By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Israel’s right-wing politicians are euphoric. The prophet whom Bible scholars call the Second Isaiah proclaimed King Cyrus (6th century BCE) as the Messiah. I wouldn’t be surprised if some ideologue in Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party wouldn’t want to do the same to President Trump, even though at least half of all Americans seem to strongly disapprove of him only weeks into his tenure.
Despite his minority status in the government (he can only deliver 9 out of 120 votes in the Knesset), Bennett seems to be setting its agenda. Thus on the eve of the prime minister’s pilgrimage to the White House later this week, Bennett, together with his side-kick the minister of justice Ayelet Shaked, have urged Netanyahu to drop the two-state idea and prepare Trump, together with the rest of world, for the gradual Israeli annexation of the West Bank.
Mercifully, people in the know consider the euphoria misplaced. Thus, for example, the previous US ambassador Dan Shapiro, a warm Jew deeply committed to Israel who’s staying on to enable his children to finish their school year here, told a TV reporter the other day that, though he expects the chemistry between Netanyahu and Trump to be better than between Netanyahu and Obama, the result won’t be very different. As a journalist put it recently: they voted for Trump but got Obama.
We’ve already seen how the new US administration is backtracking on moving its embassy to Jerusalem and we’ve heard the less than enthusiastic White House comments about Israel’s new law that seeks to legalize illegally built settlements on private Palestinian land.
Though the new US ambassador David Friedman is said to be of the same persuasion as Bennett, i.e., a great supporter of Israeli West Bank settlers, he’ll have to say and do what Washington tells him, whether or not he agrees with it and whether or not it’s consistent and cogent.
Netanyahu also seems to sense, or hope, that Bennett’s euphoria is misplaced, and the support for it by some cabinet members of the prime minister’s own party premature. He has hinted that he’ll avoid talking with Trump about the Palestinians and the two-state solution as much as possible. Instead, he’ll want to talk about the danger that Iran is still posing, because they’re likely to agree on that, even though President Trump may at this moment have more North Korea than Iran on his mind.
Netanyahu may not get the usual support of American Jewry. In view of the antics of Bennett & Co. and the prime minister’s failure to put him in his place, American Jewry is less than enthusiastic about Israel’s present government while being quite dismayed about their own president. And Netanyahu’s failure to deliver on the egalitarian prayer space at the Wall doesn’t sit well in America.
Jane Eisner, the editor of the American Forward, has been speculating about the forthcoming White House encounter. She hints that perhaps Netanyahu would be better off if he could stay in the United States because the various corruption investigations in Israel may soon remove him from office and turn him into a neighbour of one of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert, who’s currently doing time for corruption. No reason for euphoria there, even though when he’s back at the end of the week Netanyahu will be all smiles oozing feigned satisfaction, perhaps even triumph.
Israeli politics may be dismal, but unfortunately it’s never dull.