Israel is going gaga over President Trump, largely for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There are more than 110 “God bless Trump” signs in Jerusalem. There are plans to name a future rail station near the Kotel 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 Republicans, is in denial about climate change — an existential threat to Israel, the United States and, indeed, the world. Despite the overwhelming consensus of climate experts and the many recent severe climate events — including three Category 4 or 5 hurricanes and a series of massive, devastating wildfires in California — Trump is the only world leader denying climate change.
He has pulled the country out of the 2015 Paris climate pact agreed to by all of the other 195 nations attending, including Israel, appointed climate change deniers as director of the Environmental Protection Agency and many other agencies, and is doing everything possible to eliminate or weaken recent efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.
Israelis should be especially concerned about climate threats. Because of climate change, the Middle East is becoming hotter and drier and, according to military experts, this makes violence, terrorism and war more likely. If the rapid melting of polar icecaps and glaciers continue, 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, as 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 a salt sea like the Dead Sea.
But Trump’s policies are also contrary to basic Jewish values in terms of concern for the disadvantaged, the stranger, the hungry and the poor.
Rather than improving Obamacare, which provided health insurance to tens of millions of Americans, Trump supported health legislation that would have caused up to 32 million Americans to lose their insurance and others to pay higher premiums.
Rather than supporting efforts to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, given a grade of D-plus by the American Society of Civil Engineers, Trump and Republican legislators pushed through a tax bill that greatly benefits the wealthiest Americans and highly profitable corporations, although they have already greatly benefitted financially in recent years. This will increase the national debt by up to $1.5 trillion, giving the Republicans an excuse to carry out their longtime desires to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and environmental and health protections.
Then there is the issue of Trump’s character. As The New York Times conservative columnist Bret Stephens, a former editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, put it in a recent article, Trump’s character involves “lying, narcissism, bullying, bigotry, crassness, name calling, ignorance, paranoia, incompetence and pettiness.”
He continues: “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?
In addition, lavishing praise on Trump is adding to the current split between many American Jews and Israel.
Almost 80 percent of American Jews disapprove of the job Trump is doing, according to a September poll by the American Jewish Committee. So when they see how Israel is going overboard in praising Trump, it adds to the alienation they already feel due to recent Israeli decisions on prayer at the Kotel, conversion and other issues. This could reduce the moral, political and financial support Israel receives from American Jews.
Doesn’t Trump still deserve praise for his strong support of Israel? Somehow some negative things about Trump’s positions and statements about Israel are being ignored.
For example: Trump has not kept his pledge of seeing that there would be no space between the United States and Israel, as he has demanded several times that Israel limit settlement construction, and Trump’s $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia reduces Israel’s qualitative military edge.
Trump deserves praise for his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel but not to be lionized.
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 Israel’s morale, it did not change the overall situation. It did, however, spark much resentment among the Palestinians, other Arabs and many nations, led to some violence, showed further evidence of widespread opposition to Israel’s position on Jerusalem through the votes in the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly, and resulted in a further decrease in the potential of a peace agreement.
Yes, the peace process has basically been dead for some time, and the Palestinians certainly deserve much blame. But Israel needs to do everything possible to obtain a resolution of the conflict in order to avert continued and possibly increased violence and diplomatic criticism, effectively respond to her economic, environmental and other domestic problems, and remain a Jewish and a democratic state.
Many Israel strategic and military experts agree with this assessment, including all the living ex-heads of the Shin Bet. It’s hard to see how lionizing Trump accomplishes anything. PJC
Richard H. Schwartz is the president of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians and president emeritus of Jewish Veg.