The latest maestro to play the self-obsessed president of the United States like a concert violin was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who announced last week his intention to name a new Israeli settlement on the Golan Heights after Donald J. Trump.
World leaders caught on quickly to Trump’s puerile vanity after he was elected U.S. president in 2016. His first state visits to the monastic rulers of Saudi Arabia and French President Emmanuel Macron featured gaudy tributes transparently designed to counterbalance his anger and ill-concealed embarrassment at having squeaked to an electoral victory via the dubious route of the Electoral College despite soundly losing the popular vote.
It worked, of course, and other nations and leaders have followed suit. Israel, under Netanyahu, has made common cause with Trump and been richly rewarded for it. Last May, the Trump administration recklessly broke from international norms and longstanding U.S. policy by moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, an explicit rejection of the Palestinians’ claim to at least a share of legitimacy in the divided city. Predictably, the move ignited riots that cost some 60 Palestinian lives. As if to underscore that Palestinian lives and livelihood mean nothing to the United States, Trump cut off all aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in February.
There are not supposed to be Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights, named for Trump or anyone else. That doesn’t obviate the fact that there are — more than 30, according to some sources. But the international community does not consider the Golan Heights to be part of Israel and legitimately subject to Israeli habitation.
Israel has controlled the Golan Heights since it captured the sparsely populated, 690-square-mile plateau from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. This is not part of Israel’s struggle with the Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The other residents of the Golan Heights are (mostly Syrian) Druze.
Israel unilaterally annexed the Heights in 1981. The United Nations, roundly and immediately — meaning, the same day — rejected the annexation with a resolution backed by U.N. members including the United States. That held until last month, when Trump tweeted (can’t the man ever “say” anything?) “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” (caps in the original).
Trump’s twitterized pronouncement was not totally without merit. The Golan Heights have helped provide a buffer between Israel and the appalling ravages of the eight-year Syrian civil war. However, that doesn’t give Israel the right to subsume it — and in fact, an argument can be made that the Heights, woven into Israel, will now be more subject to the anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic hostility that befouls the area.
The unsavory Trump-Netanyahu alliance (authoritarian rulers propped up by right-wing alliances in ostensible democracies, both beset by ethics investigations) inspired a darker strain of commentary at the end of last week when the New York Times’ international edition published an editorial cartoon that, apparently, sought to lampoon their relationship. It depicted a dachshund-shaped dog with Netanyahu’s face leading a Trumpian figure who’s wearing dark glasses, as a seeing-eye dog leads the blind. Up to that point, it was, arguably, a legitimate, hard-edged political cartoon: the wily Netanyahu manipulating the ignorant (blind) American president.
But the Portuguese cartoonist crossed the line: he affixed a Star of David to the dog’s collar, like a license, and drew a yarmulke on Trump’s head. Thus, what may have been intended as a political commentary descended into repellant anti-Semitism. (Some critics also objected that representing the Israeli leader as a dog was to dehumanize and vilify all Jews as other than human.)
Outrage descended upon the Times from all quarters — right, left and center — and the newspaper struggled to explain its loose control over, and apparent failure to monitor, its international edition. Times representatives apologized and vowed to rectify the situation.
And then, on Saturday, in Poway, California, the U.S. experienced another synagogue shooting, leaving one person dead and three others injured.
It’s difficult, certainly, to draw a connection among these incidents. But they are similar in this regard: The Israeli land grab (enabled by our president), the toxic cartoon and deadly violence at a Jewish house of worship in the U.S. are examples of disdain for other people’s welfare, identity and indeed their very existence. It’s those things, not vanity, power or ego, that should motivate our policies and behavior, here and abroad. But that’s not happening.