Bret Stephens on Israel, antisemitism and the New York Times cartoon

On Israel, the Times columnist asks, “What happens if Jared and Ivanka divorce tomorrow?”

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens addressed the Times’s cartoon controversy and the U.S.-Israel relationship under President Trump during a conversation at the NYU Global Center on Monday. The panel, hosted by students groups TorchPAC and Realize Israel, had the title “Where Are We Now? American Jewry & Zionism in the Age of Trump.”

Stephens said that writing the op-ed in response to the antisemitic cartoon in the paper’s international print newspaper last week was an easy choice. “The moment I saw the cartoon, I realized, I’m either going to denounce it or feel ashamed of myself,” he said. “It was an emotional decision, it was easy. But most importantly it was easy because the senior leadership at the Times — the editorial page editor James Bennet, and people, in fact, more senior to him — were horrified by the publication of the cartoon. It took them by surprise. These things happen at newspapers, and even if they didn’t agree with every word that I wrote, they understood that it was essential that the paper of record also provide the most biting criticism of the cartoon.”

A frequent critic of Trump, Stephens cautioned pro-Israel Americans about Trump. “For people whose political affinities are entirely a function of their feelings about Israel, right, than Trump presents something of a conundrum,” Stephens said. “Because on the one hand there have been a set of policies, which I have supported — publicly — like moving the embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, getting out of the JCPOA, the Iran deal, which…in my opinion is good for Israel and the right thing to do. On the other hand, there are two more deeply worrying aspects of Trump’s policies. One is that he is in many ways an extension, his views are more of an extension of Obama’s views than most people acknowledge. Trump has a kind of ‘come home America’ idea of the world. Obama used to talk about ‘nation building at home,’ he was a very reluctant interventionist. He didn’t get involved in, for example, the Syria conflict, and he thought that United States should be sort of vacating parts of the world. And the consequences of that were visible.”

Stephens said of Trump, that “his transactional concept of foreign policy, his ‘what’s in it for us’ trademark approach — America First — is one that right now contains an exception for Israel, because for whatever reasons he’s pro-Israel. But what happens if Jared and Ivanka divorce tomorrow? Right? No, seriously, imagine Jared cheats on Ivanka and Trump is in a rage: ‘How come that Jared, that scoundrel son-in-law, is behaving the way I do?’ Well, then you’re in trouble because the philosophical concept through which Trump conducts foreign policy no longer necessarily makes an emotional exception for Israel. And what happens when you get Trump 2.0? That is to say the same kind of foreign policy, but on a more consistent basis. That’s what worries me about Trump.” Stephens later said that he’s worried about Trump because he gives “free rein to a set of ideas about immigration, about nationalism, about, we’ll call it globalism, which will eventually find their targets. In fact, already have found their targets in the Jewish people.”

By Jacob Kornbluh in New York, NY.

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