President Donald Trump, near an Israeli flag at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
A couple of weeks spent in bucolic New England provide a prescient reminder that no matter how urgent we think our life-and-death issues are here in Israel, they will still be there when you get back.
With balmy lakes rippling with kayaks and paddle boards, late-morning diner breakfasts and early-evening barbecues and s’mores, Maine is about as far away from the Middle East maelstrom as one can get and remain on planet Earth.
You hear nary a horn blaring from a testy driver or witness a loutish motorist peeing on the side of the road, both of which occurred within minutes of leaving Ben-Gurion Airport upon my return.
Israel runs on frenzy, controversy, arguments and altercations. We’re constantly on edge, whether arguing about the Nation-State Bill, condom firebombs or Sara Netanyahu. In Maine, there’s no edge, just a blissful middle.
It appears that the only issue that can jolt New Englanders out of their summer solstice is Donald Trump. The American president has provoked such a polarized response from his constituents that they’re beginning to behave like Israelis in their curt, direct and antagonistic way of addressing their feelings.
And of course, no matter who you talk to, it’s assumed that you – the visitor from Israel – are going to be in complete agreement with their views.
My first encounter with the new America took place in a local rural breakfast diner seeming patronized by summer transplants and full-time locals. Waiting for a table to open up, I struck up a conversation with a nice-looking middle-aged-to-older couple also in line. Turns out he was a former policeman in Cape Cod who now owns a private security firm in his retirement.
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“So, what do Israelis think about our president?” he asked me after learning of my residence. My mind went into one of those fast-motion dialogues within a split second as I pondered my answer. Do I honestly respond that most Israelis, like the rest of the world, think he’s somewhat off his rocker in his approach to just about everything? I don’t want to risk antagonizing an ex-cop and wind up getting stomped waiting for my eggs and home fries.
“Well,” I answer, “I think that most Israelis appreciate Trump’s policies in the Middle East, especially his moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, while realizing that he’s unpredictable and perhaps a little unstable.”
“I don’t think he’s unstable or unpredictable. I agree with him down the line, on Israel, on immigrants, the whole lot,” the cop answered, as I internally congratulated myself over not blurting out my original thoughts and keeping them moderate. “The country is on its way to becoming great again, and Israel will only benefit from that.”
Thankfully our tables were soon ready so I didn’t have to keep nodding politely in agreement.
Such awkward encounters were thankfully kept in check a few days later when a family gathering with cousins and siblings required some mediation to insure that the anti- and pro-Trump sides agreed to a temporary truce. Politics, at least of the domestic kind, was declared off limits, which left conversation somewhat stilted at times. You could just feel the tension as people held back their now-automatic tendencies to grumble about everything Trump.
The only subject that everyone could agree on was, in fact, Israel. Israeli technology helped locate the missing Thai kids lost in the cave that captured the world’s attention. Israel was giving aid to Syrian refugees fleeing the fighting and heading to the Israeli border. Divided by Trump, we bonded over Israel.
But the encounter with the ex-cop stayed with me – especially the Israel connection. The worrisome transitive equation I was picking up during my stay in America was “Israel supporter = Trump supporter” and “Trump supporter = Israel supporter.”
Of course, the reality is much more complex and nuanced than that. But the dilemma facing Israel – especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – in the Trump era is how to handle the realization that your new best friend is pretty much held in disdain by most of his countrymen and dismissed by much of the world as a threat and a menace.
Netanyahu should be constantly reminded as he cozies up to the US president at every chance that the Trump Administration too shall pass, and that strong ties need to be kept and strengthened with political leadership on all sides of the American spectrum.
One lesson learned while being away, though, is that if all these issues that fill our minds, Twitter feeds and lives day in and day out get to be too much, a great suggestion to all sides in the political battles raging in the US and in Israel is to go jump in the lake.
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