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Lt. Col. Vindman, the IDF needs you!

The Trump impeachment witness -- eligible to become Israeli -- could teach our army a thing or two about speaking truth to power
National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 19, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 19, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Like President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Lt.-Col. Alexander Vindman is eligible for instant naturalization if he chooses to come to Israel under the Law of Return – and he deserves a cordial invitation. Our government, now headed by a Trump crony, isn’t likely to roll out a red carpet for the upstanding officer who immediately (and, at first, discreetly) called out the US president’s extortion of his Ukrainian counterpart. But the IDF — where, I trust, there still are honorable officers like Vindman — should welcome him, or at least take an example.  And in case they don’t, although I have no authority but my own citizenship, I hereby presume to do so.

The Law of Return was intended to ensure that people who are persecuted because they are Jews should always have a safe haven here. Trump didn’t fire Vindman because he’s a Jew.  However, he’s in the United States because his father, as a Jew, felt insecure in the Soviet Union and wanted a better future for his three sons. Defying Trump’s order not to testify at Trump’s impeachment hearings, the colonel reassured his father that his very appearance was “proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago.” But Thursday night, this Purple Heart bearer was marched out of the White House, having been ousted from his position at the National Security Council as the eminently qualified expert on his native Ukraine. His twin Evgeny, also a US Army lieutenant-colonel, was fired from his NSC job for the offense of being Alexander’s brother. Today, the latter may feel somewhat less certain about what he famously told his father from the witness stand: “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”

Speaking truth to power has not been the IDF’s strongest suit for a while. We were recently treated to the latest instance: falsification of the figures for recruitment of Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) for political purposes. Accusations of corruption have reached as high as a former Navy commander. Every Yom Kippur we are reminded how officers who warned of an impending attack in 1973 were slapped down because their observations didn’t conform to the “concept” of the top brass. Debate now rages whether whistleblowers about unpreparedness for a ground war are unduly alarmist. The Alexander Vindmans of the IDF need reinforcement and inspiration.

The other of the first two targets of Trump’s revenge also happens to be Jewish: the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland. Of course he too is legally entitled to aliyah, but for him I wouldn’t so admiringly roll out the welcome wagon. Sondland bought his post with a $1m donation to Trump’s inaugural festivities. He complied willingly when deputized for that shady mission in Ukraine, and turned the equivalent of state’s evidence only when it was exposed — thanks in large measure to his own incompetence. So while as a ba’al teshuvah (repenter) he supposedly stands even taller than those who were always righteous, in this case I don’t accept our sages’ dictum. Of the hotelier Sondland it can aptly be said that he made his own bed.

We can’t reject even the likes of Alan Dershowitz, a celebrity defense attorney who may be in urgent demand here when a certain senior official goes on trial for his own alleged high crimes and misdemeanors. I wonder what the Jerusalem District Court would think of Dershowitz’s argument before the US Senate, whereby as long as the president believes what he’s doing is in the national interest, it can’t be construed as abuse of office. But Dershowitz is, for the time being, safe in his client’s America — so while Israelis may squirm at his being our own perennial, self-appointed advocate too, we won’t have to suffer him as our compatriot anytime soon.

But, in the Law of Return’s original spirit: welcome, Col. Vindman! As a truly patriotic  American, you probably will opt to fight it out there for truth and justice, and we salute you “be strong and of good courage.” Still, as the worst of Trump is evidently yet to come, keep us in mind — just in case…

A previous version of this post stated erroneously that President Trump himself is eligible under the Law of Return.

About the Author
Gideon Remez, formerly head of foreign news at Voice of Israel Radio, is an associate fellow of the Truman Institute, Hebrew University. The views expressed here are his own and not the Institute's.
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