Since Donald Trump’s ascendance onto the national political stage, I’ve occasionally sworn off following the news. Last week, though, I couldn’t help but watch — and watch with utter dismay — an event which was the perfect storm of boorish ignorance buttressed by misplaced self confidence. I cringed for a variety of reasons with which I will now assault you. But first a bit of disclosure.
One of my many conceits is that I consider myself well-read on some subjects. One is the history of the State of Israel from the very beginnings of Zionism in the 19th century to the present. I have read a dozen or so books on the subject and am presently reading a new biography of Golda Meir called Lioness. One thing you learn when studying this history is that there are no easy remedies for the issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians. It is impossible for me, as neither a Jew nor a Palestinian, to come down firmly on one side or the other. I find the plight of the Palestinians tragic. Yet I believe Israel’s desire to survive as a nation is justified. There simply are no easy answers, and demagogues on both sides exploit the enmity dividing two peoples.
So along comes the 2016 election victory of Trump. He begins by averring that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will have a Middle East peace settlement as one of his 10 or so jobs. But he goes further, saying that the task won’t be that hard. He exudes the confidence of the clueless. After more than a year of no progress (surprise!), Trump dusts off a campaign promise — moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — and puts the wheels in motion to make it happen. It’s a great gift to his white evangelical base. For some unfathomable religious reason, they put the embassy move right up there with being pro-life and opposing same sex marriage as keys to their support. In my study of the Bible, I must have missed the part where Jesus weighs in on locating embassies.
However, moving the embassy wasn’t really what set me off; I had expected Trump to do it despite the fact that most of our allies felt it would dim chances of a peace settlement. Rather, what sent me into a whirlwind of disgust was the inauguration ceremony for the new embassy on May 14.
And now it is time for me to assault you with my reasons, as promised.
- As the whole world knows, the lavish inauguration of the embassy shared a television screen with pictures from Israel’s border with Gaza, where demonstrators were clashing with Israeli soldiers. Sixty demonstrators were killed and 1,700 hospitalized with injuries. Juxtaposed before the entire world are two images: On one hand are formally dressed representatives of the Trump cabinet and clan sipping wine and congratulating each other. On the other, young Palestinians are being killed or wounded by the hundreds. But why was this juxtaposition necessary? The protests by Hamas along the border had been advertised for months. Hamas promised to do this. No one should have been surprised. The day was the 70th anniversary of what the Palestinians call the nakba (the catastrophe). That is when the State of Israel was established and the Palestinians had to flee into exile. If Israel wanted to make a big to-do over their 70th anniversary, it’s their business. But for the US government to schedule a party celebrating the embassy opening to coincide with a massive show of Palestinian outrage is contemptible. It’s the equivalent of spitting in the face of millions of Palestinians either intentionally or out of pure stupidity. Take your choice. It was boorish, tawdry, and showed an appalling lack of sensitivity.
- Having decided to proceed with an insensitive and demeaning ceremony, one would hope that at least it would be minimalist. Cut a ribbon and go home. But not our Trumpsters! Jared Kushner, our brilliant Middle East expert, was compelled to lionize guess who? His father in law, of course. “When Donald Trump makes a promise, he keeps it,” Kushner said. He went on to say other things — all predictable — concerning the wisdom of moving the embassy and the open path to peace. But the credit went to one man — our courageous champion of the truth. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the occasion sound as important as the founding of Israel and, not to be outdone by Kushner, thanked his friend Trump. If the planners of the ceremony had set about to further enrage the Palestinians, they could not have done a better job of it.
- Finally, to the truly most disgusting part of the ceremony. Two “Christian” pastors who are avid Trump supporters gave prayers. First, John Hagee prayed: “We thank you, O Lord, for President Donald Trump’s courage in acknowledging to the world a truth that was established 3,000 years ago — that Jerusalem is and always shall be the eternal capital of the Jewish people.” Next came a prayer by Robert Jeffress: “We want to thank you for the tremendous leadership of our great president, Donald J. Trump. Without President Trump’s determination, resolve and courage we would not be here today.” Those prayers would be nauseating enough even if they had come from two sincere pastors. But these two have clouded pasts. John Hagee’s endorsement of John McCain in 2008 was rejected by McCain because of remarks Hagee had made, attributing the Holocaust to some sort of divine plan as predicted by Jeremiah. (Google John Hagee.) Jeffress is best known for his description of Islam and Mormonism as “heresies from the pit of hell.” (Google him, too.) If Donald Trump were in league with the devil himself to rid the world of Christianity, he could do no better than to put these two men on the world stage as representatives of that faith. It made me ill.