Israel is going gaga over President Donald Trump, largely for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. More than 110 “God bless Trump” signs dot the city; there are plans to name a future rail station near the Western Wall after Trump; and the Jerusalem Friends of Zion Heritage Center put up a four-story display thanking him. But, there are many reasons to reconsider the abundant praise.
A major reason is that Trump – along with a majority of US Republicans – denies climate change, an existential threat to Israel, the US and the world. Despite overwhelming consensus from climate experts and numerous, recent severe climate events in the US – including three category 4 and 5 hurricanes, and massive wildfires in California – Trump remains the only world leader who denies climate change. He pulled the US out of the 2015 Paris climate accord that was signed by 195 nations, including Israel; appointed climate deniers to head the US Environmental Protection Agency and to many other important positions; and he is doing everything possible to eliminate or weaken efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.
Israelis should be especially concerned. Because of climate change, the Middle East is becoming hotter and drier. According to military experts (and common sense), this increases the likelihood of violence, terrorism and war. If the rapid melting continues of polar icecaps and glaciers, the Coastal Plain that contains most of Israel’s population and infrastructure will be inundated by a rising Mediterranean Sea.
Israel is already facing the effects of climate change: We are now in the fifth year of a severe drought; the Sea of Galilee is at a century low; much of the Jordan River is a polluted trickle; and the Dead Sea is shrinking rapidly. Water experts warn that if the Sea of Galilee continues to shrink, it could become like the Dead Sea, as underground springs release saline water into it.
Another important reason is that Trump’s policies are contrary to basic Jewish values of kindness and concern for the disadvantaged, the stranger, the hungry and the poor. Rather than improving Obama-care, which provided health insurance to tens of millions of Americans, Trump supported legislation that would have as many as 32 million Americans lose their insurance and make others pay higher premiums.
RATHER THAN support efforts to rebuild the US’s crumbling infrastructure – which was graded D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers – Trump and Republican legislators pushed through a tax bill that overwhelmingly benefits the wealthiest Americans and corporations. This will increase the US national debt by up to $1.5 trillion, giving the Republicans an excuse to carry out their long-time desires to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection and healthcare.
Then there is the issue of Trump’s character. As The New York Times’ conservative columnist Bret Stephens, a former chief editor of The Jerusalem Post, wrote in a recent article, Trump’s character involves “lying, narcissism, bullying, bigotry, crassness, name-calling, ignorance, paranoia, incompetence and pettiness.”
Stephens continued: “In place of the usual jousting between the administration and the press, we have a president who fantasizes on Twitter about physically assaulting CNN. In place of a president who defends the honor and integrity of his own officers and agencies, we have one who humiliates his attorney-general, denigrates the FBI and compares our intelligence agencies to the Gestapo.”
Do we really want to honor such a person and make him a role model for our children and grandchildren?
Lavishing praise on Trump also adds to the current split between many American Jews and Israel. Almost 80% of American Jews disapprove of the job Trump is doing, according to a September poll by the American Jewish Committee. So for many Americans, when they see Israel going overboard in glorifying Trump, it increases their alienation over recent cabinet decisions on prayer at the Western Wall, conversion and other issues. This could reduce the moral, political and financial support Israel receives from American Jews.
YES, BUT doesn’t Trump still deserve praise for his strong support of Israel? Somehow, some negative things about Trump’s positions and statements on Israel are being ignored. For example: Trump has not kept his pledge that there would be no space between the US and Israel, as he has demanded several times that Israel limit settlement construction; his $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia reduces Israel’s qualitative military edge; in his January 2016 Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, Trump omitted any mention of Jews, which led Deborah Lipstadt to call it “softcore Holocaust denial”; Trump appointed white supremacists to senior positions; he retweeted neo-Nazi propaganda on several occasions; he failed to condemn antisemitism several times when it was called for before finally doing so; he has left vacant the post of special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism since taking office; he ended president Obama’s tradition of hosting a White House Seder; by sharing top-secret information with Russia, he compromised Israeli intelligence; since Trump became president there has been a sharp increase in antisemitic incidents and other bigoted statements and acts.
Trump deserves to be praised for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but not to be lionized, for the reasons above and more. Of course Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, always has been and always will be. But the nations of the world will only acknowledge that if it is part of a comprehensive, sustainable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Trump’s pronouncement about Jerusalem is good for Israeli morale, it did not change the overall situation. It did, however, cause much resentment among Palestinians and other Arabs. In many nations it led to violence, and further evidence of widespread opposition to Trump’s position on Jerusalem was seen in the UN Security Council and General Assembly, resulting in further degradation in the potential for a peace agreement. Trump also signed a waiver again so that the US Embassy will not soon be moved to Jerusalem. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated it may not even be moved during Trump’s current term.
Yes, the peace process has been basically dead for some time, and the Palestinians certainly deserve much blame. But Israel needs to do everything possible to resolve the conflict in order to avert continued or increased violence and diplomatic criticism. Israel must effectively respond to its economic, environmental and other domestic problems. And it must remain both a Jewish and a democratic state. Many Israeli strategic and military experts agree with this assessment, including all the living former leaders of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). Of course, Israel’s security has to be paramount in any agreement.
The writer is professor emeritus, College of Staten Island, the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Mathematics and Global Survival, and Who Stole My Religion?