The US President Donald Trump left many analysts mystified after his 27-hour trip to Israel. It was as if he had been transformed into a master politician overnight.
Mitchell Barak, an Israeli pollster and former political adviser, was quoted by the New York Times as referring to Trump as the “Liberace of world leaders,” in reference to flamboyant piano player Władziu Valentino Liberace. The latter, known as “Mr. Showmanship,” was once the highest paid entertainer in the world, in a successful career that spanned four decades.
Dan Shapiro, the former US ambassador to Israel, was also left trying to decipher the supposedly complicated persona of Trump.
“Either Trump’s visit was substance-free — or he ‘is being uncharacteristically subtle’ in planting the seeds for new round of peace negotiations,” stated New York Magazine, quoting and paraphrasing Shapiro’s tweets.
The “liberal” US media outlets, which previously stooped to many lows in attacking Trump — including criticisms of his family, mannerisms, choice of words, even mere body language — became much more sober and quite respectful in the way they attempted to analyze his short trip to Israel, and the very brief detour to Bethlehem, where he met Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority leader.
“Mr. Trump’s speech at the Israel Museum was so friendly and considerate of Israeli emotions,” reported the New York Times, “that one right-wing Israeli legislator described it as deeply expressive of the ‘Zionist narrative.’”
Palestinian emotions, however, were of no consequence to the Trump entourage, the New York Times or others in mainstream media.
The Washington Post found faults with Trump’s visit — but certainly not because of his lack of balance or failure to deride Israel’s occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians.
Despite the fact that Trump has, indeed, fully embraced a “Zionist narrative,” and a rightwing version of it — for example, he made no reference to a Palestinian state — it was his performance at Israel’s national Holocaust memorial (Yad Vashem) that did not impress one writer.
Max Bearak wrote in the Post: “Trump’s entry in the guest book at Israel’s national Holocaust memorial was strangely upbeat, self-referential and written in his signature all-caps: ‘IT IS A GREAT HONOR TO BE HERE WITH ALL OF MY FRIENDS — SO AMAZING & WILL NEVER FORGET!’”
Bearak found such choice of words and the style in which the message was written sort of offensive, especially when compared with the supposed thoughtfulness of former President Barack Obama’s entry in the guest book on an earlier visit.
In contrast, Obama wrote a significantly longer note, which partly read: “At a time of great peril and promise, war and strife, we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man’s potential for great evil, but also our capacity to rise up from tragedy and remake our world.”
Neither then, nor now, did the Washington Post bother to examine the historical context in which this particular sentence was written and find the hypocrisy of the whole endeavor.
The fact that the US president, time and again, reiterated Israeli priorities was all that the media needed to give the man a chance. Their collective verdict seems to rebrand his lack of substance as his unique ‘subtle’ way of making politics.
If they bothered to ask Palestinians, they would have found a whole different interpretation of Obama’s words.
Indeed, wherever occupied Palestinians look, they find “man’s potential for great evil”: A 400-mile Israeli wall being mostly built over their land; hundreds of military checkpoints dotting their landscape; and a suffocating military occupation controlling every aspect of their lives. They see the holiest of their cities, Bethlehem and Al-Quds — occupied East Jerusalem — subdued by a massive military force, and thousands of their leaders thrown into prison, many without charge or trial. They see siege, an endless war, daily deaths and senseless destruction.
But since none of this matters to the “Zionist narrative,” it subsequently matters so very little to mainstream American media, as well.
Trump’s trip to Israel, however short, was indeed a master stroke by the ever-unpredictable Liberace of world politics — although it takes no particular genius to figure out why.
From an American mainstream media perspective, to be judged “presidential” enough, all US presidents would have to commit to three main policies. They are, in no particular order: Privileging the economic business elites, war at will and unconditionally supporting Israel.
Media channels in the US, which have been otherwise polarized based on political allegiances, have so far taken a break from their raging conflict over Trump’s presidency, and rallied behind him on two separate occasions: When he randomly bombed Syria and during his visit to Israel.
Ironically, Trump has been judged for lacking substance on numerous occasions in the past. But his trip to Israel was the most lacking and most divisive. However, the fact that he, time and again, reiterated Israeli priorities was all that the media needed to give the man a chance. Their collective verdict seems to rebrand his lack of substance as his unique “subtle” way of making politics.
Israeli media, which are often more critical of the Israeli government than their US counterparts dare, needed to keep up with the “democratic” tradition. But Trump’s groveling also gave them little room for criticism. The often-impulsive Trump this time stuck to the script and followed his repeatedly rehearsed speech and media comments to the letter.
But writer Josefin Dolsten insisted on finding ways to nitpick, composing for the Times of Israel the seven “awkward moments from Trump’s Israel trip.”
One of these awkward moments, Dolsten wrote, was a White House statement that listed Trump’s goals for the trip, and which “included a hilarious (and juicy!) typo: ‘Promote the possibility of lasting peach’ between Israel and the Palestinians. Yes, we get it — it meant to say peace, but who’s to say the two sides can’t bond over some delicious fruit?”
For Palestinians, it must not be easy to find the humor in these tough times. Hundreds of their prisoners, including the popular political figure Marwan Barghouti, were enduring a prolonged and life-threatening hunger strike in which they were making the most basic demands for better treatment, longer visitation hours with their families and ending of arbitrary detentions.
More telling is that, on the day Trump, along with right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lectured Palestinians on peace, 17-year-old Tuqua Hammad was shot for allegedly throwing stones at Israeli military vehicles at the entrance of her village of Silwad, near Ramallah.
Hammad “was shot in the lower extremities and Israeli troops prevented a Palestinian ambulance from accessing the victim to treat her,” Ma’an news agency reported.
Only a few miles away, Trump was writing his remarks after visiting Israel’s Holocaust memorial. Regrettably, he failed to meet the expectations of the Washington Post, for unlike Obama, he was not poignant enough in his language and style.
The irony of the whole story is inescapable. But American media cannot see this — for it, too, seems to follow a script in which Palestinian rights, dignity and freedom are hardly never mentioned.
• Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com.