March 2020: Preparations for the annual AIPAC* conference are just wrapping up in Washington. The undisputed guest of honor at the conference of the pro-Israel lobby, just like the previous three years, is President of the United States Donald John Trump. The TV stations accompany him in a live broadcast from the moment he exits the White House, in front of which fly two giant flags side by side: those of Israel and the United States. The two flags are raised for the duration of the whole AIPAC conference on the order of the president himself.
The Verizon Center basketball arena is packed to the rafters. It's the best and most euphoric show in town, and smiles are spread from ear to ear across the faces of American Jewish leaders. The roof of the arena shakes with applause as Trump takes the stage to deliver his speech. The president can hardly get a word out, and the audience stands on its feet in an extended ovation.
After a few long minutes, Trump manages to recap everything that he's done in support of Israel during his first four years in office: the obliteration of Iranian nuclear reactors during a complex night operation in the winter of 2019 after it became clear that the ayatollah’s regime had breached the deal that Trump of all people had been so keen to preserve when he assumed the presidency; the revocation of entry visas to citizens of any Arab state that didn't agree to sign onto a peace deal with Israel; and an official visit to the Jewish state, during which he insisted on giving a speech at the University of Ariel a week after two American citizens were killed in an attack at the entrance to the city. "I said it in Ariel, and I'll say it again now," declares the president of the United States in 2020, "this ground here belongs to the people of Israel, and as long as I'm president of the United States, not a single Palestinian will dare to doubt that. Believe me."
Toward the end of his speech, Trump instructs the technical staff to shut off the teleprompter from which he reads. "And now, here's something that no adviser or speechwriter permitted themselves to write for me," says Trump, enlisting for this moment every spark of reality show talent that he possesses. The audience goes silent, some of them remembering the concerns they had prior to his 2016 AIPAC appearance, before a large majority elected the New York billionaire to the presidency a few months later. "He'd better not go and ruin everything now," whispers one of the conference organizers to a colleague in the first row.
“There's a four-year-old boy here, his name is David — not Day-vid, Da-vid,” Trump explains. "He's a sweet Jewish boy, and he's my grandson. And believe me — and it seems to me today that you already do — I love you almost like I love him, and that's no small amount. Believe me." David Kushner, a kippah atop his head, rises onto the stage with an awkward smile. The audience goes nuts. “Thank you very much. See you here next year for four more years of Trump and four more years of the Jewish state of Israel," the president says, concluding his speech.
March 2020: Washington looks like a ghost town. The annual AIPAC conference was cancelled back in 2018 by executive order of the president, and since then in its place has been a sad little conference in one of the Upper West Side hotels of New York. Presidential candidates don't give speeches there, they know that a link to old Jewish power and money will only hurt them in the toxic, anti-Semitic atmosphere that has spread across the United States in the last four years.
The excuse for cancelling the annual conference of the Jewish lobby was a series of bloody altercations that took place outside of the AIPAC conference a few months after Trump's election to the presidency. A short time after his election, Trump hinted in response to his invitation to the conference that there are a number of rather too powerful lobby groups in Washington, and that one of them has links to a very particular country in the Middle East that brings America no end of trouble, and that needs to start paying for the extensive military aid granted to it by the United States. A few local cells made up of white racists swiftly got together and decided to crash the conference. Trump of course called for them not to act violently, though he immediately added that he "can't help but sympathize with those who feel that their nation is in the hands of a minority holding narrow interests on the other side of the ocean.”
The latter statement was made by Trump in front of the only two journalists permitted to fly with him on the presidential plane, which had its name changed to “Air Force Trump One,” and which was flying to Tehran. “As someone who's been managing businesses my whole life," Trump proclaimed at a ceremony in the Mehrabad International Airport in the Iranian capital, “I understood very quickly that we're talking about a great nation with awesome potential that is just as crucial to us as we are to it if we're going to make America great again. Iran's biggest problem is its terrible PR — and believe me, I know something about PR.”
After inspecting an honor guard presented by the Revolutionary Guard, Trump traveled in an armored vehicle to conduct extensive work meetings with the Iranian president, and he even visited the Ayatollah Ali Khomeini at his chalet in the north of the country.
A few weeks prior to this, Iran attacked Israel with multiple long-range missiles. After it became clear that these missiles did not bear nuclear warheads, Trump dispatched a U.S. State Department spokesperson to hold a short press conference condemning the operation, "just as the United States condemns any operation that undermines the status quo in the Middle East — such as continued building in East Jerusalem, for example.” The busting of a network of Israelis who operated pop-up kiosks in California shopping malls was enough for Trump to suspend visas for all Israeli citizens, pending further notice. “We're talking about economic subversion, which America can't stand for,” the spokesperson explained.
The two scenarios above are of course imaginary. Trump is neither Adolf Hitler nor the Messiah. He won't be in a hurry to bomb Iran, nor will he allow Israel to unilaterally annex Judea and Samaria. The problem is that the discourse in the Jewish world — in Israel, too, but especially in the U.S. — is starting to be influenced by such imaginary scenarios. Fear of the unknown sweeps any Jew with a memory of history to the extremes, and that doesn't help us one bit when dealing with the present and future.
Trump's speech at AIPAC this week was a significant step for him on the way to calming Jewish and Israeli fears surrounding his candidacy. He'll have to continue this apparent transition to the center ground — in large part due to his reading from a prepared text rather than making it up as he went along — in order to calm the Jewish community and Israeli citizens. But maybe it's time we took a step in his direction as well. We don't need to treat him like the messiah, but we can at least refrain from comparing him to Hitler.
*Editor's Note: AIPAC stands for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group that advocates pro-Israel policies to Congress and the executive branch of the United States.