President Donald Trump made history yesterday by becoming the first U.S. president to visit the Western Wall, aka the Weeping Wall.
For those readers not familiar with this ancient site, it is a relatively small segment of a far longer ancient retaining wall, known also in its entirety as the “Western Wall” where Jews stuff tiny handwritten notes into the rock crevices. The wall was originally erected as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple by King Herod, which resulted in the encasement of the natural, steep hill known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount, Ok, now that we’ve dispensed with the history lesson (and “aggregation” from Wikipedia) one question remains: Why would 45 break with a longstanding American tradition of not going to the wall?
As far as I can tell, there are three reasons:
- The president loves walls. Look no further then his obsession with the Mexican wall
- Donald loves to weep. Just look at his Twitter feed — especially the recent one about how he’s the subject of the greatest witch hunt in history.
- He needed to ask God a favor. My bet is that his note — roughly 140 characters — beseeched the Lord of the Israelites to smite his opponents (the Democrats, James Comey and Saturday Night Live) and make America great again. God knows, he needs help in that department.
The pilgrimage to the Western Wall wasn’t the only anomaly in Donald Trump’s visit to the Holy Land. The whole affair turned sour right from the get-go when first lady Melania slapped his hand as he reached for hers on the tarmac. As a married man I’ve seen that look — it means he’s done something really, really stupid — which is saying a lot considering the sheer amount of stupidity that is normally spewed out of his mouth.
Things only got worse for 45 when he was forced to shake the hand of every second-rate Israeli politician — a list that included mayors of forgotten cities, assistants to the assistants of the prime minister, and scores of shady political deal-makers who somehow managed to break through the “sterile” perimeter cordoned off by the Secret Service. Welcome to Israel, boys. The height of this expensive circus (which cost Israeli taxpayers millions) was when Oren Hazan, a member of the Israeli Knesset (accused of sex trafficking and racketeering) took a selfie with the president on the tarmac, causing an international scene.
All of this despite the Trump team’s insistence that DJT suffers from the effects of the heat and shouldn’t be out in the sun for long periods of time. Can you imagine the field day the conservative pundits would have had at Barack Obama’s expense if the former president ever admitted to “suffering from heat?” Fox News would have created a special “breaking news” graphic with a slow-motion image of Obama wiping his forehead with satanic laughter in the background.
The purpose of DJT’s visit to Israel (on the heels of the Saudi trip) seems unclear as does his agenda. None of the pundits or seasoned Mideast journalists seem able to wrap their heads around any concrete policy that he might be interested in promoting. A one-state solution? A two-state solution? A three state solution? A regional solution? His ambiguity and mixed messages are so confounding, not even his staunchest supporter, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, can gauge his intentions. In a section of the world that resembles a powder keg, threatening to explode at the drop of a falafel, his lack of clarity only brings the parties closer to another inevitable clash and bloodshed.
President Trump’s itinerary was also subject to some controversy. At first Trump’s team insisted that he land his helicopter atop Masada, the ancient ruins of a fortress built by Herod the Great around 31 BCE. The Antiquities Authority refused the request and DJT, spiteful and petty, decided to abandon this part of the trip and not take the cable car up to the fortress as previous presidents have done (Clinton, Bush etc.). Perhaps it is worth noting the striking similarities between the tyrannical King Herod — the ancient king of the Israelites who built this fortress — and DJT. First of all, they both made their reputation by building enormous eponymous structures. King Herod’s legacy is that of construction — from Masada to the pleasure palace in Caesarea and the Herodium. Scholars also agree that King Herod suffered throughout his lifetime from depression and paranoia — something we’re seeing in DJT’s daily tweet meltdown. Finally, King Herod is known to scholars as “Herod the Great” probably because he made ancient Judea great again. Word to Melania — Herod later executed several members of his own family, including his wife Mariamne I.
The president will meet with Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, in Bethlehem today before taking his family … errr, staff … to Italy and Belgium. In one fell swoop the president landed at all three major holy sites — Mecca for Islam, Jerusalem for Judaism (Islam and Christianity) and finally, the Vatican for Catholics. If this type of trip strikes you as a bit reactionary — a throwback to the Dark Ages and Crusades — then you are quite astute. Donald Trump has no doubt been touched with something known in these parts as “Jerusalem Syndrome,” which is, basically a psychosis involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences that are triggered by a visit to Jerusalem.
One thing is for sure, the city of Jerusalem, conquered and reconquered throughout history, has seen greater dictators and madmen than DJT. As the Hebrew saying goes (usually recited around Passover) “This, too, shall pass.”
Jason F. Gilbert is the head of the Middle East Desk at The Shinbone Star. His recent novel “Guarding the Dead” about life and death in Israel is available for purchase on Lulu.com.