Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu

Photo Credit:  Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

About Those Benjamins

Donald Trump’s daft assertion—“Democrats hate Jews”—reflects an Israel policy that not only fans smoldering anti-Semitism across the world but also threatens the very survival of a hard-won Jewish homeland in a region armed for Armageddon.

“Democrats have become an anti-Israel party,” Sarah Sanders told reporters recently. Then, sticking by that absurdity under harsh questioning, she added: “They’ve become an anti-Jewish party.”

Judaism is a faith and a heritage. Zionism is politics. They can overlap, or not. No one speaks for an ancient religion defined by perpetual argument. And if Jews did have a pope, he or she would hardly be Bibi Netanyahu, much less Sheldon Adelson, Trump’s Israel-First funder.

Since 1967, I have reported off and on from Israel, nearly every Muslim country, and European slums where Islamist zealots whip up hatreds. Today, I watch as Trump’s embrace of hard-core Zionists feeds growing hostility that risks conflict no one’s God can stop.

Tom Friedman had it right in a New York Times column on March 25 positing an existential danger from Congress and the formidable lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee: “It’s the threat that America will love Israel to death.”

If a two-state option remains open, negotiation is possible. “But once that’s gone,” he wrote, “all hell will break loose in the Jewish world. . . . It would rip apart every synagogue, Jewish Federation and Jewish institution in America.”
That’s just in the United States. Imagine the impact across the Middle East, beginning with the West Bank and Gaza, with no Palestinian Authority to balance extremists.

Trump’s casual recognition last month of Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights opened wounds festering since 1967. This comes at a time when Syria, now fortified by a belligerent Russia, is determined to reassert its role in the region.

Iran, reviled by Washington, spent $14.5 billion on weaponry in 2017, nearly as much as Israel. Despite sanctions, it arms anti-Israel militias with sophisticated weaponry. The Islamic State lost its caliphate, but it is as dangerous as ever, with shadowy cells from Africa to the Philippines.

Across Europe, perceived injustice to Palestinians provokes indiscriminate attacks against Jews, including those who want an equitable peace with an end to illegal settlements.

In Washington, lunacy erupted after the Republican House minority leader dug up 2012 tweets from Ilhan Omar, now a Minnesota congresswoman. She called Israeli overkill in Gaza “evil” and blamed U.S. support on Aipac lobbyists’ funding for paid politicians.

In fact, plenty of Israelis and American Jews agree with her views. But her offending tweet earlier this year—“It’s all about the Benjamins, baby”—turned a reference to $100 bills into what sounded like an especially nasty slur in the politically charged circumstances.

Omar apologized, saying Jewish allies and colleagues had educated her “on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.” But she was criticized again two weeks later for telling an audience that some politicians were wrong in expressing allegiance to a foreign country.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), whose unapologetic father set the Middle East ablaze on spurious evidence, said Democrats enabled anti-Semitism by not repudiating Omar. The House passed a compromise “Kumbaya” resolution against all hate speech, as if that might stop anyone’s bigotry.

And then TV host Jeanine Pirro weighed in with her usual clownish invective. It was so extreme that Fox News put her temporarily on ice despite Trump’s public defense of her. But she’s back again with hate-laced diatribes that harden divides in a polarized America prone to shallow thinking.

I happened on Pirro’s Fox News raving in 2015 after a terrorist attack in France. “We need to kill them,” she began. “We need to kill them, the radical Muslim terrorists hell-bent on killing us. You’re in danger. I’m in danger. We’re at war, and this is not going to stop.”

Such sweeping Islamophobia translates to carte blanche for hard-line Israelis who intensify colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Netanyahu countered corruption charges at home with a grand trip to Washington, where he gushed over Trump’s Golan Heights recognition.

A closer look at Ilhan Omar, a naturalized Somali who escaped brutal war in the early 1990s as a kid and found refuge in America, explains global realities too often missed when seen at a distance in simplified generalities.

Omar kept her hijab but developed a sense of humor, excelling at school despite taunts and attacks by classmates. In Minnesota, she sailed through the state legislature and was elected to Congress at age 36 with a large Jewish constituency.

“You know, I have PTSD around, like, guns and ammunition and bombs,” she told Benjamin Wallace-Wells, in a piece published on March 27 in The New Yorker. “I have vivid memories of the bodily reactions that you have as you contemplate whether you get under the bed, and if that will keep you safe or if that’s going to crush you, and maybe you should just stand by a wall. I see conflict that has violence, and I think deeply about what the little children are going through.”

Omar exemplifies what America now badly needs: freshly minted patriots who want their adopted nation to do the right thing—and know what the right thing isn’t. They know the complex answers to that hoary question: Why do they hate us?

Most Jews support the idea of Israel, but a hefty percentage want it to function as designed—a democratically run state that respects international law and shares territory according to negotiated boundaries. Zionists want it all, as a biblical right.

Many Arab Israelis prefer being second-class citizens in Israel to living in Palestine, where conflict and neglect by Arab nations have crippled education, health care, and employment. Many Palestinians blame their plight on Israeli settlements and border controls.

Golan is a tough one. After the disruptions of World War II, U.N. accords forbade countries from seizing territory by invasion. That’s why coalition forces liberated Kuwait. But Israel was attacked in 1967. It pushed back and then kept the Heights to protect rich farmland below.

U.N. Security Council resolution 242 calls on Israel to withdraw from occupied territory, but that is contingent on a negotiated settlement that secures peace on Israel’s borders. After a half-century of failed efforts, smoldering tensions risk conflagration.

Now, rather than seeking a durable accord based on quid pro quo, Trump propped up Netanyahu with the gift of Golan. That ensured the flow of Benjamins to Republicans from American Zionists. And it stoked hatreds across the unholy land.

This is dangerous beyond description. In the past, with few exceptions, Muslims saw Jews, like Christians, as people of the same book with shared origins. I, for one, am now acutely aware of my name and nose in places where I once loved to travel.

Back in 1981, I drove from Damascus to the Syrian side of the Golan Heights with a military minder, and we looked down over Israeli settlements below. “Rosenblum?” he asked. “Is that a German name?”

“You know perfectly well what kind of name it is,” I replied, “and you know the difference between Jewish and Zionist.” He laughed. I wouldn’t try that today.

Mort Rosenblum has reported as an Associated Press special correspondent, edited the International Herald Tribune in Paris, and written 14 books. He now runs MortReport.org.

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