Macron, Trump and Israel today and tomorrow

This week our French blogger Reuven Levi travels to Israel and sees his home country with a new perspective

May 30, 2017 07:25

Now Emmanuel Macron has been elected president of France, the excitement is over. But people in Israel still take an interest in the Macron phenomenon. As well they might – Israel’s standing abroad, and more importantly its own destiny, could be radically changed by a smart, young, courageous leader emerging from outside the political system.

Why not? Miracles are more prevalent in Israel than in France.

Macron won by creating a new political centre with optimism, pragmatism and a heavy dose of disciplined campaigning, bringing realism to a pessimistic country, straightforwardness in place of cynicism. His chances of winning a working majority in the 577-seat parliament in the coming weeks are enhanced by the dismal state of the established parties that are riven by ideological differences and disappointing leadership. He is appealing to voters’ sense of the national interest over sectarian claims. Beyond core economic reforms, his domestic challenges include turning the tide on secular decline in the small towns and countryside that voted heavily against him and finding a place for the 6 million-strong Muslim population without betraying a century of French secularism.

Whatever one might think of him, Donald Trump has changed the way actors and analysts look at Israel’s situation in the Middle East. The regional peace that Bibi has been anticipating is now coming into view.

The Saudi Foreign Minister has spoken of mutual respect among the three Abrahamic religions and reminded us that Islam’s holiest cities are Mecca and Medina (not Al Khods). While secular Western commentators have made little of this so far, it could give Israel legitimacy in Muslim eyes and help resolve the conflict which is as much religious as political—it’s enough to read the Hitlerian insults Islamic scholars heaped on the Jews (not Israel) after the 1967 war. Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s emissary, is gathering ideas for a new push for peace.

Israel this May is a traveller’s dream – sunny and warm, with the occasional breeze. Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is still roadworks and railworks, but we are promised the 30-minute rail link sometime next year giving a new cultural shock to Israel’s segregated neighbourhoods.

Despite continued discrimination, the economic integration of Israel’s Arabs is more advanced than generally assumed, especially in the health sector where Jewish and Arab doctors, nurses and pharmacists work long hours together in astonishing harmony. The Haredi sector is more resistant, but there too barriers are weakening under the pressure of smartphones and economic necessity. Politicians continue to neglect the periphery and the Sephardic communities whose difficulties are often denied.

It may be that societal change will come less by law than by practical necessity, by education and grass roots initiatives. In a few days of visits and conferences in Jerusalem, we met people and heard stories that brought Israel alive to us in profound ways. The Arab judge on Israel’s Supreme Court who is fully aware of the challenges but proud to be Israeli and rejects the idea that Israel is a country of racism and apartheid. Women lawyers who petition the Court in defense of religious pluralism and against discrimination. Business people who invest in the harmonious coexistence of Arab and Jewish employees. A young woman rabbi who bring Jews and their Bedouin neighbors together to celebrate both Jewish and Muslim holidays.

We also discussed what it means to be Jewish in the Land of Israel where Jews are in the majority, compared to the diaspora where Jews are a minority. We talked of reclaiming the word “Zionism” as the proud movement for Jewish emancipation, both politically and culturally. We argued over Israel-Diaspora models -- whether Israel is now the sun and the Diaspora communities its satellites, or whether this relationship is an ellipse in which Israel and the Diaspora are equal interacting partners, much like the Babylonian period that produced two versions of the Talmud.

We did not solve any of these problems, but we now see better what needs to be done. If Israel and France have something in common it's the need for creative and determined leadership to forge a future from the best of its past.


May 30, 2017 07:25

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