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The ‘Trump is Good for Israel’ illusion

The US president's record of lies and unfounded insinuations renders him a fickle and unreliable ally for the Jewish state
Screen grab from the Fox & Friends morning news show. US President Donald Trump interviewed by phone about the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Sept. 21, 2020
Screen grab from the Fox & Friends morning news show. US President Donald Trump interviewed by phone about the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Sept. 21, 2020

As most readers of these lines know, I have played a significant role in opposing BDS campaigns in the United States. In numerous essays on this blog I made the case against the Iran nuclear deal. My work as a historian includes studies of Nazi propaganda toward the Arab world and its aftereffects in Islamist antisemitism as well as on Communist and radical leftist attacks on the state of Israel during the Cold War. The same liberal convictions lead me to enthusiastic, emphatic, and unequivocal support for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for President and Vice-President of the United States. I am convinced that the reelection of Trump as President will be a disaster, not only for the United States but for Israel as well. I have made that case at length in the current issue of The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs.

I will refrain from repeating the long list of horrors associated with the name Trump. I assume that readers of these lines know that by now 200,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus and that scientists and doctors tell us that the vast majority of these people would be alive today were it not for the incompetence, lies and utter failure of leadership by Trump and his enablers. With the slogan all politics is local politics in mind, I am assuming that there may be readers of this column who may not care that 200,000 of my fellow citizens have died unnecessarily because of his lies and incompetence and who ignore his many critics because they suffer from the illusion that he is “good for Israel.”

That is a very grand illusion.

If Trump is reelected, the message sent around the world will be that the antiquated political structures of the United States, notably the electoral college, and a U.S. Senate that gives two votes to every state regardless of population, have made it possible for a minority of Americans driven by white grievance, fear and greed to thwart the will of a majority willing and eager to welcome American multi-ethnicity, address climate change, insure that health care is available to all and to reduce levels of inequality that make Israel look like a socialist paradise by comparison. If Trump were to win, the power position of the United States in the world would continue to weaken. His attack on the Atlantic Alliance would severely weaken the ability of the United States to remain a key player in the Middle East. While Trump could promise “maximum pressure” on Iran, the absence of Allies or any support from other governments would give the Iranians plenty of opportunities to circumvent American sanctions. “America first” would become an “America alone” howling in the wind without its most important allies. Conversely, Joe Biden and his foreign policy team, are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons but would be in a much better position to do so with the power of a unified array of powerful democracies.

There is a sophomoric view of international politics according to which the ability to lie is a political asset. Yet anyone who has some understanding of or experience in politics, domestic or international, knows the opposite is the case, namely that a reputation for telling the truth is crucial to the exercise of political power. Donald Trump’s reputation for lying and spreading misinformation is now world famous and amply documented. Yet an anecdote in today’s news captures why Israel would be foolish to put any credibility in anything he says.

Shortly before Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, she told her granddaughter that “my most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” Today, three days after Ginsburg’s death, as her granddaughter and entire family are in mourning, Trump told the White House propaganda outlet, Fox News, “I don’t know that she said that, or if that was written out by [Representative] Adam Schiff, and [Senator Charles] Schumer and [Speaker of the House of Representative Nancy] Pelosi.”

“That came out of the wind. It sounds so beautiful, but that sounds like a Schumer deal, or maybe Pelosi or Shifty Schiff,” Mr. Trump said.

In other words, on national television and on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, President Trump called Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s grieving granddaughter a liar and attacked three politicians, two of them Jewish and all three strong supporters of Israel, accusing them of being liars, again on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. Those Israeli politicians and strategists who think a man who can do something like this will be true to his word regarding Israeli security are indulging in one of the grand illusions of the era.

Fortunately, the American people have the choice of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris whose election would bring an end to the nightmare of the past four years, revive the standing of the United States in world affairs and restore as well, the ability of the United States to continue to be Israel’s loyal and reliable ally.

Jeffrey Herf is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of History at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author most recently of Undeclared Wars with Israel: East Germany and the West German Far Left, 1967-1989 (Cambridge University Press, 2016). He is completing a history with the working title “Israel’s Moment: The United States and Europe between the Holocaust and the Cold War, 1945-1949.”

About the Author
Jeffrey Herf is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of History at the University of Maryland, College Park, USA. He has published extensively on modern German and European history including Undeclared Wars with Israel: East Germany and the West German Far Left, He is completing a study entitled “At War with Israel: East Germany and the West German Radical Left, 1967-1989" (Cambridge University Press, 2016). His "Israel's Moment: The United States and Europe between the Holocaust and the Cold War" is forthcoming.
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