By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
When Prime Minister Netanyahu receives Donald Trump in Jerusalem later this month it may be more of a meeting of minds than just a courtesy gesture. Though the prime minister has tried to distance himself in public from Trump’s statements about Muslims he has refused to heed the appeal by some 37 members of Knesset to cancel the meeting.
In view of Netanyahu’s close ties with the Republican Party in the United States, he is perhaps speculating, if not hoping, that Trump will get the Republican nomination. The two men seem to have more in common than meets the eye. For example, Trump is fighting an election and, therefore, making media-catching populist statements. Netanyahu did something very similar and in a similar way before the Israeli elections earlier this year. The way of both seems akin: Trump warns American voters against Muslims; Netanyahu warned Israeli voters against Arabs.
Both men are part of a trend in current international politics to scare people into a frame of mind that may lead them to something like Fascism: Trump’s stance is said to be a reaction against recent attacks in America by the Islamic State; Netanyahu’s against attacks by Palestinians manifest of late in the current wave of terrorism.
The spectacular success by the far right of the first round of local elections in France is probably of the same ilk. Other European countries experience a similar upsurge of the far right. Poland is one of them and there’re others.
Like Trump, the leaders of the ultra-right parties in Europe express affection for and feign commitment to Israel. It’s difficult to imagine that they’re motivated by love of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. More likely it’s on the basis that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and perhaps also because they share the politics of Israel’s prime minister and applaud the conduct of many of his cabinet colleagues.
It’s, therefore, most unlikely that Trump is coming to Israel to see the sites or to be able to tell his Jewish grandchildren about the land of some of their ancestors. He’s here to woo Jewish voters in the United States. He may not need Jewish money, but he needs Jewish votes. He’s no doubt aware of the upsurge of support for the right among middle class Jews. Being photographed with the prime minister of Israel will serve his purpose and confirm Netanyahu’s ties with the Republicans.
Polls indicate that Israel is losing support among American Democrats, which is no doubt good news for Trump and his rivals for the nomination. Before the votes in the primaries will be cast most Republican hopefuls will have visited Israel to show how, in contrast to the Democrats, they support it.
Traditionally, American commitment to Israel has been bipartisan, but Netanyahu’s unfortunate intervention in the debate over the Iranian deal confirmed the shift – to the detriment of Israel. The visit in the White House by Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin was a noble effort to mend fences, but more will be needed.
On the other hand, perhaps we’re making too much of it. The US Administration will continue to stand behind Israel whoever is at its helm, because close military and strategic cooperation is as much in America’s interest as it is in Israel’s. So let’s hope that Trump’s visit may be of little consequence despite the hype.