The 5 Towns Jewish Times

Heard at the Bagel Store: Jerusalem Diary

By Larry Gordon

It’s summer here in Israel’s capital city. The streets are teeming with people, and it is truly an exciting time in the age of Donald Trump. My focus this week was the impact of the Trump presidency on the State of Israel and the future of the long, aimless peace process that continues to move in no defined direction — which is a good thing.

Our itinerary has been expertly stitched together by Dr. Joe Frager, a profound and creative activist for Israel. He had us running and racing through the day and a good part of the night. Israel is still evolving even after thousands of years of Jewish history and 70 years as a modern Jewish state.

Shabbos was interesting and relaxing — the calm before the storm, as Joe said. On Saturday night we were joined by Trump confidant Anthony Scaramucci, who was the president’s communications director for a very brief time. On Sunday, our group was joined by former governor Mike Huckabee. While the two may not specifically be presidential advisers, they do have President Trump’s ear, especially about matters pertaining to the administration’s policy on Israel.

Huckabee hails from Arkansas where he was governor before being a presidential candidate in 2016. Scaramucci is a New Yorker who grew up on Long Island, is a longtime personal friend of President Trump, and is one of the most outspoken supporters of the president’s policies on a plethora of matters.

One of the great ties to the State of Israel is embodied in both Huckabee and Scaramucci. One of the key things the Arab and Muslim world resents about Israel is the open and comfortable relationship that currently exists between Israel and the United States. That new and productive relationship is slowly, but surely, changing the face of the Middle East.

The seriousness and effectiveness of relations between our two countries did not preclude us from sitting around on a Saturday night or on a long bus ride to the Golan Heights just chitchatting about the internal workings of Washington, D.C. and what daily life is like there.

There was a great deal of things that cannot be detailed here. That said, here is a smattering of the topics that we can discuss:

Following the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem President Trump told Scaramucci in a lighthearted way that following the move, he (Trump) could move to Israel and run against Netanyahu and in all likelihood defeat him in an election. To that Bibi retorted in kind that he, the prime minister of Israel, could move to the U.S. and quite possibly succeed in defeating Trump in an election in the U.S.

It’s clear to most everyone here in Israel that on the matter of U.S.–Israel policy it’s a new day. As the president is wont to say, there is now a new sheriff in town. And don’t think this new sentiment is not felt on every level of life here. With Trump, there is a sense that the future of Israel is more assured than at any time over the last many years. And that is a particularly valid assessment in these days of extreme Palestinian intransigence. To best understand this dichotomy in priorities and preferences, all you need to do is peruse the daily newspapers here in Jerusalem.

This week, Israel is dealing with the immediate aftermath of the new nationality law passed last week by the Knesset. Arabs and the left have made inflammatory statements about declaring Israel the nation state of the Jewish people. They claim that it is racist and a step in the direction of apartheid, which, by the way, they already said about Israel decades ago.

The new law does not change anything of a substantive nature. On Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “Israel is indeed the nation state of the Jewish people with full equal rights for its citizens.” The reality is that it is most of the Arab countries that have historically discriminated against their Jewish citizens.

While this and so much else was going on, what was the Palestinian leadership is busy with? The big news out of the PA was the release from prison of Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi, who was incarcerated for eight months for slapping an Israeli soldier. She is the Palestinian hero, a living shahid. It’s a sad comment on Palestinian priorities, especially at such a pivotal juncture.

Essentially, as a result of their own actions, statehood for the Palestinians has become a very low priority on the Middle East agenda. That’s not only true regarding U.S.–Israel policy but for many Arab countries as well. On the way to the Golan on Monday we stopped in Ariel, a sprawling community in Samaria that the UN and others insist on referring to as a settlement. Approximately 25,000 Jews live in Ariel. There is an industrial zone in the community that produces everything from hummus to halva and employs hundreds of Arabs and Jews who work side by side. Arab employees in the zone are paid four times more than in jobs they held in areas governed by the Palestinian Authority. And still, despite the peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews that exists in these companies, BDS advocates campaign to boycott the products produced by these companies with the objective to close them down.

In a sense, while the struggles here are still the same, there is a new resolve and confidence that one can feel just strolling down the streets of Jerusalem. The other night at dinner, Scaramucci said that there is truly nothing like the state and people of Israel. That there is something special going on here, one can argue, is a matter of routine. 

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