More Motiveless Malignancy

Hollywood is still full of young dreamers from Iowa or Idaho, so Hollywood is full of acting schools. There’s the Stella Adler Theater with its acting school on Hollywood Boulevard – next door to the rather creepy Hollywood Wax Museum. That’s a bit ominous. Down on Santa Monica Boulevard there’s the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute with its Marilyn Monore Theater – she studied with him – in the Ukrainian section of town known as Little Odessa and across the street from a strip mall with a 7-11 and a laundromat. There are more. None of them are particularly glamourous. Young dreamers pinch their pennies to go to these places to learn their craft, as they say. Acting is difficult. How does one become a completely different person for a few hours, six nights a week, with a matinee on Sunday, or day after day on a movie or television set?

That’s the craft. These young dreamers are told that they have to understand the character they will play, deeply, and the key to that is obvious. What is the character’s motivation, really? What’s really going on? What inner demons drive that person? Understand that and the appropriate tics and mannerisms follow, and maybe an Oscar.

That’s the theory. That’s also difficult. There’s the repertoire. Shakespeare created one of the all-time nasty guys in Othello – that curious little fellow Iago, that foul little man who drives all the action. Iago is the center of the play – a role that’s an actor’s dream – but there’s no reason anywhere in the text that explains why he wants to break up Othello’s marriage to Desdemona. There’s nothing in it for him. He doesn’t have the hots for Desdemona. He has no ambitions. He doesn’t want to usurp Othello. He seems happy to just mess things up, for no reason at all – perhaps because he can. It may be no more than that. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called that Iago’s “motiveless malignancy” – a dead end. There are such people. Shakespeare was anticipating The Joker in the second Christopher Nolan Batman movie – some people just want to see the world burn.

Donald Trump may be one of those people. The UN Partition Plan (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181) on November 29, 1947, divided Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. Jerusalem was to be designated an international city administered by the UN, to avoid conflict over its status – and the world has considered it an international city ever since. Israel captured East Jerusalem, with its mosques, from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War and said that East Jerusalem was Jerusalem too, and that the whole city was theirs. They set up their government there. The international community rejected the annexation as illegal and treats East Jerusalem as Palestinian territory occupied by Israel. No one recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The city hosts no foreign embassies – but Donald Trump announced that he’ll move our embassy to Jerusalem – something no US president has dared to do before. The city hosts no foreign embassies, but now it will host ours, and Donald Trump said the United States now recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – even if no one else does. It will be the United States and Israel against the world. Trump did not explain why he did this. He just did this.

Some people just want to see the world burn, and now it is burning:

Scores of Palestinians were injured Friday in the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank by Israeli live fire and rubber bullets as thousands took to the streets in the second day of protests against President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Two Palestinians were reported killed, one a 30-year-old man during the street clashes in Gaza. In the West Bank, Palestinian stone-throwers were met by Israeli soldiers firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

And then things got serious:

Israeli warplanes struck Hamas military targets in northern Gaza in retaliation for missile attacks launched against the southern Israeli city of Sderot. Several cars were damaged, but there were no casualties. Two of the missiles failed to reach Israeli territory.

As NPR’s Daniel Estrin reports on the airstrike, “Palestinian health officials say at least one Palestinian was killed, and at least 15 were wounded including two infants. One is reportedly in critical condition.”

And this had to happen:

There were confrontations in Jerusalem itself as several hundred Palestinians gathered for Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site. At the walled Old City gates, worshippers chanted “Jerusalem is ours, Jerusalem is our capital!” Scuffles between protesters and police were reported.

And then things spread:

The protests rippled throughout the Muslim world and beyond. The Associated Press reports that thousands denounced Trump’s decision in neighboring Jordan’s capital of Amman, as well as in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and other Muslim countries.

The actions come in response to a call for three “days of rage” by the Palestinian Fatah movement and other groups. That group’s militant rival, Gaza-based Hamas, has called for a third intifada.

Palestinian groups are calling for more protests on Saturday while Israeli government ministers are pleased with Trump’s decision.

Israeli government ministers are the only ones pleased with Trump’s decision:

The United States faced blunt and sometimes withering criticism from friends and adversaries alike at the United Nations on Friday over President Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and his plans to move the American Embassy to the highly contested holy city.

The rebukes, made at an emergency Security Council meeting called over Mr. Trump’s announcement, constituted an extraordinarily public denunciation of American policy on the world’s most prominent diplomatic stage, leaving the United States alone on the issue among the council’s 15 members.

One by one, the ambassadors of Sweden, Egypt, Britain, France and Bolivia, among others, reiterated their view that President Trump’s announcement had subverted the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a longtime bedrock of the United Nations position on resolving it. Some, like Bolivia’s ambassador, Sacha Sergio Llorenty Solíz, demanded that the body take action, “otherwise the Security Council will become an occupied territory,” he said.

This really is the United States and Israel against the world, and the United States is not explaining anything to anyone:

Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador, defended President Trump’s decision, asserting that Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel since its founding in 1948, “despite many attempts by others to deny that reality.”

Danny Danon, the Israeli ambassador, who, along with the Palestinian ambassador, had been invited to address the council, was Ms. Haley’s only supporter during the meeting. He called Mr. Trump’s announcement “a courageous decision.”

Others disagreed:

The Palestinian ambassador, Riyad H. Mansour, urged the Security Council to reaffirm its position on Jerusalem in a new resolution and said that the United States decision “disqualifies its role as a just broker for peace.”

Others simply gloated:

President Trump lapped up the festivities at the White House Hanukkah celebration just one day after he bucked years of American foreign policy to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Trump entered The East Room to cheers and addressed the crowd saying he knew there were a lot of happy people in the room before declaring “Jerusalem” according to pool reports.

Trump, who shared the origins of Hanukkah, and allowed his grandchildren to light the two Menorahs in the room, credited the Jewish people for their faith and resilience.

“No force has ever crushed your spirit, and no evil has ever extinguished your faith – and that is why the Jewish people shine as a light to all Nations,” Trump said, before highlighting Jerusalem again.

Let the world, outside the East Room of the White House, burn, and because Donald Trump is Donald Trump, he had to stick it to those who didn’t want the world to burn:

While attendees celebrated the major policy shift and enjoyed kosher snacks and wine five days before Hanukkah, Democratic legislators and Jewish figures who were previously critical of Trump were left out in the cold.

“It’s deeply unfortunate that the White House Hanukkah Party – a bipartisan event bringing together Jewish and non-Jewish leaders alike to celebrate the Festival of Lights since 2001 – has turned into a partisan affair under this administration,” Representative Nita M. Lowey of New York said in a statement to the New York Times.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, was not invited after he criticized the president for his response to the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

He also slammed Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which has set off clashes in the West Bank along with protests across the Middle East.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs said the wrong thing. All those people said the wrong things. They weren’t invited to the party. They had to be humiliated, and they were, perhaps, but there was this:

While Trump is known for holding a grudge, a spokesperson for Melania Trump, whose office oversees social events, said the celebration this year was “meant to be more personal than political.”

Many a wife cleans up after her boorish lout of a husband, but Josh Marshall sees something else here:

I’ve been watching coverage of the Jerusalem decision today on the cable networks, especially CNN. It’s telling, almost painful, watching real experts trying – really trying – to interpret this decision as part of an effort to push the peace process forward. Maybe Trump’s gotten some secret concession from Prime Minister Netanyahu in exchange for this? Maybe this is the game changer that can free up the current impasse?

Forget that, because Marshall sees nothing but motiveless malignancy:

These are the kind of things it would make sense to think if you had a normal US President – the idea that you would just do something like this purely to gratify the Republican base, spurred by the President’s boredom and desire to upset people. That’s all unthinkable. Yet that is pretty clearly what is going on here.

Trump is Iago, simply a nasty little-minded man:

I would say that this is 90% political and a matter of satisfying the President’s need for an act of self-assertion. The other 10% does slightly fall into the category of forward-moving gambits. It’s one you need to be exposed to the more extreme right-wing variants of Zionism to be familiar with.

It basically goes like this: What keeps the conflict going is Israel’s and the international community’s indulgence of unrealistic expectations on the part of the Palestinians. The path to peace is to make it totally clear, with established facts, that the Palestinians will essentially get nothing. Nothing here would be defined as a few autonomous self-governing zones within the West Bank under over-arching Israeli security control. No capital or even foothold in East Jerusalem. Not even a demilitarized version of sovereignty. No geographical contiguity – nothing. Basically the right to self-govern in civil matters in the parts of the West Bank where there are too many Palestinians to outnumber with Israeli settlers. Once Palestinians expectations are set to a realistic level, you can get down to negotiations.

That is nasty, but maybe that’s not all of it:

There are needless to say, a number of problems with this theory. But you hear it a lot as a sort of guiding theory of the case on the Zionist right. I would count it as 35% profoundly misguided idea, 65% mendacious self-assertion. That’s probably what the top Trumpers are telling themselves.

Mendacious self-assertion is, of course, another name for motiveless malignancy, but Marshall sees more:

I would be remiss if I didn’t note the obvious. Not only did the President put the region’s issues in the hands of his neophyte son-in-law. He put it in the hands of a settlement activist. Obviously nothing possibly good can come of this.

Some people do just want to see the world burn, and Andrew Sullivan adds more detail:

I have to say I roll my eyes at the various attempts to explain President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, and to make plans to move the U.S. embassy there. Is it an attempt to shake up the region to make peace more possible – or merely a strategic concession to reality? Why would Trump give the Israelis such a gift while asking nothing in return? That’s what Tom Friedman ponderously asks. And how on earth does it help the U.S. in navigating the entire region, since it guts any American pretense at even the appearance of neutrality? The earnest questions are everywhere.

This is like being in a Hollywood acting class. What is this character’s motivation, really? What’s really going on? What inner demons drive this person? Understand that and everything becomes clear, and Sullivan thinks he has found Trump’s inner demons:

The reason for this move is self-evident. The Trump administration believes in the project of Greater Israel, and the right of just one people to control all the territory from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. They believe this as a theological and moral imperative, and all other diplomatic considerations take second place.

Who are the key figures who hold this belief? Jared Kushner, the dauphin who has dedicated his short adult life to obliterating any concept of a Palestinian state, the U.S. ambassador David Friedman, whose commitment to Jewish supremacy in Greater Israel has always been total, and Mike Pence, whose theological conviction is that Israel must be made whole and eternal (and the Palestinians wished away) if the Second Coming is to arrive.

Sometimes, Occam’s razor really helps. There is no need to wonder why this has happened. It has happened because this is now U.S. policy: the extirpation of the Palestinian cause and the complete conflation of America’s national interest with Greater Israel’s in the region. This is what Sheldon Adelson paid for and what Ralph Reed demands. And this is what they will get.

Sullivan maintains the details bear that out:

Take the absurdity of Kushner as an envoy to both sides. Appointing him to oversee an Israel-Palestine two-state solution is like appointing David Duke to resolve America’s racial tensions:

“According to tax records, the Charles and Seryl Kushner Foundation donated at least $38,000 between 2011 and 2013 to the American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva, the fundraising arm of a Jewish seminary in Beit El, a West Bank settlement. The Beit El Yeshiva Center is associated with Arutz Sheva, also known as Israel National News, a news organization affiliated with the Jewish settler movement… In 2012 and 2013, the Kushner family foundation donated a total of $15,000 to the Etzion Foundation, which operates three Orthodox Jewish study institutions in West Bank settlements. In 2011, the family donated $5,000 to Ohr Torah Stone, an Orthodox Jewish educational institution in the West Bank settlement of Efrat.”

For much of that time, Jared Kushner was a co-director of the foundation, a role – surprise! – he failed to disclose before his appointment. Kushner, moreover, has continued to fund West Bank settlements even after assuming his current role, as ProPublica reported on Wednesday: “The charitable fund made a donation of at least $18,000 at the ‘Master Builders’ level to American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva Center, according to a donor book distributed at the group’s annual gala Sunday evening.”

That Manhattan gala was attended by John Bolton (scheduled for a meeting with Trump today in the White House), and featured a promotional video about the radical settlement. Set to action-movie music, the short film “showed high-school-age youth training in the settlement’s military academy. ‘Beit El is very important because it establishes our claim that God gave us this land,’ said Karen Frager, an activist who spoke on a video shown on stage.”

So now this makes sense:

And who, for years, was the head of this charity? I give you David Friedman, who is now U.S. ambassador! I mean seriously. What more do you need to know?

And add this factor:

The policy is complemented by a cynical alliance with fundamentalist or authoritarian Sunni states, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, against Iran and Shiite Islam … because targeting Iran is Israel’s primary foreign-policy objective (along with ending the nuclear deal) and getting these regimes to abandon any support for the Palestinians is critical to the legitimization of Greater Israel. Hence the “peace” plan Kushner has discussed with his fellow plutocratic scion, the Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman: “a Palestinian state with only ‘moral sovereignty’ and noncontiguous territory and without East Jerusalem as the capital; no Israeli settlement evacuation; and no right of return for Palestinian refugees.”

That is, a few apartheid-style Bantustans for the Palestinians; the designation of Abu Dis, a Jerusalem suburb already cut off by Israel’s wall, as their metaphorical “capital” and an end to any reasonable two-state solution at all.

And this, of course, has been the de facto U.S. policy for quite a while, because it has been AIPAC’s top policy goal for ages.

Sullivan is thorough, and he misses the last guy:

To see how entrenched this is, it’s important to remember that a two-term president, Barack Obama, was unable even to get a temporary pause in the pace of the intensifying annexation of the West Bank, and that Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer wanted Trump to go even further and use the word “undivided” to describe Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. When Trump says this decision is merely about recognition of reality, he is, in other words, half-right. But it is not recognition of the reality of the Middle East.

The reality of the Middle East is that it is now burning. And Donald Trump loves it. He’s the Joker and he’s Iago – and one day some actor will have to play Donald Trump in a movie about these years. That won’t be easy. What’s the character’s motivation? What inner demons drive this person? Understand that and the appropriate tics and mannerisms follow, and maybe an Oscar. Or maybe there’s no movie. We may not live that long. Trump’s motiveless malignancy could get us all killed.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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