Israeli Jews have two big concerns about Donald Trump’s visit here today and tomorrow. First that he will shut down traffic in the city. Second, that he will push for a peace deal and the creation of a Palestinian state. They’re not interested.
“We are afraid more than we hope,” said Elhanan, 71, a retired teacher. “If Trump pushes, after the blah blah blah and the etcetera and the hot air, everyone will find that the Israeli maximum is much lower than the Palestinian minimum. Nothing good will come of it. This is a 100 years war.”
These ideas were echoed again and again in interviews I had with 20 Jewish Israelis in Jerusalem. Israeli Jews fear the Palestinians far more than they trust them, and though they want little to do with them, the answer is not a Palestinian state.
“I don’t know if their own state is the solution,” Oded, a 32-year-old lawyer, told me on King George Street in Jewish West Jerusalem. “I don’t know what they [the Palestinians] are fighting for. They have a good life with us. They don’t want to vote…. I know there are problems with water, and facilities. But I think if they try to open themselves…. they can manage to live with us.”
Donald Trump will surely envy Benjamin Netanyahu. He has achieved what Trump has not: he has unified Israeli Jews of right and left in a fearful nationalism on an ethnic basis. He has helped create a broad Jewish center to which there is no real opposition.
Several of the Jews I talked to were leftists, but they are so demoralized by a long conflict that they go along with the Netanyahu agenda, of security first, for the Jewish state.
“I am on the left. I think we are wrong. I don’t think we are right,” said Dahlia, 71. “But I don’t want Arabs in my state. They are too different from us. I am afraid of them. I think they’re violent. I don’t think it’s their nature, but their culture. I don’t think they’re a nation. They came from I don’t know where.”
She said she hates religious Jews. “Hate. Really hate. I think they are stupid.” But Dahlia still desires a Jewish state. “I don’t want a two people state. I want one state for the Jews. Because of the culture. I love Israel. I love the language. They are people like myself. The Arabs, I don’t like their culture.”
I asked her how many Arabs she knew and she said one. Then she conceded that that one was not violent.
These Jewish Israelis both echo and reinforce Netanyahu’s achievement: between a Jewish state and a democratic state, they have already chosen. They want a Jewish state. Liberal Zionists in the United States like to say that the situation is still in play, that Israel is a Jewish democracy. But talk with these Jewish Israelis and they are clear about the purpose of Zionism: a Jewish state is more important than rights for Palestinians.
“The west doesn’t understand the east. We understand them,” says an Egyptian-born art gallery owner of 70 near the King David Hotel. “I don’t think Trump can do anything. There is no partner. We live with Arabs, that’s how we know what they are thinking. They work with Israel, but their heart is dirty: they hate, they want all the land.”
This man was a militant rightwing voter. But how different are the ideas of a young leftleaning couple on King George Street? When I suggest that Palestinians should all have the right to vote, Lala, who has a nose ring, shakes her head and says that would undermine the Jewish character of the state. While her companion, Guy, who has long hair and wears shorts, says that there are many people under American sovereignty who cannot vote, from illegal immigrants to people living in territories.
And Elhanan, the retired schoolteacher, says that while he used to vote left, he has an “internal schism” now because the left is unrealistic. The only way there will be a Palestinian state is if the Israeli army is on all the hilltops there. “Rather than a Palestinian state, it is much easier for most of us to believe there will be coexistence, commercial peace,” he says.
As so many Jewish Israelis do, Elhanan mentions the Palestinians who are proud to have participated in attacks on Israelis.
“We are afraid…. We have a long memory. Maybe some of it is somehow exaggerated. The Holocaust is quite fresh with everyone. It’s always present in our mentality. It’s really present,” he says.
While Nehama, 59, a former bookstore owner, says it more bluntly: “I don’t think they can have any state because they… say Jewish people have no right to Israel. They are like the Nazis.”
These Jews speak almost with one mind, about Jewish fears that underline the necessity for a Jewish state. It would be easy to say that they are indoctrinated, except that the springs of these ideas are so deep. Netanyahu echoes these feelings brilliantly, and never dares to try to lead his people anywhere.
At a music-and-light-show celebration of the 50th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem last night, Netanyahu spoke, as tens of thousands of
nearly 100,000 Israeli Jews were jammed into the streets near the Old City. Outwardly they were extremely diverse. Most men did not wear yarmulkes, there were many young seculars.
They sang along to anthems about a Jewish Jerusalem. They cheered the giant “50” in fireworks that appeared in the sky, and the Jewish star too. They regarded the Six Day War as a wonderful achievement. There was no expression of doubt or misgiving: no awareness that half the population that surrounds them is so left out by Zionism.