The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s Insight Israel Forum held an online discussion Sept. 15 with Jonathan Tobin, editor in chief at Jewish News Syndicate, and J.J. Goldberg, editor at large at The Forward. In a discussion moderated by Beth H. Goldsmith, chair of the board of The Associated, the two editors discussed American-Israeli relations, the two-state solution and the rise in anti-Semitism.
“In today’s highly polarized society, it is so important to listen to others’ viewpoints,” Goldsmith said. “And that is the focus of the Insight Israel Forum.”
On the question of whether the policies of President Donald Trump have been good for Israel, Goldberg argued that the usefulness of Israel’s alliance with the United States is tied to the degree that the U.S. is taken seriously by other countries.
“The first thing to understand is that America has been Israel’s best friend, its main protector and ally in the world, because it holds sway as the strongest power in the world, which has influence on countries around the world and can protect Israel from hostility,” Goldberg said. “When the president of the United States is not taken seriously by leaders around the world, then you can’t be much of a friend.”
Goldberg pointed to decisions such as pulling troops out of Syria and withdrawing support from the Kurds as moments that undermined American credibility.
However, Goldberg conceded that some actions from the Trump White House, such as the encouragement of the recent agreement with the United Arab Emirates, has been beneficial to Israel, but he categorized Trump as “a weak protector and an encourager of Israel’s most destructive wing of politics.”
In response, Tobin said it was silly to question whether the Trump administration’s policies had been good for Israel.
“Say what you will about Trump,” Tobin said, “but it is a simple fact that his has been the most pro-Israel administration in the history of the relationship between the two countries.”
Tobin cited decisions such as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal as collectively forming “an airtight case, at least as far as Israel is concerned, [that] this president has been a high point.”
Tobin linked these decisions to Trump’s “skepticism of experts and establishment thinking” and concluded that the foreign policy thinkers who had spent decades guiding U.S. policy had been “dead wrong.”
On accusations that Trump’s pro-Israel stance damaged the chances of a peaceful two-state solution, Tobin said that “blaming Trump for being too pro-Israel, for breaking up the consensus, is gaslighting.”
Tobin said that Israel lacks a credible partner for peace in the Palestinians, and that the two-state solution cannot happen until that changes.
“They’ve refused to negotiate repeatedly,” Tobin said. “Their national identity is still inextricably tied to the idea of conflict with Israel, and unwillingness to accept a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.”
Tobin also said that it would be wrong and undemocratic for American Jews, Israeli sympathizers or the U.S. government to dictate to Israel and its people how it should handle the peace process.
Goldberg noted that there was wide consensus within Israel’s security and intelligence community that now is the time to pursue a two-state solution due to the 2002 decision by the Arab League “to offer Israel full peace and normalization in return for a Palestinian state on or near the ‘67 lines.”
Goldberg said that Israel and Palestinian negotiations have been taking place since 1992, that “the Palestinians have not walked away from the table,” and that “at no point have the Palestinians declared they don’t accept the Jewish state.”
On the subject of anti-Semitism in the United States, both Goldberg and Tobin acknowledged that it exists on both sides of the political spectrum, but they appeared to disagree on where the greatest danger was coming from.
Tobin said that Trump had not called “the Nazis at Charlottesville very fine people, a conflation of his comments about those who oppose toppling of Confederate statues.” He said the allegation that Trump is aligned with white supremacists is “inappropriate, and has coarsened the tone of American discourse.”
Tobin also said that Democratic leaders like Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib spread anti-Semitic memes and support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. He said that the political left accepts and rationalizes anti-Semitism in the African American community, and that figures like Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam “far outnumber marginalized white nationalists.
“They call out violence against Jews when it comes from the right, but when there’s a surge of violence against Orthodox Jews from Blacks, as was the case in New York at the end of last year, they weren’t just slow to react, but refused to connect the dots with Farrakhan,” Tobin said.
Goldberg challenged Tobin’s assertion that there are very few white nationalists, arguing instead they constitute “a growing movement of resentment.”
Goldberg said that Trump was indeed referring to Nazi marchers in Charlottesville when he uttered his controversial “very fine people on both sides” comment. “Trump may not intentionally encourage the white nationalists on the far right, but they see him as a supporter,” Goldberg said. “They point to him, they celebrate him and his presence and his policies about excluding immigrants, about trying to limit voting in African American neighborhoods, and the other things that go with the Trump era in the Republican party, they’re real. They’re real and they do come down from him. He may not focus it on Jews, but there are people who follow him who do.”