May 28, 2017
How fraught with energy this past week was, with one event running into another. Moving backwards…
Yom Yerushalayim was celebrated on Tuesday night and Wednesday. Yes, I already focused on this in my last posting. But that was before the fact; now there is additional sharing to do.
Below you see the scene at the Kotel on Wednesday evening, at the conclusion of the Flag Parade:
Perhaps if you used a high power magnifying glass you might be able to find me, although I seriously doubt it.
But I was there.
It was an exhilarating and joyful experience. The estimate is that 100,000 people came to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. Most were young people, who are our strength and our future. They came, and they sang and danced with enormous energy. And so, while I was squashed and squished, I was so very glad to be a participant. And, just as importantly, a witness to this event.
The celebration had a serious side, as well, with brief speeches and prayers – even the dedication of a Torah scroll – along with the music. This was as it should be, in recognition of the import of the day.
The prior evening, I attended an OU event for Yom Yerushalayim. Melding a program of marvelous song with prayer and speeches, it was also special – as I understand events all over the city were.
Rabbi Sholom Gold delivered the key talk – about the great miracles of our day and the importance of gratitude. It resonated deeply with me, and so I share it here:
Watch the beginning, up to perhaps five minutes, and you will sense the passion of his words.
President Trump left Israel only hours before we began Yom Yerushalayim. (Thank Heaven, the roads opened up and the security helicopters stopped flying overhead.)
With regard to the president, the amount of speculation that passes for news is enormous. Everyone has a theory or has heard an unsubstantiated rumor. Unfortunately, these rumors and theories take on the semblance of “truth” as they are repeated and shared.
I mention this now because of reports that Trump is asking Netanyahu to surrender part of Area C, under full Israeli control, to the Palestinian Authority as a “good will gesture.”
The Prime Minister’s Office has put out a denial of this. I further checked with my sources: I have no confirmation that this is true.
Trump began his multi-nation tour, the first of his presidency, with Saudi Arabia, where he gave a major talk before the leaders of some 50 Muslim majority nations, plus the PA.
You can see a video of the speech and written text here:
I confess readily that there were some aspects of it that, at first blush, made me uneasy:
When he catalogued nations that have been suffering from terrorism, he did not include Israel. This brought to mind the time Obama, then a candidate, did the same, infuriating me.
But Trump is most emphatically not Obama, and in the end, I cut him slack on this, for he did mention both Hezbollah and Hamas, as terror organizations, and said directly that Iran vows to destroy Israel.
His speech was about combatting terrorism fomented by radical Islamists. While I saw this as excellent, my initial impression was that his approach was simplistic:
The Saudis have been big exporters of terrorism via Wahhabism. And we know that the PA, as personified by Abbas, who was in the audience, supports and promotes terrorism. He praised the Lebanese army for taking on ISIS, but the Lebanese army is totally identified with Hezbollah.
Yet, as I listened to the president, I realized that he was taking a necessary first step. He fingered both ISIS and Iran as enemies, and called upon the nations present to do battle with them within a coalition.
“…we must be united in pursuing the one goal that transcends every other consideration. That goal is to meet history’s great test—to conquer extremism and vanquish the forces of terrorism.” (Emphasis added)
Identifying Iran as the enemy, of course, puts Trump heads and shoulders above Obama. What is more, he spoke of the ideology that informs the terrorists.
As to leaders he was addressing who are themselves complicit with terrorism, his admonishment implicitly touched upon this (emphasis added):
“A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out.
“DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship.
“DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities.
“DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and
“DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH.”
We have yet to see what will develop, but a very good speech – an admirable start and a cause for optimism. Of particular significance here is the fact that Trump’s stance signals a US administration ready to assume world leadership once again – something to be applauded.
The call to combat terrorism, it must be mentioned, was accompanied by a huge — $110 billion – arms deal (which is not going to be well received by the Senate)
The visit to Israel by Trump and his family lasted just about 36 hours.
It was notable, first, for the things the president did not say publicly:
He did not mention a “two-state solution,” or a “Palestinian state” or “settlements.” Not once. This is significant. He speaks only in general terms about the parties making peace.
Of course, he also didn’t directly proclaim that all of Jerusalem belonged to Israel, or that he was going to move the embassy to Jerusalem. I hadn’t expected him to, but some were disappointed.
In truth, I think he made the point about an Israeli Jerusalem in a manner that was both subtle and splendid, during his talk at the Israel Museum (more on this below). He spoke of Jerusalem as a most beautiful city, a sacred city, which is the heritage of the Jewish people. He observed that the ties of the Jewish people to the holy land are ancient and eternal – dating back thousands of years.
That rather puts the Palestinian Arabs, with their claims, in their place.
Former Israeli ambassador to the US, MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) observed that:
Trump came to Israel “to convey love. The word ‘love’ appeared many times in his speeches.”
Quite a statement from a cerebral academic.
But, in truth, I knew exactly where Oren was coming from. As I studied the live feeds, and looked at pictures, I started assessing matters from the gut, as well as with my head. I saw what appeared to be very genuine warmth and affection between Donald and Melania, and Bibi and Sara.
The energy was positive: There were hugs and kisses. Smiles galore. References to “my dear friend.” And an ambiance of informal comradery.
Could have been phony, I suppose. But I don’t believe it was. It was too spontaneous, too constant. It simply felt real.
A moment that Israelis found particularly touching involved Malania Trump and Nehama Rivlin, wife of President Rivlin. Melania bonded with Nehama, who is not a well woman and, courageously, attended ceremonies with an oxygen pack.
You see all of this, and you ask whether it’s credible to believe that the Trump who was so warm and affectionate with his dear friend Bibi is going to ultimately knife him in the back. Again, I can attest to nothing with absolute certainty, but it most certainly does not feel that way to me. By the time Trump left, I was feeling good.
In advance of the event, much was made of the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu was not going to be allowed to accompany President Trump on his visit to the Kotel. Had that been permitted it would have been a huge statement regarding Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem.
Trump’s people said this visit was a private one, not political. And, in truth, that is how it seemed. With or without Bibi, it was lovely to see Trump at the Kotel, moving with quiet dignity, standing pensively in prayer, and even placing a note in the Wall. Hey! The world knows this place where the president stood is a Jewish place.
“Words fail to capture the experience. It will leave an impression on me forever,” he later said.
The picture that garnered the most attention was that of Trump’s daughter Ivanka, a convert to Judaism, who wept at the Wall.
Although Trump did not acknowledge Jerusalem as being in Israel, a live feed that came from the White House showing Trump and Netanyahu together had a caption saying it came from “Jerusalem, Israel.” Pathetic that what is such an obvious thing is so rare that it should make news. We must hope this reflects a genuine change in policy.
It is a given that Netanyahu is genuinely grateful to Trump for his actions regarding Iran. For years, he found himself raising alarms about Iran to an indifferent world, and now the situation has shifted.
He is grateful as well for renewed US leadership in other areas – such as with to the bombing of Syria. He expressed all of this in the course of a press conference and public statements.
I would venture to say (reasoned speculation – not based on any particular evidence) that the prime minister might be more forthcoming in other respects than he otherwise might have been, because of that gratitude. Time will tell.
In public comments while he was here, Trump alluded to his desire to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He even remarked that he knows how hard Netanyahu is trying in this regard (whatever that means). But he advanced no blueprint for peace, at least publicly, and we don’t know what he said to our prime minister privately.
A key discussion that is being held here at present concerns how US efforts to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs play out within the broader context of what Trump is attempting with regard to the Arab coalition.
There are those still convinced that the Trump government is making the same mistake prior US administrations made: promoting an Israeli-Palestinian Arab peace as the linchpin that will make peace in the region possible.
I think the final word on this has yet to be spoken, but that there is room to argue otherwise.
Trump’s first focus seems to be on that coalition, and I think when you listen to the comments of both Netanyahu and Trump at the Israel Museum (Trump’s last stop before leaving), this becomes clear: The coalition is envisioned as helping to generate a milieu that will foster peace.
Netanyahu, speaking before Trump at the Museum, said, “Together we can defeat the forces of militant Islam and the terrorism.” He sees a “genuine and durable” peace as possible “between Israel and our Arab neighbors, and the Palestinian Authority, because of a common danger.” “and the Palestinian Authority”… almost an afterthought.
That definitely represents a shift, which was reflected in Trump’s words, which followed:
Declaring that the current situation offers new opportunities, he urged the Muslim leaders to join the movement towards peace. A coalition must be built to fight extremism and violence, and the world must recognize the vital role of Israel.
Once Israel is no longer seen as a pariah nation in the Muslim world (this is happening already, quietly), the dynamic shifts. That is the thought.
All in all, the president spoke very beautifully about Israel at the Museum.
After speaking about the coalition, Trump did then segue into talk of an Israeli-Palestinian Arab peace.
When he declared that he knows the PA is ready for peace, he lost me. Yet I believe his declaration is the stuff of public relations and not more.
For just hours before his Museum speech, he had been in Bethlehem, for a quick meeting with Mahmoud Abbas of the PA.
There, he said to Abbas (emphasis added): “peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded…we must be resolute in condemning such acts.”
Trump looked fairly grim as he shook Abbas’s hand.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.