My Word: On alternative facts and the Shoah

‘Alternative facts’ mark the start of the Trump era, similar to the equally baffling ‘narratives’ of Obama.

January 26, 2017 20:25
People gather in front of the US embassy in Tel Aviv in solidarity with the Women’s March in Washing

People gather in front of the US embassy in Tel Aviv in solidarity with the Women’s March in Washington and elsewhere on January 21.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Barely had I got used to Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year for 2016, post-truth, than the first contender for 2017 forced its way into our lives: alternative facts.

On January 22, President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway told NBC News that the White House had presented “alternative facts” to the ones reported by a number of news organizations regarding the size of the inauguration crowd.

“Alternative facts,” the far-from-perfect excuse, mark the start of the Trump era. This is a change in term, but not in phenomenon. Former president Barack Obama’s term was marked by the equally baffling “narratives.” In both cases, facts and history are subject to emotion.

“That wasn’t an inauguration speech. It was no different from his campaign speech,” several pro-Clinton- camp friends complained after Trump was sworn in.

I’m not sure what they expected. Trump is a reality- show star. That speech wasn’t the last of the 2016 campaign, it was the first of the next presidential showdown. I don’t expect him to stop campaigning just as I don’t expect him to suddenly become humble, shy and chivalrous.

Sitting in my corner of the global village, I was relieved that he mentioned the words “Islamic terrorism,” which, while not politically hip, is a much bigger issue than who should use which bathroom.

The night after his inauguration, while the winners were having a ball, mass rallies by women wearing pink “pussy hats” were having none of it.

Some of the placards they carried managed to be both serious and funny. In fact (can you even use that phrase anymore?), I thought that had the anti-Trump campaigners used more humor leading up to the elections, instead of increasingly impossible-to-meet restrictions of political correctness, there might be someone else now living in the White House.

Among my favorite signs: “We shall overcomb” with the instantly recognizable Trump hair; “140 character flaws,” with the Twitter logo, “If you take away my birth control, I’ll just make more feminists,” and “Girls just want to have fun-damental rights,” from the Cyndi Lauper hit that was later rehashed by Madonna.

Oy, Madonna. She’s no more of a lady than Trump is a gentleman. People marched while chanting “Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!” Madonna, on the other hand, grabbed headlines with her statement: “I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.” That’s neither democratic nor fun. It’s frightening, even if she declared: “We can’t fall into despair. As the poet W.H. Auden once wrote on the eve of World War II, ‘we must love one another or die.’ I choose love. Are you with me?” Auden, incidentally, harshly rejected his poem “September 1, 1939” as “trash,” apparently embarrassed by the naiveté of that very line with which he became so identified.

Beyond the post-truth and alternative facts, those concerned about Trump’s position should be preparing for the next presidential elections, as he is. Frankly, I was not as surprised that Trump won as I was shocked that he and Hillary Clinton ended up as the two main candidates.

Now is the time for all concerned US citizens to begin the peaceful, constructive process leading up to democratic elections in 2020.

THERE ARE hints of pre-election fever in Israel, too, even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s term technically shouldn’t end before November 2019. Politicians are reaching out, re-aligning and posturing; Netanyahu is getting ever more obsessed about the media, and – amid the mounting investigations – the media are returning the favor. I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg, but there’s a lot of clucking and alternative fact-finding going on.

But unlike Trump’s warlike talk, Netanyahu took an unusual step last week that was largely overlooked. In a short video, he returned the spotlight to Iran, speaking directly to the people: “We’ve always distinguished between the Iranian people and the Iranian regime,” Netanyahu said. “The regime is cruel, the people are not; the regime is aggressive, the people are warm. I yearn for the day when Israelis and Iranians can once again visit each other freely – in Tehran and Isfahan, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv,” he said. “The fanatics must not win, their cruelty must not conquer our compassion. Our two peoples can work together for a more peaceful and hopeful future for both of us. We must defeat terror and tyranny, and we must ensure that freedom and friendship win the day.”

Let me, a Jewish, Israeli woman, take this opportunity to send condolences from Jerusalem to the families and colleagues of the 20 Iranian firefighters killed in the disaster in Tehran last week. Netanyahu spoke of the Iranian students “hungry for change, gunned down in the streets of Tehran in 2009.” I’m among those who consider the way Obama ignored their pleas following the rigged elections to be one of his earliest serious mistakes.

As someone quipped last week, Obama’s foreign policy would have been a success had it been in reverse, starting with the war in Syria and ending with the Nobel Peace Prize.

As it was, Obama’s last acts in office include commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the army intelligence analyst convicted of a 2010 leak; directing his administration to release $221 million to the Palestinian Authority; and appointing to the Holocaust Memorial Council Ben Rhodes – the former presidential adviser who reportedly bragged about misrepresenting the Iranian nuclear deal to make it more palatable to the American public.

It is that time of year again. In 2005, the UN designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Around that date, there’s a lot of talk of “Never again” and “learning the lessons.”

They haven’t been learned. Not by the UN and not by the world. Mourning six million Jewish dead one week but demonizing Israel for the other 51 weeks is not only hypocritical, it’s deadly.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, post-nuclear deal, continues to threaten to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the earth. That is a fact however you want to present or interpret it.

The Palestinians and the Arab world threaten to unleash an unprecedented wave of terrorism should the US Embassy relocate from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the world thinks that it is normal. Business as usual.

The late Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan is quoted as saying: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

In his brilliant speech delivered as US ambassador to the UN, just after the now-infamous “Zionism is racism” motion passed on November 10, 1975, Moynihan declared: “What we have here is a lie – a political lie of a variety well known to the 20th century, and scarcely exceeded in all that annal of untruth and outrage. The lie is that Zionism is a form of racism. The overwhelmingly clear truth is that it is not.”

He described the dangers from the resolution, including the “most serious danger... Which is that the damage we now do to the idea of human rights and the language of human rights could well be irreversible.”

Even though the resolution was finally repealed in 1991, we need to face the fact of how right he was.

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