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Judging good guys (and bad guys) by their actions

What is the senseless radicalization that characterizes the mutual attitude of disdain towards U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, given also the fact that the two men couldn’t be more different?

U.S. President Donald Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at United Nations headquarters in New York City on Sept. 26, 2018. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO.
U.S. President Donald Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at United Nations headquarters in New York City on Sept. 26, 2018. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO.
Fiamma Nirenstein

A few days ago, an old American friend surprised me with a visit after a long time. But despite that pleasant event, I am still days later utterly shocked by his insatiable words of hatred towards U.S. President Donald Trump, and along with him, for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

While dislike for Netanyahu is nothing new for a prime minister who has held the top seat of power in Israel for more than 12 years, collectively, even detractors recognize that there have been noteworthy accomplishments. And while they may royally dislike Bibi, even the most ardent detractors will not automatically disagree 100 percent of the time with his positions or policies.

U.S. President Donald Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at United Nations headquarters in New York on Sept. 26, 2018. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO.

Yet for progressives in the United States, hatred of Trump defies logic to objective observers. My friend failed to explain anything other than a social and cultural repugnance difficult to counter (we all have the right to our views), and he solely expressed hatred without any concrete reasoning. I tried to understand: Was Trump wrong to denounce the 2015 Iran nuclear deal? No. Was he wrong to cut the funds to the Palestinians who use them to enrich terrorists and their families? No. Was he wrong to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital? Of course not. Has perhaps his policy towards North Korea been disturbing? Probably not, if it can bring some about some kind of peace with its supreme leader (and madman) Kim Jong-un. OK, and what about the economy? Isn’t it going well? “Yes, of course, but the crisis will come,” he replies. And immigration? Well, that’s a problem for everyone . . .

As for Netanyahu, my friend couldn’t stop mumbling some pointless words like champagne and cigars, and he couldn’t provide any responses when I asked him about the peace that the Israeli prime minister has been able to maintain despite Hamas’s incendiary aggression on the Gaza-Israel border. Or in light of the volcano of hatred and death that is Syria, whose neighborhoods are permanently in flames, or vis-à-vis Iran, who has brought its siege to Israel’s northeastern border along with Hezbollah’s missiles factories in the north, and despite Islamist hatred in general, which increasingly seeks to attack Jews. My friend also had nothing to say about the amazing growth of Israel’s GDP or its commitment to excellence in education, and its ability to offer the world new medical, technological and scientific advances that define nothing less than the progress of humanity itself.

My American friend didn’t even utter a word regarding Israel’s ability to forge new diplomatic and economic ties with many countries, which include by now solid relations with those even in the Far East.

What is the senseless radicalization that characterizes the mutual attitude of disdain towards Netanyahu and Trump, given also the fact that the two men couldn’t be more different?

My impression is that such a profound hatred might have something to do with a sense of despair—that of the world’s defeat, of a way of being that advanced the moral claim that once was called communism or socialism, and eventually went on to be called “liberalism” or human rights. Nevertheless, it built international institutions that placed at the helm of the United Nations and the European Union bodies such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) or the Council on Human Rights in the name of a new religion has come to replace all ideologies that preceded it. Through raising its cathedrals—or rather, universities, courts, publishing houses and films—it has often shaped language in a way that must sometimes be appreciated for its good intentions; for example, by defining people with physical or mental difficulty as “people with special needs,” and has revised all attitudes related to gender, sexuality, race, ethnic groups, globalization and especially war.

This system has largely worked. It erased injustices, pushed women forward and emphasized that human beings are all the same. After World War II, it fought to affirm this system of thought. However, over time, in many cases it miserably collapsed due to political interests, also because its major promoter—the Communist systems of the Third World—were instead very unworthy, murderous and authoritarian. An obvious example is the use of the concept and the word “peace.” The “Global Movement for Peace” became a typically Soviet movement; its multicolor banners and its marches were not designed to protect peace in the world, but those wars that would then create a Soviet peace in Africa or the Middle East.

At that time, anti-colonial slogans were offered to the entire world in order to forge the winning image of a moral character against an immoral one: the first being revolutionary, positive, and imbued with good, while the second was devoted to exploitation, selfishness and greed. The truth is that these labels have been applied according to political interests, so the revolutionary leaders of the protected revolutions have, in fact, created oppressive, violent and cruel societies, dividing them into caste according to their proximity to power. Religious fanaticism has made a lot of space (along with the delusions of the Islamic world), becoming terrorism.

And so, the moral castle has been revealed as delusional, the ethic dream has fallen apart, and the dream of fighting for a just and sanctified world against war, racism and colonialism has become very complicated, due to the protagonists of the movements that in theory would be those that should be supported. The poor and oppressed in the Middle East have proved to be ruthless butchers. The Palestinians, a great idol and an icon of the persecuted and oppressed, have openly shown themselves for who and what they are—namely, pretentious money and death-dealers, great inventors of terrorist new enterprises who are against any peace agreement, even the most favorable.

It is no easier to love those who called themselves oppressed and persecuted when it’s revealed that they’re not or at least as rightful as they like to proclaim. Moreover, it’s even harder to love ourselves when we can no longer engage in a sacrosanct moral battle that coincides with a collective of which we are part and that we love. There’s no alternative left but to define a new moral aim, to hate an invented nemesis and hurl at the latter all of the moral blame that we love to despise and combat.

For Jews, this situation is particularly complicated since the object of moral reproach has shifted from the right, where we were used to identifying it, to the left in the Western world. And regarding the Muslim world as well, both of which are becoming more and more openly anti-Semitic. But of this, we can talk about further in the future. For now, however, a bit of realism please: Good guys and bad guys exist, but we must judge them by their actions.

Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies, served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Translation by Amy Rosenthal.

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