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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Trump’s Jerusalem decision

Cartoon by Dave Granlund / politicalcartoons.com
Until recently, most liberals were convinced that the US President Donald Trump was a bumbling idiot who got lucky. However, these days, in face of mounting contrary evidence, most of us are veering away from that grossly inaccurate generalisation, and have begun to realise that Trump may actually be an evil genius.

His calculated decision to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem in 2018 is a sterling example of the savvy politician that Trump has transformed into during the 12 months that he’s been the President.

Although it’s being made to seem like Trump has revolutionized the US foreign policy, the fact is that by taking the Jerusalem decision, he has only completed an endeavour that began two decades ago when Bill Clinton was the President and one that has been sanctified by the United States of America’s Congress.  The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 legislates that the United States should move its embassy to Jerusalem no later than “May 31, 1999.”

Since it became law on November 8, 1995, the implementation of the Jerusalem Embassy Act has been postponed by a Presidential waiver every six months. Trump signed the waiver up to June 2018 and then informed the Palestine Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas that he’d be moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem thereafter.

Trump’s critics argue that the decision will alter the course of the “Mideast peace process” (which over the last six decades has proved to be chimerical). Moreover, it’ll also effectively scuttle any possibility of the Palestinians ever getting the legitimacy that they desire and deserve.

However, that reasoning doesn’t take cognisance of the traditionally strong relations that the United States and Israel have enjoyed (except during the previous Obama Administration, when Obama and Netanyahu couldn’t stand each other).

The strong bond between the two countries is even reflected in the text of the Jerusalem Embassy Act 1995 when it states at one point that, “In 1996, the State of Israel will celebrate the 3,000th anniversary of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem since King David’s entry.” 

It also justifies the move by logically stating, “The United States maintains its embassy in the functioning capital of every country except in the case of our democratic friend and strategic ally, the State of Israel.”

In his seminal book Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith – Religion in American War and Diplomacy, Andrew Preston explains the rise of Jewish influence on American domestic and foreign policy. He lists the following three factors that led to the pre-eminence of Jews in the USA.
  • Emergence of Holocaust as a significant cultural and political force in American life
  • Surprise Israeli victories in the 1969 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War
  • The rise of multiculturalism enabled Jewish pride to flourish in a domestic climate that was receptive to ethnic assertions of a unique and not originally “American” identity

Preston observes that although the Jews had never exactly ignored or forgotten the Holocaust, neither had they dwelt on it. But that sort of projected indifference changed drastically when in 1960 Israel captured Adolf Eichmann in Argentina. He was tried, convicted and executed in 1961.

Hannah Arendt, a political philosopher and theorist of totalitarianism, and herself a Jew, attended the trial and published her observations in a hugely controversial book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Preston observes, “The trial, followed by Arendt’s book, reintroduced the Holocaust to a people who had thus far discussed it only privately, in hushed tones.”

Subsequently, in 1967, over the course of six days in June 1967, Israel and its Arab neighbours fought a war for supremacy in the Middle East. Tensions were mounting between Egypt and Israel, and it was feared that Egypt with its allies Syria, Jordan and Iraq would attack Israel. In a preemptive move, Israel launched an attack on Egypt and in six days the Arab coalition sued for peace.

Preston observes, “For the Arabs, the war was an unmitigated disaster that resulted in Israel’s capture of Jerusalem and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza…for American Jews, the impact was momentous.” Rabi Marc H. Tanenbaum observed that the impact of the six-day war was a “collective metanoia or spiritual conversion.”

Finally, the rise of multiculturalism enabled Jewish pride to flourish in a domestic climate that was receptive to ethnic assertions of a unique and not originally “American” identity. Before, the immigrant experience was based on the melting pot and its assumptions of assimilation.

However, the emergence of a powerful rights consciousness among minorities in the 1960s pushed forward by the civil rights and Black Power movements and the removal of immigration quotas, challenged the legitimacy of the melting pot.

Further, the Jewish American identification with Israel deepened with the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on two separate fronts only to wind up with the same result: an Israel victory.

These factors resulted in the rise of Orthodoxy. Preston emphasizes, “Jewish self-confidence and mainstream acceptance bolstered the already considerable political influence of American Jews. Though Jewish support for Israel had already played a large role in domestic politics, it had not yet coalesced into one of the most effective lobbies in Washington. The Six Day War changed that almost overnight. Donations to the American Israel Political Action Committee and other pro-Israel groups soared.”

Tracing this rapid evolution, Preston says, “Though they remained loyal Democrats, on policy toward the Middle East and the Soviet Union, Jews often found common cause with the Republican Party. With an appeal in both parties, and with their population scattered throughout the country but centered in key states – Florida, New York and California in particular – Jews were able to influence the domestic debate on Middle East policy, sometimes (but not always) decisively. Their opinions certainly could not be ignored, no matter which party was in the White House. From a loose collective of various Zionist organisations, the Israel Lobby was born.”

Preston says by the mid-1970s, the Judeo-Christian ethic and the civil rights movements had made prejudice against Jews – and by extension, Israel – unacceptable, even un-American.

In the last four decades, Israel’s relations with the US have only grown stronger. Moreover, there is a growing disenchantment (notwithstanding the UN vote against Trump’s decision in mid-December) with the infructuous peace process in the Middle East.  Trump has played his cards well.

Following the refugee crisis after Syria’s implosion and the rise of ISIS, the entire western world is experiencing a palpable collective fatigue. There is little to no resistance to the rise of conservatism that is trying (and succeeding) to turn bigotry into a public policy.

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