World Of Words Is Don­ald Trump Is­rael’s ‘Beloved Leader’?

Forward Magazine - - Contents - BY AVIYA KUSH­NER Aviya Kush­ner is the For­ward’s lan­guage colum­nist and the au­thor of “The Gram­mar of God (Spiegel & Grau, 2015). Fol­low her on Twit­ter, @AviyaKush­ner

I am an in­cur­able saver of news­pa­pers, and I just couldn’t throw out Is­raeli news­pa­per cov­er­age of Don­ald Trump’s visit to Is­rael. Some­thing in the lan­guage gnawed at me, and now I know what it was: the in­vo­ca­tion of Jewish text and tra­di­tion to de­scribe an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent who is the most di­vi­sive in re­cent his­tory. Worst of all, the words used to de­scribe Trump in cer­tain cor­ners of the Is­raeli press are the same words that Jewish pray­ers and po­ems use to de­scribe God.

Con­sider the head­line of Is­rael Hayom, a rightwing news­pa­per backed by Las Ve­gas bil­lion­aire Shel­don Adel­son and dis­trib­uted free through­out Is­rael. “Yedid BaKo­tel,” it blared. Trans­la­tion: A friend at the Ko­tel. A friend at the Western Wall. At least that’s what yedid means in con­tem­po­rary spo­ken He­brew.

But that sur­face trans­la­tion doesn’t ex­plain the whole truth.

“Yedid,” for those who spend time in syn­a­gogue Fri­day evenings, im­me­di­ately re­calls the 16th-cen­tury poem “Yedid Ne­fesh,” which is sung each week as Shab­bat en­ters, and de­scribes the re­la­tion­ship be­tween God and the peo­ple of Is­rael. “Yedid Ne­fesh” was com­posed by Rabbi Elazar ben Moshe Azikri, who was born in Safed af­ter his fam­ily fled Spain. It be­gins with the line “Yedid ne­fesh av harachaman,” or “Beloved of the soul, mer­ci­ful fa­ther.” In other words — God is beloved, a mer­ci­ful fa­ther fig­ure, a true friend.

On Is­rael Hayom’s front cover, the words “Yedid BaKo­tel” ap­peared just below a graphic of an Amer­i­can flag and an Is­raeli flag. I took a copy from the en­thu­si­as­tic red-clad em­ploy­ees wav­ing at me as I waited in line to en­ter Tel Aviv Univer­sity (in Is­rael, there is a se­cu­rity check at the en­trance to any cam­pus).As I waited, I no­ticed that the front page proudly de­clares a cir­cu­la­tion of 275,000. Wikipedia says the Fri­day cir­cu­la­tion is 550,000, mak­ing Is­rael Hayom’s Is­rael’s largest­cir­cu­la­tion pa­per.

But the stu­dents wait­ing with me weren’t in­ter­ested, and the red-clad news­pa­per em­ploy­ees were hav­ing a hard time giv­ing it away. Still, tak­ing the bus home, I no­ticed many well-worn copies. Some­one is read­ing this stuff, mak­ing as­so­ci­a­tions be­tween Trump and yedid, or even yedid ne­fesh. And that’s scary. It’s scarier when one con­sid­ers that the lan­guage of yedid ne­fesh of­fers three ways of en­vi­sion­ing the God-man or, specif­i­cally, God-peo­ple of Is­rael re­la­tion­ship: fa­ther-child, ruler-ser­vant and man-woman.

Mean­while, Ye­diot Aharonot, a main­stream news­pa­per that gen­er­ally tilts right in its edi­to­rial views, ran the same ubiq­ui­tous photo of Trump in his black-suede yarmulke, touch­ing the Ko­tel.

Ye­diot’s word choice in its head­line has also been haunt­ing me. “Anachnu ba’alei brit,” it said. The dic­tionary def­i­ni­tion? We are al­lies.

But that’s just the sur­face. Here again, it’s hard for any­one with a strong Jewish back­ground to see the word brit, or covenant, and not think of the covenant be­tween God and the peo­ple of Is­rael de­tailed through­out the Bi­ble. It’s also hard not to think about the brit bein hab’tarim, the covenant be­tween God and Abra­ham, and of course, the brit mi­lah, the cir­cum­ci­sion cer­e­mony.

Pre­dictably, left-lean­ing Ha’aretz was more skep­ti­cal of Trump. The pa­per’s Chemi Shalev in­trigu­ingly de­scribed Trump as the most Is­raeli

Read­ers can get lulled into the sen­sa­tion that Trump is a ‘yedid’ and a part­ner to a covenant.

pres­i­dent yet — in the way Is­raelis like to see them­selves: blunt, tough, de­ci­sive. Reread­ing the cov­er­age of the visit, I re­al­ized that right-wing Is­raeli me­dia, by in­vok­ing ref­er­ences to Jewish texts, is part of that strange im­pres­sion of Trump as “Is­raeli”: Read­ers can get lulled into the sen­sa­tion that Trump is a yedid and a part­ner to a covenant, and pos­si­bly the di­vine covenant be­tween God and the peo­ple of Is­rael. And as a bonus he has Jewish grand­chil­dren and poses for pho­tos at the Western Wall.

That’s a dan­ger­ous line of think­ing, as those who forked over cash, votes and sup­port in the be­lief that Trump sees things just like them have dis­cov­ered, or will dis­cover. For Amer­i­can vot­ers, the il­lu­sion that Trump un­der­stands them can cost health care and na­tional dig­nity; for Is­raelis, the will­ing­ness to be­lieve Trump, and to be­lieve in Trump, in­clud­ing his photo ops at the Wall, can be a colos­sal mis­take with geopo­lit­i­cal con­se­quences — and the pa­ram­e­ters of that mis­take are not yet clear. In the mean­time, it’s bizarre to read yedid as a de­scrip­tion of a man who res­ur­rected an anti-Semitic ral­ly­ing cry in his “Make Amer­ica Great Again” cam­paign theme, and it only gets weirder and more skin-cur­dling on each reread­ing.

In the weeks since Trump’s visit to Is­rael, who he is — and who he is not — has only be­come clearer, as for­mer FBI di­rec­tor James Comey’s rivet­ing tes­ti­mony taught us all. The man who fired James Comey is no yedid and no part­ner to any sort of brit. And every day seems to bring new re­ver­sals on pre­vi­ously ut­tered state­ments.

Trump vot­ers are learn­ing that his cam­paign prom­ises were not covenants. Un­for­tu­nately, the only per­son this pres­i­dent seems to be keep­ing covenants with is him­self.


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