing thinkers and writers) possibly possessed by a “dybbuk.” Lest you think this mythological idea that one has been deceived by the devil only applies to diaspora Jews who doubt Trump, rest assured it does not. Religious right-wing Israeli politicians routinely brand their Israeli opponents as linked to “the devil.” They did so in the very recent race for mayor of Jerusalem.

Unlike the right-wing columnists, I do not see any policy successes from Trump. For all the hype on North Korea, American officials and experts say the rogue country is continuing apace in the development of its inter-continental ballistic missile sites. Trump speaks more falsehoods than any of his predecessors and hopes his trusting base believes them. No one else does. World leaders are aghast at his lack of knowledge.

His lack of loyalty to everyone and anyone who questions him or does not bend to his irrational will is profound. Just ask Michael Cohen, Rex Tillerson, Stormy Daniels or scores or others. Or you could ask his contractors and creditors…all of whom he has stiffed. His cabinet shake ups are characteristic of the third world. His juvenile taunts aimed at his own party or staff are routine. His attacks on the foundations of democratic institutions like the judiciary are unprecedented and frightening in the extreme. His personal demeanor and behavior would invite severe punishment from any normal parent.

Let me put this bluntly. If the Israeli right is telling me to endorse a man, whom I know to be dysfunctional at best, because it’s advantageous to Israel, well, I am not taking that advice.

I would suggest that if anyone is being deceived by a malevolent force, it is the right-wing commentators themselves. Why? Because absolutely no good can come to either the United States or Israel by supporting a president so devoid of rational behavior. They may think the Trump reality show will lead to the fruition of all their political goals, but sooner or later – like everyone else – they will be let down. Worse than that, there exists the very real possibility that the democratic institutions that have been the cornerstone of Western norms, the very norms that have allowed Israel to flourish, will be degraded. Who knows what will happen then?

The intellectual bankruptcy of this cabal is also scandalous. When Robert Bowers murdered Jews in Pittsburgh, Melanie Phillips contorted herself into absurd thought postures to “prove” that “Nothing Trump has said can possibly be held to have inspired someone whose demented aim was to ‘kill the Jews.’” Really? How about his statement that neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were “fine people?” That remark was too much for Jewish cabinet member Gary Cohn. He at least had the decency to disassociate himself from Trump’s racism.

To the Israeli right, there are no lone wolf Muslim killers – only those incited by global jihadi terrorism.

But the same does not apply to killers of Jews. Surely, they act alone. There is no incitement to see here. The hate-filled Trump rallies and sometimes violent rhetoric are completely irrelevant. To me, this is not just an intellectual failure to see the truth, but a deeper moral one. To endorse hate, xenophobia, and racism if you think it serves your nationalist interests, is despicable.

There will be a “told you so” by the Jewish left when Trump and his chaotic ideology are finished. The only question in my mind is how much damage he does to Israel and the Jewish people in the interim.

About the Author
Jonathan Russo has been observing Israel and its policies since he first visited in 1966. He is a businessman in New York City.
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