Center Field: Electoral hangover: Backlash imperils Zionism

By
November 15, 2016 20:13

America will not heal, will not thrive, without a sweeping, soaring national vision. Israel cannot progress without a vital, inspiring national vision.

4 minute read.



Trump Israel

A man rides past a pro-Trump sign in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The ugly American election is now producing an ugly American electoral hangover. As America’s nervous breakdown continues, as American Jewry mimics the polarization (if not the proportions), Israelis should tread warily. The Israeli Right’s initial euphoria over Donald Trump’s victory lacked grace and good judgment.

If nothing else, a divided America, Israel’s best friend, creates instability in the Middle East too. Moreover, the hatred against Trump can easily turn against Israel and Zionism too.

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The hypocrisy on the Right and Left is appalling. Before Election Day, when they practically crowned Hillary Clinton, especially thanks to their Electoral College “lock,” Democrats preached about the need for losers to act gracefully, about the fear of Trumpista violence, about the importance of respecting the electoral result – even if the Electoral College winner lost the popular vote. Clintonites blasted Trump’s reprehensible “rigged elections” remark for undermining American democracy.

Then Clinton lost by 74 electoral votes – having attracted six million fewer voters than Obama did in 2008.

The Democratic gooniverse – the alt-Left? – went crazy, rioting in Portland and Oakland. Signs spread calling Trump the “Orange Hitler” and a Nazi. In fairness, Clinton and President Barack Obama spoke graciously, most protests were peaceful, and some Clinton voters tried undoing the hooligans’ graffiti in Portland. But the crimes and insults assailed the democratic legitimacy Democrats had spent weeks claiming they cherished when anticipating Republican assaults.

The Jewish reaction was equally embarrassing. Friday’s Ha’aretz reported “US Synagogues Invite Grieving Jews to Sit Shiva Together After Trump Victory.” The same edition had this column headline: “When a Racist is In Power, the Cossacks are Never Far Behind.” Another called Trump’s win “The Greatest Victory for anti-Semitism in America Since 1941,” illustrated with a photo of a vandalized Jewish store from Kristallnacht.

Whatever happened to proportionality, to the Zionist attempt to stop being scared “galus yids,” and to the sanctity with which we approach the Holocaust and avoid cheap analogizing? At the same time, despite his gracious victory speech and warm meeting with Obama, Trump missed an important leadership opportunity. His silence amid reports of sporadic violence by right-wing hooligans is as contemptible as his enemies’ hypocrisy. Moreover, veering not just Right but alt-Right by appointing Stephen Bannon suggests that Trump is not going to follow Ronald Reagan’s example and shift to the Center. As a result, the traditional transition peace will be replaced by continuing post-campaign combat and controversy.

Amid such fury, Israeli politicians celebrating Obama’s pending retirement and the silencing of the Clintonite peace processors will further polarize an American Jewish community that gave 70 percent of its votes to Clinton.

Calls to expand settlements and bury the two-state solution will alienate most American Jews, most Democrats, and possibly the president-elect – who may want to impose a two-state deal to burnish his credentials as the great dealmaker he purports to be.

Even if Trump is as pro-settler and pro-Netanyahu as the Right dreams, Israel should proceed cautiously, wary of two other dangers. Trump remains radioactive to many of the 62 million Clinton voters. If he embraces Israel too ardently, treating it as his rather than a bipartisan asset, his hug will prove even more toxic than George W. Bush’s was. It will intensify the “neo-conning” of Israel, treating support for Israel as a rightwing project rather than an all-American project that gives a divided America the gift of having an important issue which unites both parties. (Looking Left, the push for Keith Ellison to chair the Democratic National Committee, boosting another Barack Obama-Bernie Sanders-type Israel skeptic, suggests what many Democrats think about the bipartisan approach).

Most disturbing is that Trump’s campaign, like the Brexit movement, risks making nationalism itself the property of the Right. Even though Clinton is a patriot and waved red, white and blue flags all over the country, no one called her a nationalist. In the modern media vocabulary, nationalism is now linked to words like authoritarian, bigot, racist, xenophobe, deplorables and white supremacist.

That barrage leaves Zionism, meaning Jewish nationalism, in most unpleasant company. Rather than seeing nationalism as a tool that can go Left or Right, rather than appreciating the power of nationalism to harness collective power and ennoble liberal democracies, the university universal sensibility is invading, certainly in Blue America – where most Jews live.

The disdain Trump earned with his boorishness on the campaign trail but that has yet to dissipate in a post-election apologetic cleansing risks becoming contagious, making all of us who are proud nationalists look like Neanderthals. That distortion puts even greater pressure on us as Zionists to keep our tent big, broad and welcoming, from Left to Right, to make Zionism the very modern model of a model modern nationalism.

America will not heal, will not thrive, without a sweeping, soaring national vision. Israel cannot progress without a vital, inspiring national vision. We Zionists should play an inside-outside game. We should celebrate our nationalism not to please others but to teach others. So first, we must satisfy ourselves that we are fulfilling our highest ethical standards and expressing our democratic national values constructively. Then we can try fixing the world, including Trump’s America, which desperately needs a model of constructive, non-bigoted, non-polarizing, non-demonizing liberal democratic nationalism, i.e. the Zionist Rx for what ails America.

The author is professor of history at McGill University, is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, published by St. Martin’s Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy.


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