According to an old joke that never wears out its welcome, the theme of all Jewish holidays is: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”
On Passover, this humorous description is fine-tuned to include a quip about how the Israelites have been freed from Egyptian bondage only to become enslaved in the kitchen, after spending weeks obsessively scrubbing the house to rid it of any vestige of a breadcrumb or other leavened item.
There is, of course, a serious purpose to Passover and other Jewish holidays: to express gratitude to God for rescuing us – his “Chosen People” – from annihilation at the hands of our endless enemies.
Some of the cynics among us, and there are many, tend to throw in a few digs at the dinner table about how we wouldn’t need so much saving at the last minute if divine intervention had kept us from needing it in the first place. This complaint is best expressed in the common Jewish wisecrack – uttered while looking heavenward – “Hey, could you choose somebody else for a change?”
Comedy aside, it is completely understandable for Jews to feel war-weary, particularly as a people who prefers the pen to the sword. But, being as stupid as we are smart, our response to this form of malaise is to turn our pens on one another and fear the world’s wrath whenever forced to use our swords. No wonder God gets so exasperated.
Luckily, such frustration has not been exhibited by the administration in Washington. Indeed, since assuming office in January 2017 – after being rejected and ridiculed by a majority of Jewish voters – US President Donald Trump proceeded to implement one stunningly pro-Israel policy after another.
This was especially surprising, considering the claim on the part of his detractors that he was actually an isolationist. The slogan “Make America Great Again,” his opponents said, was code for “Keep America out of the World’s Business.”
Equally amazing was his immediate grasp that guaranteeing Israel’s security and well-being is consistent with and a boon to American interests. His predecessor, Barack Obama, certainly didn’t see it that way. Unless maybe he did, in some convoluted fashion. After all, his hostility to Israel stemmed from the same poisonous root as his dim view of the United States. Not that US Jews seemed to notice. Or care.
Which brings us to another joke, this one Israeli, which circulated widely in 2012: “If Obama personally nuked Tel Aviv before the election, the Jewish vote in America would go down to 70%.”
What was not amusing in the least, however, was Obama’s second victory. His abominable treatment of both America and Israel was even worse.
It was thus that conservative Jews (in the political, not religious, sense) cast their ballots for Trump, the “anybody but a Democrat” candidate. One thing that was obvious to these apparently unlikely backers of someone like him was that whatever else the New York real estate mogul-turned-reality TV star turned out to be, it couldn’t be worse for America and Israel than Hillary Clinton and her party of progressives.
Still, it was a gamble. For better or worse, Trump had never been in politics. Opting for a novice to become the leader of the Free World felt a bit risky.
On the other hand, early in his first term, Obama actually told a group of Jewish leaders, “When there is no daylight [between the US and Israel], Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arabs.”
He also boasted about “leading from behind,” and announced that the United States was no different from other countries; certainly not superior to them.
At least Trump was vowing to reverse course. He pledged to wrest America from the throes of policies that were turning it into a global laughing stock, and promised to have Israel’s back.
So, in spite of his assertion that he could succeed at brokering a deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority where all previous US administrations had failed, right-wing Jews voted for him anyway.
It should be noted that this is not why he won the election. Jews may loom large in the eyes of antisemites, but we are a tiny minority everywhere other than in Israel. And even in the Jewish state, we number only a few million.
Clearly, none of this mattered to Trump. He had an agenda and ran with it, naysayers be damned. Or blessed, as Israel would turn out to be with him in the White House.
In December 2017, less than a year into his presidency, Trump announced that his administration was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. His UN ambassador at the time, Nikki Haley, then vetoed a Security Council resolution denouncing the move and calling for the recognition to be rescinded.
On May 8, 2018, Trump canceled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 nuclear deal with the Iranian regime that never stopped enriching uranium or spinning centrifuges, while testing long-range ballistic missiles and threatening to wipe Israel off the map.
A week later, on May 15, the US Embassy in Jerusalem was officially opened. The same day, the US blocked a UN Security Council statement calling for an independent investigation into the deaths of Palestinians along the Israel-Gaza border, caused during violent weekly protests spurred and funded by Hamas. This is because the Trump administration rightly accepted Israel’s version of events, which was that the killings had been committed in self-defense.
On June 1, the US vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for “international protection” for Palestinian civilians. The Trump administration clearly understood that the only Palestinian “civilians” in danger are those attacking Israelis with knives, Molotov cocktails, rocks and rockets.
On August 31, the Trump administration confirmed that it would cease funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) over its anti-Israel activities and perpetuation of a false refugee problem.
On September 10, the Trump administration closed the Palestine Liberation Organization mission in Washington and subsequently revoked the visas of the PLO envoy and his family members, forcing them to leave the US.
On September 17, the Trump administration cut $10 million of funding for bogus “conflict resolution” programs aimed at bringing about reconciliation between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, and for Jews and Arabs in Israel.
Last month, in mid-March, in its annual global human rights report, the US State Department replaced the word “occupied” with “Israeli-controlled” in its reference to the Golan Heights. The significance of this change in language became apparent on March 25, when Trump signed a presidential proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the territory. This week, the US administration published an official map reflecting the new reality.
Whether something similar is in the works for Judea and Samaria remains to be seen, but in the same State Department report, the word “occupied” was also removed from references to the West Bank. Nor did the Trump administration express disapproval with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for promising, during his reelection campaign, to extend Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in that area.
Meanwhile, last week, Trump designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization.
At the Passover Seder this evening, Jews around the world will be singing “Dayenu,” each verse of which recalls an additional act of God’s kindness to the Children of Israel during the Exodus from Egypt. The point is not simply to thank him for these acts, but to acknowledge that every one of them – in and of itself – is so great that it would have sufficed.
It would be both blasphemous and ridiculous to compare Trump’s behavior to God’s. Still, many Israelis have been drawing a bemused Dayenu parallel in relation to the US president’s policies toward the Jewish state.
How could we not?
This is not to say that no cynics lurk among the pro-Trump Israelis. You know, the ones who cannot stop worrying about the contents of his “deal of the century.” These people suspect that the many and varied carrots Trump has provided the Jewish state thus far are probably a precursor to a very large stick.
Waiting for the other shoe to fall is a Jewish affliction, but in this case it is unwarranted, regardless of the details of the peace plan. Nothing that the Trump administration has done to date suggests that Israel will be blamed for the Palestinian intransigence that is certain to continue.
We’re winning. Let’s eat.
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