Donald Trump and his Israeli friend

It‘s not easy writing about the American President.   Intellectual honesty requires the admission that there are some plusses among many minuses, or at least some aspects of his behavior that might merit praise, depending on one‘s perspective.   An Israeli view is that he‘s better than in a view focusing on what‘s he‘s done and tweeted about the US and its connections with other parts of the world.   His recognition of Jerusalem as Israel‘s capital and his criticism of Palestinians compares well with the actions of his predecessors. However, the continued refusal of the State Department to write "Jerusalem, Israel" on official documents lessens our applause. And his appointment of three Orthodox Jews–with his Ambassador among them an outspoken Jewish nationalist–as key figures in dealing with Israel and Palestine does not ring well for those with some hope for an agreement.   What we hear from the Palestinians is a loud refusal to meet with Kushner, Greeblatt, or Friedman.   Imagine the Israeli response if Trump‘s envoys were non-Jews and Professors of Middle Eastern politics, whose lectures and political activism were typical of that academic cluster, and tilted against Israel.   Trump‘s withdrawal from the flawed agreement with Iran and renewal of sanctions due to that country‘s support of terror and development of missiles ranks with the plusses. However, his hyped visit with the cruel and unreliable dictator of North Korea, and his claim of good feelings about the future has been a lot less professional than what Obama achieved with the Iranians.   For supporters, Trump‘s bombast may be unpleasant, but reflects what he learned about negotiations outside the niceties of politics. There‘s also an American constituency that has not yet come to peace with the New Deal, and sees individual freedom and the removal of government regulation as the height of civilization.    Less important for them is government assurance of decent health care as one of the rights that a modern government provides along with police protection and a stable economy. And many in the same camp applaud the freedom granted to coal mining and the ridicule of environmental protection.   Responsibility for low unemployment and a positive stockmarket are among the claims of those endorsing Trump‘s moves on taxation and deregulation. Whether they are the responsibility of Trump or more complex systemic economic processes is something for the experts to ponder, most likely without agreement.   More worrying are those who see trouble from debt and inflation, and those pondering who will suffer and who might gain by increased tariffs, and the responses of  Americas‘s trading partners.   Currently Trump is the darling of commentators and cartoonists who earn their living by writing about what happened yesterday. More of what they contribute scores as criticism or ridicule than praise. Further along, he‘ll assure employment and promotion opportunities to academic historians and those across the spectrum of the social scientists who will write about what he‘s done and avoided, and how his tweets and formal decisions might be responsible for subsequent developments in the US and elsewhere..    Where he‘ll rank among other Presidents is anybody‘s guess, and likely to depend on the politics of those doing the rankings.    A casual look backwards suggests that–from the onset of the 20th century–it‘s only Warren Harding who may compete with him at the bottom. We can quarrel as to which has been more superficial and unbelievable on the stump, and whether Warren‘s fame as a womanizer was anything like Trump‘s list of those scuzzy or respectable making allegations.   Among the stories about Warren is that of killing by wife due to infidelity. So far, Melanie has not gone beyond her boycotts of high profile presidential appearances, and a jacket that has raised questions.   For those of us who avoid hourly inputs from American media, it‘s appropriate to admit confusion about detailed allegation of what Trump and/or close associates did with respect to Russia and the presidential campaign, or various dealings linked to Trump‘s investments.   Remember the story about the White House Chief of Staff, referring to Trump as a moron. It fits what seems to be his free flights from professional advice and policy declarations by personal feelings and impressions.   It‘s common for Israelis to compare him with Benjamin Netanyahu.   Bibi and his friends (and many others at various points in the Israeli spectrum) praise Trump for his moves on Jerusalem and his actions with respect to Obama‘s agreement with Iran.    There‘s also been a nutty and unnecessary Bibitweet praise of Trump‘s intention to build a wall against Mexican migrants. It‘s nutty insofar as a comparison with Israel‘s barriers against Palestinian violence is out of place with respect to Mexicans (and Central Americans) fleeing chaos and seeking economic opportunities. The comparison has–as should be expected–caused a problem for Israel with Mexico. And it may have been authored by Bibi‘s problematic son Yair, and put on the Internet despite the opposition of diplomatic advisers.   Bibi‘s Israeli critics parallel Trump‘s American critics in their locations on the center and left sides of each country‘s political spectrum. Yet all comparisons seem to stumble over the two men‘‘s marked differences in their capacity to speak and their knowledge about what they say and do.    Bibi‘s been close to the top of Israeli politics and government since serving as Ambassador to the United Nations in the 1980s, and before that had an impressive career in the IDF. He has managed a well informed if not always lauded run with American, European, Russian, and Arab counterparts.   On the other hand, there isn‘t too much that can be put on the positive side of the ledger with respect to Bibi‘s wife and older son. Except, perhaps, for the old man‘s capacity to compartmentalize and to function reasonably well on public matters despite the chaos at home. . Perhaps Trump‘s biggest flub to date has been the separation of children from parents at the border. The pictures and commentary went viral, and brought tears from broadcasters and from Melania. The President caved, and signed an order backing off from what he had defended. We‘ll see how many kids can be re-attached to their parents by the administrative cadre that had separated them.   He‘s continued an assault on Mexican and Central American migrants, claiming their responsibility for a substantial slice of American crime and violence.    Skeptics wonder how the relevant figures compare to the violence and crime attributed to native born Americans, and why Trump sides with those who see the freedom  to acquire firearms as part of the solution rather than the essence of the problem.   Israelis are comparing Trump‘s crudeness with respect to kids with Bibi‘s care–so far–to avoid attacking the kids used by Hamas to send kites and balloons with attached fire bombs or explosives.   However Bibi, his wife and son end up with respect to Israeli police, prosecutors, and judges, they–along with the Trumps–will occupy those who write about such things long after I‘m able to read their material.   Some will comment about Trump, Bibi, and other Netanyahus as models of personal morality or immorality, and how they have reflected and/or influenced the norms of their countries..   Judgement is bound to be mixed and controversial.   Comments welcome   — 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

 
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