US President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a bilateral meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, eastern Switzerland, on January 25, 2018.NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
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Hold the Applause

As AIPAC convenes in D.C., it’s time to admit the inconvenient truth: Donald Trump is bad for Israel

Liel Leibovitz
March 02, 2018
US President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a bilateral meeting with Israel's Prime Minister on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, eastern Switzerland, on January 25, 2018.NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

There are many interpretations of the election of Donald Trump: the resurgence of a frightening old-new form of white racist nationalism that feels perilously like native-born fascism; a rebellion of working-class Americans against PC-obsessed elites; a Russian plot to install a Kremlin stooge in the White House; a revelation of the hollowness and corruption of both major political parties; a patriarchal backlash against female equality; a win for the Twitter trolls; a symptom of the collapse of the mainstream American press; a freakish eruption from the works of HP Lovecraft. Members of Tablet’s editorial collective hold each of these viewpoints, with some of us defending all of them at the same time. Given our staunch commitment to heterodox viewpoints and the state of the country, it seems likely that these disputes will continue to rage.

What is not in dispute is Trump’s abysmal record in the Middle East, particularly when it comes to the security of the State of Israel. This blunt assessment may come as a surprise to people who nastily attempt to conflate “pro-Israel” with “pro-Trump,” or those who may honestly imagine that there is a “tradeoff” between opposing Trump—or supporting Trump—and Israel’s security. It may even come as a surprise to members of AIPAC who will applaud Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he proclaims Donald Trump to be a “great friend” of Israel. Don’t believe a word of it. Donald Trump is bad for Israel.

Let’s be clear: In saying that Trump is bad for Israel, I’m not arguing simply that Trump himself is bad, or that the president’s nastier supporters on the right are bad because they don’t like Jews. Nor am I saying that negotiations with the Holocaust-denying Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas are good for Israel’s health, or that the absence of such negotiations under Trump is a failure. I’m also happy that the embassy is moving to Jerusalem, and don’t particularly care if it’s paid for by, and named after, Miriam and Sheldon Adelson. Nor do I have any patience for engaging in the kind of hair-splitting casuistry popular in progressive circles where it is important to explain how denouncing Israel as an apartheid state or appearing in public with Louis Farrakhan actually makes Jews safer and Israeli democracy stronger.

I’m saying something much simpler, and hopefully much easier to understand: Donald Trump’s policies are having a wildly negative impact on Israel’s security, and, if unchanged, are likely to cost many Israeli lives. I am also saying, although it should be obvious, that Trump’s rhetoric is not matched in any way by the actions of his administration and its officials on the ground. In other words, he is a con man, of a particularly dangerous and virulent kind.

Over a year ago, even before Trump took office, Tablet urged American Jews not to be taken in by Trump’s pro-Israel flim-flam act. The substitution of empty symbolic gestures for meaningful changes to concrete U.S. policies was a hallmark of the Obama administration’s condescending, deceptive, and at times, outright hostile approach to the American Jewish community, which often seemed only too glad to be suckered by a president who represented “hope” and “social justice” but made no secret of his disdain for the pro-Israel community, which he targeted during his push for the Iran deal. Standing idly by while 500,000 Syrians were bombed and gassed to death and Iran was flooded with cash to spread its militant theocracy across the Middle East was a moral, political, and strategic disaster for our community.

Here is what we wrote:

Jews can’t afford to be blinded by empty symbolism at a moment when the world has become a much riskier place for both Israel and America alike. Sane analysts in the United States and Israel agree that the leading danger to Israel and its neighbors right now is Iranian hegemony in the Middle East, backed by a U.S.-sponsored nuclear deal that has flooded the Iranian regime with cash while guaranteeing it a peaceful pathway to develop a nuclear bomb. Responsibility for the Iran Deal and the regional realignment that it ushered in rests squarely on the shoulders of President Barack Obama, who utilized all the resources of his office to ensure the safe passage of an agreement that a clear majority of the American people opposed. Trump’s promise to “renegotiate” a deal that ultimately helps his beloved Russia sounds increasingly like bluster, which seems likely to make a bad situation even worse. It’s hard to imagine that the kind of “renegotiation” he has in mind—or any kind of “renegotiation” of a deal that is already done—will do anything to stop Iran from exporting death to its neighbors, or inhibit its pursuit of a nuclear bomb. More likely, it will draw the United States even deeper into the triangular relationship with Iran and Russia that became the cornerstone of the Obama administration’s Syria policy, with such nauseating and deadly results.

Being suckers for Trump’s lies, we warned, would compound the problems that the rudderless leadership of our community created for all of us—in the Democratic Party, in the Republican Party, on college campuses, in the rise of an exclusionary and often openly anti-Semitic politics on the left, and in the face of a vocal, threatening, and murderous new form of anti-Semitism on the right. Our community needed to restore its moral and political sanity by avoiding another set of ill-fated compromises with politicians who act in bad faith and who have learned that American Jews are easily-frightened people who are happy to accept words in place of actions.

Today, more than a year into the Trump administration, the Iran deal is a done deal, with the State Department and the Pentagon acting as the prime defenders of Iran’s glide-path to a nuclear bomb as well as of the Iranian-led political order in the Middle East that it has brought into being. Nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is now a fact, with the Saudis and the Egyptians promising to develop their own nuclear bombs to counter Iran. The nauseating and heart-wrenching genocide of Sunni Muslims in Syria continues, aided and abetted by the pro-Iranian and pro-Russian strategic alignment of the U.S., which Obama created and Trump has all but finished cementing.

When it comes to Iran, the main difference between Donald Trump and Barack Obama is that Iran has vastly strengthened its position on Israel’s borders in both Syria and Lebanon, to the point where an incredibly bloody and destructive war now seems inevitable between Israel and Iranian proxies armed with over 200,000 missiles. While some of us might like to call it Obama’s War, the fact is that when it comes, it will likely be Trump’s to fight. We’ve been swindled by the previous president and paid a steep price. We won’t be fooled again.


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Liel Leibovitz is Editor at Large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.