Dear Donald Trump, thank you for not coming to Israel

December 10, 2015

The following post was written before Donald Trump decided to cancel his trip to Israel, which would have been a big headache for everyone.


Donald Trump’s planned visit to Israel is as welcome as a nasty headache.

On the one hand, this is a candidate for US President whose rhetoric has long ago crossed all boundaries of reason. That is, even to Israeli ears, which are not as sensitive to political correctness. Earlier this week, Trump enraged the White House, his party, and world leaders and shocked Americans by declaring his opposition to the entry of all Muslims to the US. A religious test for entry in a country that prides itself on not applying religious tests.

On the other hand, Trump is still a candidate, and even a popular one. He has the support of millions and millions of Republican Americans. And it would not be a wild guess to assume that a large portion of these millions are also supporters of the US-Israel alliance. 

Donald Trump’s planned visit to Israel is as welcome as a nasty headache because Israel, for Trump, is no more than a tool with which to pave the way to Iowa and beyond. Trump will come to Israel, and he will do in Israel what’s good for Trump, not what’s good for Israel. He probably thinks that it is good for him to pick a fight with the Muslim world, to annoy it, to enrage it, to tickle it. It is hard to see how such an agenda benefits Israel – a country in which Jews and Muslim Arabs have to live together, a country around which there are many Muslims with which it also hopes to one day live in peace.

Trump will come to Israel and draw fire – he will use Israel to prove to his voters that his fight against Muslims is the right fight. He will get a photo op with Israeli leaders – the visit was planned for him to be able to consult with “Bibi”, as Trump calls the Prime Minister of Israel. So they will meet, and he will say something, and he will stain Israel with his uncontrolled message. For a similar article I wrote for Israel’s Maariv, I used the Hebrew word for hitchhiking as the headline – “Tremp” sound almost like Trump. So the headline says that Trump is taking Israel for a ride.  

Maybe, if Israel is lucky, Trump’s candidacy will implode fast enough for him to see no point in this visit and cancel it. Maybe – but it is not at all clear that Trump’s candidacy is in trouble. It’s been almost half a year since the pundits began predicting Trump’s demise. It cannot be – cannot be! – that such a candidate – such a candidate! – will become the GOP candidate for President of the United States. And yet, a naughty political reality refuses to behave the way it is told to behave by the punditry. Like France’s Marine Le Pen, like other leaders around the world, Trump is on to something – he recognizes that this is a good time for a populist, xenophobic, full-mouthed leadership. 

It is important that people of many political persuasions reject Trump’s message and tone. The Washington Post called Paul Ryan’s response to the Trump travesty “near perfect.” I thought it was perfect. What Ryan said “was elegant, simple and unequivocal. Like the best political messages, it can be easily grasped and easily repeated. And its meaning is tough to misconstrue: The notion of banning all members of one religion from the country ‘is not what this party stands for,’” Ryan said. “More importantly, it's not what this country stands for.”

It is important and reassuring that so many people reject Trump’s message, but for official Israel it is not possible to publically rebuke his words. Sure, some Knesset Members, mostly from the left, mostly not quite serious about world affairs, demanded that Netanyahu disinvite Trump.

Netanyahu, while saying he disagreed with Trump, dismissed their demand offhandedly, and he did well to dismiss it. A Prime Minister of Israel does not get to choose all of his visitors. And he does not get to educate all of his visitors. Had it been Turkey’s President Erdogan wanting to pay a visit – would these MK’s still say Netanyahu shouldn’t accept him because of his belligerent language? Of course they would not. Had it been an Arab dictator wanting to talk about peace, would these MKs still say Netanyahu shouldn’t accept him because of his belligerent actions? Of course they would not.

Trump is a troubling candidate for US President, but he is hardly the worst imaginable person a Prime Minister of Israel might have to meet. Besides, there is the future of US-Israel relations to be considered.

Trump – even if his statements are repugnant – is the leading candidate of a party on whose support Israel relies. Trump – even if his visit will be a nuisance for Israel – has voters, and these voters support Israel. Trump – as impossible as it might seem, even if the chances are miniscule as people might assume, as unimaginable as it might sound – could still be the next President of the United States.

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