Grumpy old man: You’re judged by the friends you keep
Why do we always have to be in the news alongside dictators, despots and White House wackos?
By LAWRENCE RIFKIN
At the end of December, shortly after 128 of the UN’s 193 member states deemed US President Donald Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem a poor idea, someone in the city came up with another idea: Let’s choose 50 countries and give each a million bucks in the hope that they’ll become more supportive of Israel!For 60 years, Israel has been providing foreign aid to developing nations. Most of this aid comes in the form of expertise in areas ranging from agriculture and medicine to leadership development and women’s empowerment, the goal being replicability and sustainability to enhance national progress.Some of the people who have taken part in Israeli training programs have gone home and reached high positions of leadership, including cabinet ministers and even a president – Honduras’s Juan Orlando Hernández.Honduras, for those keeping score, sided with Trump at the UN – although other countries benefiting from Israeli aid gave him (and, by extension, Jerusalem) a thumbs-down, proving the old Lennon-McCartney adage that money (or expertise) can’t buy you love.BACK IN the 1970s and 1980s, when, aside from the US, no one (I repeat: no one) wanted much to do with Israel, we were forced to go looking for friends anywhere we could find them, even if it meant cruising some of the iffiest of neighborhoods.We ended up in relationships with juntas and dictators, whose “love” we bought primarily by selling them military surplus or new weapons that our arms industries needed to export to stay afloat. It was a time of a lot of shoulder- shrugging because, hey, no sane person really wants to climb into bed with an unsavory character, but you do what you’ve got to do.Despite all the hand-wringing we’ve done since, Trump is beginning to make some of those unsavory characters look a bit more normative, and I think it’s fair to declare that had some other US president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – which it is, make no mistake – the UN vote would not have been so lopsided.AdvertisementI’m not saying that another US president would have done so prior to a peace deal with the Palestinians. Yet did Trump really have to drag us into his world of nastiness, narcissism and lunacy? Don’t we have enough troubles? Can’t we just be left alone with Hamas and Hezbollah and Iran? Couldn’t he have just shut up?I mean, here’s a guy who, for the entire month spanning his declaration on Jerusalem and the UN vote against it, made hellfire headlines for his Russia problems, his endorsement of an accused pedophile for Senate, and an ugly boast to wealthy guests at his Florida resort that his socially skewed tax legislation had just made them “a lot richer.”Then there were his otherworldly tweets. The best ranged from having a bigger nuclear “button” than Kim Jong-un to, most recently: “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.... I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star... to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius... and a very stable genius at that!”Woven prominently throughout all this “stability” came the headlines about Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the lopsided UN vote against his declaration, and all the fallout between them, and you’ve got Israel and the city that is holiest to the Jewish people – a city that will probably be at the very center of any peace deal with the Palestinians (should we live so long) – dragged through the mud and muck of nasty, unhinged narcissism that no one (I repeat: no one) would want to be within public-address-system distance of, never mind whispering distance.Why is it that we always end up with supporters who are natural-born killers or plain old wackos? Something has gone terribly wrong here, and it’s time we paid attention to the saying that you are judged by the friends you keep.OBVIOUSLY, OUR leadership had to pay some lip service to Trump.“We’re profoundly grateful for the president for his courageous and just decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to prepare for the opening of the US Embassy here,” came a statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu barely before the cameras in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House had been switched off. “This decision reflects the president’s commitment to an ancient but enduring truth, to fulfilling his promises and to advancing peace.”Other Israeli leaders fairly fell over each other in their haste to thank Trump in their own special and newsworthy way, but Transportation Minister Israel Katz outdid them all.“The Western Wall is the holiest place for the Jewish people,” Katz stated, “and I decided to name the train station that leads to it after President Trump, following his historic and brave decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.”Western Wall? Train station?Just about anyone here with his or her ear to the ground will tell you that the Temple Mount, and not the Western Wall, is the site that is holiest to Judaism.And just about any Jerusalemite will roll his eyes over the specter of further noise, dust and splatter to bring a long-delayed, budget-busting highspeed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem train even a centimeter closer to the Old City. That’s because it would require additional tunneling when there’s already a fully operative, above-ground light-rail system that can bring visitors from the existing stop outside the soon-to-be high-speed train station to the existing stops just outside three of the gates to the Old City.Talk about needlessly dragging Jerusalem through the mud, whether its own or that oozing from a certain white structure 10,000 kilometers away.
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