Thursday, January 26, 2017

Dangerous Bedfellows

I've been trying to figure out a way to express this for some time. Then last week, I began a new chabura, and found what I think is the right language.

We are learning the book of Yeshayah (Isaiah). One of Yeshayah's persistent messages for the leaders of his day (2500-2700 years ago) was a warning against alliances with the nations around us, like Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. The same message came from the prophet Yirmiyah. Their point was that we should rely on G-d, and that these new friends shared neither our faith in G-d, nor our values. Further, the alliances were also simply bad investments: some nations violated our trust, while others were too weak to help us. In the end, we paid the price by falling prey either to our "allies" or to our foes.

But we've never outgrown our national predilection for partnerships. Whether because we love peace, or because we are insecure in our own identity, or because we fear assault, we tend to accept every olive branch extended our way - regardless of the quality of the match. This led, for example, to an awkward relationship with apartheid South Africa in the 1970's, engaging in trade even as Israel condemned apartheid on the world stage.

Today, the ally many Jews in Israel and abroad seek is the new American President Donald Trump. Applauding his election may have started as a way to spite his predecessor, but Israeli officials have come to speak of him as a friend and ally.

True, the new president has spoken positively of Israel and negatively of her enemies, and has promised significant steps in Israel's apparent favour. Nonetheless, one wonders what Yeshayah or Yirmiyah, would have to say. Even for those who are fans of Trump, and aside from Trump's many sins, presumably the prophets who opposed alliances with Assyria, Babylon and Egypt would not look more kindly on identifying closely with an American president, whose list of deficiencies includes the fact that he will face election in just a few short years. Swept into office by national reaction to the overreaches of the left, President Trump may face a broom of his own in 2020 - and what will be the fate of those who yoked their causes to his?

Normally, I am an optimist, but I fear the timeless messages of Yeshayah may come back to haunt our nation.