Israel has to stop naming things after Trump

Israel has to stop naming things after Trump

The US president’s agenda is dangerous to both Americans and Israelis, and shouldn’t be honored in the public sphere

The US Embassy in Jerusalem sits on a traffic circle recently named for US President Donald Trump. The compound is in the middle of Arnona, a quiet residential neighborhood in the city’s south. (Ben Sales/JTA)
The US Embassy in Jerusalem sits on a traffic circle recently named for US President Donald Trump. The compound is in the middle of Arnona, a quiet residential neighborhood in the city’s south. (Ben Sales/JTA)

A strong undercurrent of anti-Semitism ran throughout President Trump’s campaign — and has continued to characterize his time in office, from labeling the neo-Nazi Charlottesville protesters “very fine people” to hiring white nationalist sympathizers like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka as senior aides. Distressingly, many in Israel seem remarkably unconcerned with the aura of anti-Jewish sentiment that permeates Trumpworld. In May, responding to the Trump administration’s controversial plan to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the city’s mayor, Nir Barkat, announced that the city would name a square near the US Embassy after President Trump. A few weeks later, soccer team Beitar Jerusalem followed suit, declaring that the team would rename itself after Trump.

This trend is nothing new. Back in December, Israel’s Transportation Minister announced that he would name a train station near the Western Wall after our president. Combine all this with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fawning embrace of Trump and his allies, and it appears that many Israeli leaders have either simply chosen to ignore Trump’s ties to radical anti-Semitism or they simply do not care about them.

These efforts to honor Trump are dangerously short-sighted for Israel. Given Trump’s long-standing flirtation with anti-Semitism, it is clear that Israeli leaders who tie themselves to Trump are doing so for cynical political reasons — not because Trump’s actions in his home country or abroad deserve acclaim.

In the US, Trump’s actions are just as concerning. His domestic agenda has time and again run afoul of Israel’s actual values — threatening freedom of religion and the democratic institutions that guard against authoritarianism and give vulnerable groups a voice. His ongoing and vicious attacks on the media are equally dangerous and also completely at odds with the robust, open political debate on which Israel prides itself.  It is no surprise that both at home and abroad elsewhere, people are taking the opposite approach and fighting to strip the Trump name from businesses and residences.

Trump’s true loyalties were even on display at the embassy opening in Jerusalem, where two “controversial” pastors — both with troubling histories — took part in the ceremony. Both have histories of making bigoted statements against faiths other than Christianity. Pastor Robert Jeffress has explicitly said that he believes Jews are going to hell. Israelis and Americans alike should be embarrassed and insulted that these men were President Trump’s emissaries in Israel.

But this is not just about optics. There is a real and human cost to Trump’s words and actions — one that we overlook at our own risk.

Unsurprisingly, the president’s thinly-veiled endorsements of anti-Semitism and white supremacy have been accompanied by a surge in anti-Semitic incidents, which more than doubled in 2017, compared to the year before. In public, in schools, and in places of worship, Trump’s reckless and divisive rhetoric have already taken a toll.

Israelis who embrace Trump for short-term political gain will regret tying Israel to the agenda and values that Trump represents. Given the president’s track record of impulsive and incendiary decisions, that reckoning may come sooner rather than later.  Moreover, it is clear that the Trump administration’s policies are not doing anything to advance a lasting peace among Israelis and Palestinians.

To dedicate something with the name “Trump” is to honor to the president’s agenda — a radical, hateful agenda that is dangerous to Americans and to Israelis, both Jewish and not. Israel’s leaders should stop giving credence to the president’s destructive worldview and keep his name off their public spaces — his shameful policies are hurting enough people even without a plaque.

Rabbi Steven Fox is the Chief Executive Officer of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). Rabbi Hara Person is CCAR’s Chief Strategy Officer.

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