Believe It or Not, Anti-Muslim Trump Is Campaign's 'Progressive' on Israel/Palestine Conflict
This article is the second in “Beholden,” a seven-part series about the presidential candidates on Israel and Palestine.
How bad has it gotten when arguably the most “progressive” presidential candidate on Palestine/Israel — in either party — is the nativist who would ban Muslim visitors to the U.S., close American mosques, enter U.S. Muslims’ names in a national database, and enshrine waterboarding as a national foreign policy pastime?
Yeah, it’s pretty bad.
But Donald Trump’s recent declaration of neutrality to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough is significant in its sharp contrast to the outpouring of love (of dollars) that nearly every other candidate has slobbered all over Israel and its most Strangelovian defenders since the beginning of the 2016 presidential race.
“Let me be sort of a neutral guy,” Trump told the “Morning Joe” host. In most international conflicts, such a statement would be laudable if unsurprising, hardly worth a comment. But in the alternative reality that is our reality, such statements do not go unchallenged, especially from those fawning souls hungry for campaign dollars from pro-Israel billionaire titans Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer, Haim Saban and others.
Rivals were quick to pounce. “As president, I have no intention of being neutral,” Ted Cruz oozed with his patented parsimonious disdain. In her own response, Hillary Clinton archly told CNN she “will defend and do everything I can to support Israel.” Clinton’s statements betray the bogus “honest broker” mantle she disingenuously carried as secretary of state.
As for Trump: Let’s not get too excited about a single statement of alleged neutrality from a torture-happy neofascist. Yet in interviews and statements over the last three months, Trump has gone further than simply aspiring to be “sort of a neutral guy.” In a December interview with The Associated Press, he questioned “if Israel has the commitment” to a lasting peace deal: “I have a real question as to whether or not both sides want to make it. A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal — whether or not Israel’s willing to sacrifice certain things.”
In December, Trump appeared in the lion’s den — a meeting of the hard-right, Bibi Netanyahu-loving Republican Jewish Coalition — and indicated, to loud boos, that he did not necessarily support Israel’s dominion over Jerusalem as an “undivided capital.” This is a litmus test for the Republican right, which for years has demanded that the U.S. move its embassy to Jerusalem to cement that reality. Too bad that it would be a death blow to Palestinian dreams of establishing an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Indeed, that’s part of the point: not only to end Palestinian statehood dreams but to undermine what has been the official U.S. position in peace negotiations for more than two decades.
Trump’s statements on Israel predictably prompted the groveling Marco Rubio, in the running for the “Sheldon Adelson primary” of dollars, to suggest that the billionaire candidate didn’t “understand the enduring bond between Israel and America.”
Indeed, Trump’s unorthodox, unpredictable and ever-shifting positions, including those on Israel, have sent shivers up and down neocon spines everywhere. Max Boot, the superhawk who believes the U.S. should “unambiguously embrace its imperial role around the world,” recently declared in USA Today: “I have been a Republican my entire life, but I will never support Trump.” Bill Kristol, he of we-will-be-welcomed-in-Iraq-as-liberators fame, is assaulting Trump head-on. Kristol’s arch-right Emergency Committee for Israel recently released an ad accusing Trump of “kissing up to anti-American dictators.” Added Kristol in a press release: “If you’re pro-Israel, you shouldn’t be pro-Trump. Apologists for dictators aren’t reliable friends of the Jewish state.” Um, didn’t Israel have a cozy secret relationship with the Shah of Iran? And Mubarak’s Egypt? And the genocidal regime in Guatemala? Somoza’s Nicaragua? Does anyone remember the Contras? Ah, but I digress.
Back to 2016: Some neocons and ardent pro-Israel Republicans are already climbing aboard the Hillary bandwagon. Robert Kagan, a principal of the now-defunct Project for the New American Century, the intellectual architect of the Iraq War, said if Trump were the GOP nominee, he, Kagan, would support Clinton. For Kagan and other conservatives and wealthy donors, Clinton is preferable to the volatile billionaire they cannot control. One of Clinton’s biggest backers is Haim “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel” Saban, a Democrat. The multibillionaire entertainment mogul, a strong advocate of silencing Israel’s critics, has already doled out $6.4 million to Clinton’s campaign. Clinton, who long ago proved her fealty on all things Israel, recently upped the ante by declaring she would host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “in my first month in office.”
Trump’s “neutral guy” comments, by contrast, have created an outbreak of handwringing in pro-Israel circles. Trump’s comments lend credence to his image of looking people in the eye and telling them the truth, even if they don’t want to hear it, simply because he can’t be bought. He told the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting, “I don’t need your money.”
Maybe he doesn’t, but only weeks later the image of Mr. Not-Afraid-To-Speak-His-Mind got a little tarnished. In January, Trump flip-flopped, endorsing the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem. Hardly a neutral position. Nor is it neutral to call Netanyahu a “great guy,” as he did in 2013, or to blast President Obama as being “the worst thing that ever happened to Israel.” This, despite the administration’s support for Netanyahu during the 2014 war in Gaza, in which at least 500 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli fire and the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli civilian deaths was about 400 to 1.
Yet some of Trump’s positions on Israel remain unorthodox in the current absurdist unreality that is the 2016 presidential campaign. In the interview with Scarborough, Trump, unlike his slavishly loyal fellow GOP candidates, refused to apportion blame for the failure of a peace deal. And unlike Clinton, he has also declined to pledge allegiance to the zombie known as the Two-State Solution, which even that mouthpiece of power Tom Friedman recently declared “dead.” Perhaps even Trump realizes this, too.
So, there’s that. And there’s the fact that any genuine solution will almost surely be built on the civil, human and voting rights of all people in what is now, de facto, a single state with Israel in full control. Could Trump realize that too? And if he did, would he care?
And yet we must admit that these scant little sparkles of hope — if anything emanating from a torture-loving xenophobe can be called hope — are about all we have in the current campaign to be Israel’s lover-in-chief.
But that’s not saying much, if it says anything at all.
Here’s the third installment in the “Beholden” series: Farewell, Ben Carson — We’ll Always Have ‘Hummus’