Peace through Strength

A YEAR HAS passed since Joe Biden was elected as the 46th president of the United States. He entered the White House to great expectations that he would be the very antithesis to Trump — not least to give carte blanche to the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu. He has had to repair the stagnation, caused by the Trump White House, ranging from the deteriorating situation of climate change to a determined assault on the coronavirus.

Biden has had his setbacks — not least the Afghan debacle and the failure to establish a bipartisan congressional approach to pressing problems. All of this has prevented any discernible US movement on the Middle East question despite a more amenable coalition in Israel. “Biden’s many preoccupations at home and abroad have meant that his frosty relationship with Netanyahu has been replaced by a growing fatigue with the conflict.”

Moreover, the latest Pew Centre research poll, taken a month ago, indicates for the first time that Biden’s job approval is more negative than positive, 53% to 44%. The mid-term elections will take place in November 2022 and a new House of Representatives will be constituted.

In the meantime, Donald Trump has been laying down the foundations for a possible return to power through a quivering Republican party, rallies for the faithful and the creation of new vehicles to rival Fox News and Twitter.

As part and parcel of this, Trump has taken the trouble to cement a broad alliance with the Evangelicals, with the minority of Jewish supporters in the US and with the ousted Likud opposition in Israel.

A few weeks ago, the former US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, launched The Friedman Center for Peace through Strength at a gala reception in Israel. It was attended by 500 people during a time of pandemic, among them several leading figures of the Trump administration, including Mike Pompeo, Steve Mnuchin and the Kushners.

One central aim of the centre is to bring Muslim tourists to Israel and to build on the Abraham Accords with the Gulf States. No one could disagree with such a sentiment, but in parallel, it allows both the American and the Israeli Right to extend their remit beyond politics and to rope into its orbit, philanthropists and people of good will in general.

Thus Giano Infantino, the FIFA president, was present at the launch and hinted that Israel in conjunction with regional states could bid to host the 2030 World Cup.

Yet the underlying message of this new centre was not so much one of a common approach, based on solidarity with the State of Israel, but one which emanates from the hardcore beliefs of the current US Republican party. 

The Orwellian sounding title of ‘Peace through Strength’ has been a repeated slogan of numerous past Republican presidents. Yet this trademark Republican comment was ironically first attributed to a monarch, the Emperor Hadrian. Any student of Jewish history will know about Hadrian’s brutal suppression of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 CE) and his transformation of Jerusalem the Golden into Aelia Capitolina. ‘Peace through Strength’ indeed.

Yet this slogan is also undoubtedly a crucial element in the world outlook of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu was a welcome guest to be invited to the launch of Friedman’s centre. At the same time, Netanyahu remarkably refused to attend the annual commemoration of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.  Moreover, Netanyahu claims Trump-like that the premiership was stolen from him since Bennett allied his far Right Yamina party with Yesh Atid rather than with the Likud. 

Despite all the smiles at the reception, there was also a profound difference between Netanyahu and David Friedman which underlined this public promotion of the Abraham Accords. Netanyahu had been led to believe that Israel would be allowed to immediately annex a section of the West Bank, following the publication of the Trump Plan.

A joyous Netanyahu, however, ran into opposition from members of his own coalition, Benny Gantz and Gaby Ashkenazi, as well as receiving a less than warm reception from Jared Kushner.

A cabinet meeting designed to approve the annexation was suddenly, but indefinitely, postponed. The compensation for shunting the Trump Plan onto the sidelines was the formalisation of the relationship which existed already between Israel and the Gulf States.

For Friedman, the abandonment, albeit temporarily, of the annexation was also a defeat. He recently commented: “Notwithstanding my own personal beliefs, I came to the view that this was better for America, better for Israel, better for the region, and better for the president. I adopted that view – and I’m very comfortable with the decision I made.”

Friedman was first and foremost an emissary of the Trump administration and has remained non-committal about whether the 2020 election was “stolen”. He logically places US interests before those of Israel. A hapless Netanyahu, representing solely the national interests of Israel, had to frown in silence.

David Friedman has always been happy to work with the Christian evangelicals in the US to establish his centre. This was a continuation of the unflinching evangelical support for the Israeli Right ever since East Jerusalem was conquered in 1967. This event — the Jews in the possession of a united Jerusalem for the first time in two thousand years — had a profound spiritual meaning for both observant Jews and devout Christians.

Yet this growing evangelical love for Israel however unnerved many religious Jews because numerous Christian groups proved unable to abandon their passion for Jews to hear ‘the good news’ and to embrace Jesus as the messiah. Some religious Jews such as David Friedman himself laughed it off and could not care less about this aspect of the evangelical embrace. Presumably he felt that his own personal Jewishness could rebuff all efforts at proselytisation.

But what about other Jews? “Significantly, Jewish organisations in the Diaspora such as the Anti-Defamation League in the US have refused to work with Christian groups whose agenda included conversion. This approach has never been the one followed by the supporters of the Likud.”

Friedman announced proudly at the launch that he had worked with TBN to produce a five-part documentary, The Abraham Accords. TBN stands for Trinity Broadcasting Network and it hosts a weekly Jewish Voice program, hosted by a messianic rabbi — one who believes in Jesus Christ as well as Moshe Rabeinu. The Jewish Voice Ministry states:

In the course of caring for hundreds of thousands of Jewish people and their neighbours, the Ministry has been given the opportunity to share the Gospel message of the Messiah. As a result, dozens of Messianic congregations have formed. Through its Congregation and Leadership Development team, Jewish Voice comes alongside new believers and emerging leaders with discipleship, training and support.

The Ministry further boasts that it reaches out on a humanitarian basis to impoverished Jewish communities.

2022 will be Biden vs Trump round two. A return to the reality world of the Trump Show, entertainment, drama and shock, to attract viewers to his standard and eventually surpass the 74 million who voted for him. The Jewish and Israeli component of this roadshow is, but one building block in this concerted attempt to win back the White House.

Plus61j 26 October 2021

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