Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Israelis like the US president, but do they understand what would have happened to their country if the mob had had its way at the Capitol? Hint: Nothing good
US President Donald Trump, left, gesturing while playing golf at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, November 15, 2020. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
The internet was abuzz this week with the rumor that President Trump was planning to head to one of his golf resorts, in Scotland, on January 19, the day before his term officially ends – if it gets that far. According to the New York Times, the leader of Scotland said that he would not be welcome. And that was before Wednesday’s shameful putsch that shook American democracy to the core. My sense is that if Trump is now looking for an offshore haven where he can plant his putter, it won’t be easy to find one. Even some of his best international friends could easily follow in the footsteps of Senators McConnell and Graham and other allies who have belatedly come to understand just how dangerous Trump is.
Even his autocrat cronies will not want to take in their old buddy and risk antagonizing the new American leadership – so I think that villa on the Black Sea may have just gone off the market, and the plans for Trump Tower P’yŏngyang may have to be shelved until things cool down. Even Putin has acknowledged Biden’s victory and Kim Jong-Un has stopped sending those love letters.
But there is one country that I can see taking Trump in without hesitation, a land that already has a town named in his honor, a state with no electoral votes but where his approval ratings are sky-high. Yes, Trump will never have to pay for a drink in Israel, (partly because he doesn’t drink) and every time he stands in line at the falafel place it will feel like a Maga rally. True, Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the attack on the Capitol, but Bibi’s political fortunes have been tied to Trump for too long for him to fully abandon his old friend.
The divide between Israeli Jews and American Jews has widened over the past four years, and Trump has been both the prime cause and manifestation. I can see great healing on the horizon, as the Great Healer, Joe Biden, ascends to power. But Trump will continue to be a festering sore in that wounded relationship for years to come.
I wonder what Israel would do if Trump were to seek asylum there. I know the possibility seems far-fetched, especially given Israel’s scarcity of golf courses. But golf courses can be built. All you need is lots of sand, which Israel has, and a small donation from someone who is CEO of the Sands, Sheldon Adelson.
There’s already a place named in his honor, Trump Heights in the Golan, but my suspicion is that the sign will soon be whisked away like those signs in the JNF forest dedications in the classic Israeli comedy “Sallah.” Trump Heights might already have been renamed Bidenville.
And then there’s the new embassy in Jerusalem, where the Trump name is so ubiquitous you would think it’s a casino. But he can’t live there and it remains to be seen whether the new administration will choose to keep the place’s original branding. I expect the current dedication plaque, which is an obsequious paean to Trump, to be quietly removed when things calm down.
Biden will keep the embassy in Jerusalem though, which is a good thing. There are a number of reasons for Israelis to feel good about the Trump era, and the embassy relocation is one of them, though the move was a cynical election ploy timed to excite evangelicals before the special senate election in Alabama, not to placate Jews.
But those 70 percent of Israelis who love Trump never recognized how weakened Israel would become if America were to veer toward being an illiberal democracy, and that nearly happened in the Capitol this week. This was the Reichstag Fire moment that fascists anticipate in order to consolidate their power, one that is usually followed by 1) the scapegoating of political opponents and 2) the declaration of martial law. The blaming of opponents already was beginning to happen, even though the perpetrators were clearly a right wing mob of Trumpists invading the Capitol in broad daylight. As excruciating hours passed without the appearance of National Guard troops, I fully expected Trump to be waiting for the right moment to summon other, more inappropriate military forces and declare martial law. Perhaps he was waiting for those live pipe bombs to explode in front of Republican and Democratic headquarters or for there to be more blood spilled. It almost happened. It is now beyond doubt that democracy indeed was on the ballot last November, and in voting to remove this mortal threat to freedom, the 75 percent of American Jews who voted for Biden also saved Israel.
So the question remains: Will Israel become Trump’s Elba (or other noted islands of exile) where will he try to escape the clutches of Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland and just about every D.A in New York State?
And if he asks for asylum in Israel — perhaps a simple apartment right next door to Jonathan Pollard — what would Israel do? Would Trump try to gain entry under the Law of Return as the father of a Jew? Would he actually convert to Judaism (and wouldn’t you love to be the mohel for that one) in order to gain instantaneous rights of citizenship?
And if he actually did move to Israel, what would become of the fragile relationship between American Jews and the Jewish state?
Trump Tower P’yŏngyang is looking better all the time.