In his Farewell Address, of 1796 America’s first president George Washington famously warned his fellow citizens that “…a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”
In today’s United States, there is no more “passionate attachment” than that which exists with Israel. The tie that binds is assiduously cultivated by the media and the politically ambitious, so much so that the Jewish state is frequently referred to hyperbolically as America’s best friend and closest ally. But Israel, with its own regional interests driving its policies, is in reality neither a friend nor an ally.
Politicians mired in the past like Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer can see no light between Israel and the United States. Pelosi has declared astonishingly that “I have said to people when they ask me if this Capitol crumbled to the ground, the one thing that would remain is our commitment to our aid…and I don’t even call it aid…our cooperation with Israel. That’s fundamental to who we are.” Biden has repeatedly denounced any reduction in the ridiculously high level of military assistance given to Israel to convince it to modify its behavior as “bizarre,” while Schumer has identified himself as the Jewish state’s “shomer” or guardian in the US Senate.
Many members of the Democratic Party base are no longer enchanted by Israel and one would like to know what politicians like Biden and Pelosi really think about the Jewish state, but it is unlikely that that will ever be revealed. It is nevertheless clear that the adhesion to Israel by Democrats has been far overshadowed by the constant pandering to the Jewish state that has been the hallmark of the current administration of Donald J. Trump. To be sure, the musical chairs line-up of neo-conservatives that has included John Bolton, Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo has been unstinting in its praise of the malignant Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it is the president himself who has raised the level of adoration to heights previously not observed coming out of the White House.
Donald Trump has overturned long standing foreign policy positions to favor Israel even more than has been the case hitherto. He withdrew from the nuclear pact with Iran, has moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, has recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, has declared the illegal settlements on the West Bank “not illegal,” has cut off funding to the Palestinians and the United Nations and is sending signals that he will approve further moves by the Jewish state to annex much of the remaining Palestinian territory. Along the way, his Ambassador to Israel David Friedman has been making excuses for Israeli shooting of unarmed demonstrators and the everyday brutality inflicted on the hapless Palestinians.
Worse might even be coming, as Secretary of State Pompeo and Netanyahu have recently been discussing a formal defense pact which would obligate the United States to intervene on the side of Israel if it were to go to war, even if the war were initiated by the Jewish state. As Israel is now reportedly considering the value of a possible pre-emptive nuclear strike on Iran, the stakes could not be higher.
But as bad as all that is, nothing outdoes the speech delivered by Trump in Florida last Saturday in front of the Israeli American Council (IAC) National Summit. IAC is a basically right-wing group funded largely by Las Vegas casino multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is also a close adviser to the president on the Middle East. Its annual gathering included 4,000 mostly well-heeled Israelis and American Jews who cheered and periodically chanted “four more years!” as the president was speaking.
Trump spoke for 45 minutes, most of which consisted of preening over how much he has done for Israel. But he also discussed Jews in America, saying that “We have to get the people of our country, of this country, to love Israel more, I have to tell you that. We have to do it. We have to get them to love Israel more. Because you have Jewish people that are great people — they don’t love Israel enough.” He also said that his audience should be supporting him and not voting for Elizabeth Warren, whom he called “Pocahontas,” saying “You’re not going to vote for the wealth tax…Let’s take 100 percent of your wealth away.”
There was considerable pushback almost immediately coming from Jewish groups and prominent individuals who saw Trump’s words as classic borderline anti-Semitic tropes. Trump, who often speaks to Jewish audiences in the second person, saying “you” rather than “we,” clearly sees the Jewish attachment to Israel as normal and acceptable, but there is an implicit second message about potential disloyalty to the United States. In August he said that American Jews who vote for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
And Trump also is not reluctant to link Jews with money, a generally taboo subject that he has raised before, most particularly when he was campaigning and he told an audience of Jewish Republicans that “you’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. You want to control your politicians, that’s fine.” And, of course, the irony is that everyone who has not been asleep knows very well that the Israel Lobby in the US and Europe is indeed all about money. Money buys access to power.
For someone who has spent much of his life around Jews in the New York business world, Donald Trump is remarkably ignorant of their political culture. To be sure there is a group of oligarch billionaires that includes Adelson, Paul Singer, Ron Lauder and Bernard Marcus who are politically conservative and fund Trump as well as other Republicans. They do so not because Trump is good for the United States but because he is a gift to Israel and can easily be bought or persuaded.
But most Jews, while supporting the existence of Israel, do not exactly see things quite that way and many Jews of a liberal persuasion want to see a secure Israel that will deliver justice for the Palestinians. Plus, Trump’s authoritarianism and denigratory, abrasive style offend many Jews, so the president will not be getting many Jewish votes no matter what he does. His approval rating is 29% among Jewish voters nationwide, according to a Gallup poll while only 17% of Jews voted Republican in 2017. And one would have thought even the narcissistic president might have noticed the large number of Jewish witnesses, “experts” and congressmen who seem to be “out to get him” in the impeachment hearings.
Beyond that, Trump’s constant exaltation of the Israelis and of Jews in general as something like a gift to humanity should offend all other Americans. The president is elected to represent the interests of all Americans, not just a wealthy and powerful ethno-religious minority that is able and willing to give him a great deal of money to run his political campaigns. It is unthinkable that a national politician should mount his bully pulpit to praise interminably any specific ethnic group, and so it should be. It is offensive and completely unacceptable, particularly as in this case it is a favor bought that brings with it grave damage to genuine US interests and could easily lead to a major war in which Americans will die.
Nevertheless, the painful issue of who is loyal to what is genuine, particularly when a dedicated and powerful group affiliated with a foreign country is able to game the system to get what it wants. We are all supposed to be Americans first. In her comment on the Trump speech, conservative pundit Ann Coulter maintained that the president didn’t go far enough in impugning the loyalty of some Jews to Israel, writing, “Could we start slowly by getting them to like America?”