There it was, at the top of Page 2 in the August 17 Jerusalem Post: “Israel first country to get aid to Sierra Leone.” Quite admirable, being first to assist a poor country struck by deadly mudslides (and a side of Israel that too few know or care to talk about).
At the top of the front page, meanwhile, was “America in crisis,” about the maddening upheaval in the US over white supremacist scum and, even more maddening, President Donald Trump’s blasé reaction.
I don’t mean the part about bad people with violent intentions on the other side. After all, at least some of the counter- protesters who showed up to take on the white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, two weekends ago were aligned with Antifa. Short for antifascist, Antifa is a loosely organized cadre of semi-anarchists and street fighters who are perfectly happy to have neo-Nazis to kick around. After all, the confrontation is the message.
But it was Trump’s casual remark about there being “fine people” on both sides. What? Fine people among thugs screaming, “We will not be replaced by Jews”?
This is where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should have come in. All he could do – and only a couple of days later, to boot – was tweet: “Outraged by expressions of antisemitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred.”
Everyone, I suppose, except Donald Trump.
TRUMP’S MORAL equivalency – a practice Israelis decry every time it’s applied to our dispute with the Palestinians – hurled the president far beyond the pale. It unleashed a backlash even among leading members of his party, mainstream conservatives and foreign leaders. But not Netanyahu.
Bibi is too scared to upset the apple cart now that someone to his liking is in the Oval Office. Barack Obama bowed to a Saudi king and spoke of pre-1967 lines, which, we’re told, showed how much he hated us. Trump, a human garbage scow cut loose in a surging tide, loves us, the argument goes, because he has Jewish grandchildren. So the apple cart remains upright.
In a small, perverted way, I can understand the logic. It’s realpolitik at its purest: Ignore the ideologies and focus on what’s smart. It doesn’t make sense to ruin something good you’ve got going – and who knows, it just might goad the mercurial eighth-grader in the White House to call on Kim Jung-un to aim his missiles away from Guam and toward Tel Aviv. You simply can’t be sure.
But things got even weirder when Dr. Efraim Zuroff, coming from an entirely unexpected direction, stuck up for Bibi: “I think he was right not to jump in. The government doesn’t have to respond as if the fate of the Jews depends on a statement of the prime minister.”
Zuroff is the world’s top Nazi hunter. He heads up the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He does important work: He goes after the few Nazis still alive who can at least theoretically be prosecuted. He goes after leaders who could prosecute these people but don’t, others who won’t admit to their country’s sorry role in the Holocaust, and yet others who – and this is the important part – face problems with resurgent antisemitism but do little about it.
In this thrust, Zuroff indeed had unkind words for the American president.
“I’m very perturbed by the fact that Trump didn’t immediately identify the culprits [in Charlottesville]. I am very perturbed that he created a false equivalency,” he told the Times of Israel
in an interview.
But he refused to criticize Netanyahu.
“On a certain level, it’s insulting to the host country if Israel has to [speak out] on every event of this sort…. I would say that the most important responses by the Israeli government to such cases are where there is a physical danger to Jews on a large scale, where it’s clear that the local government is incapable or unwilling to deal with it,” he said.
“There’s no danger to American Jewry,” he went on. “An individual Jew may be harmed by a neo-Nazi, but certainly these people don’t pose a threat to the Jewish community as a whole. There’s no danger of them overthrowing the government or anything of this sort, and the US government has the willingness and the ability to deal with instances like this.”
TRULY REASSURING. It’s not as if there’s a lack of critical words to go around, as if Zuroff has to clinically prioritize his condemnations. He should at the very least have scolded the prime minister, even delicately and with great respect, or just tell his interviewer he’d rather not comment on something outside his immediate area of expertise.
What next? Go easy on European leaders who tolerate neo-Nazis because, well, you know, there’s no danger to what remains of the country’s Jewish community – if any Jews are left at all – although there’s danger only to individual Jews? Will it be “insulting to the host country” if someone has to speak out “on every event of this sort”?
To my mind, the leaders of many European states with a dark past or a darkening present are far more savvy and accountable than that self-absorbed lunatic now occupying the White House. Zuroff’s voice might not have much weight there, but Netanyahu’s has lots. And as a man who has boasted numerous times that he’s the prime minister of all Jews, you’d think he’d at least know to follow up in this vein.
But no. No aid or succor for the many Jews of America who were outraged and even frightened by the sights and sounds of Charlottesville, and perhaps even more by a president who simply doesn’t seem to care. There were, after all, no mudslides. Just mud.
Bad call, Dr. Zuroff. Even worse than Netanyahu’s. He’s a politician. You, with Simon Wiesenthal and Elie Wiesel having gone to their graves, are perhaps the last person on Earth with the moral weight to call a spade a spade, politics and diplomacy be damned.
In this instance, damn them.