When touting his border wall, President Donald Trump cites medieval fortifications. Walls worked, he says. But defensive walls began to come down 500 years ago — because they were useless against modern artillery. No modern city is surrounded by defensive walls.
Walls have been built in more recent times, too, and Trump does cite the success of the wall which Israel built to separate it from the occupied Palestinian-populated West Bank. That wall, Trump asserts, has been 99.9% successful in keeping Palestinian suicide bombers out of Israel.
The Berlin Wall
There is another famous modern wall which Trump never mentions — the Berlin Wall (and not only because Ronald Reagan once admonished Mikhail Gorbachev to tear that wall down).
The function of the Berlin Wall was different — not to keep the undesirables out, but to make sure East German citizens stayed put and couldn’t depart to the West.
The Berlin Wall was guarded by East German soldiers with shoot-to-kill orders for anyone who tried to scale it. Some 80 people lost their lives making a run for freedom between 1961 and 1989.
The intent in building walls may be different, but the result is always the same. Walls end up keeping people in and limiting their freedom. That was true in the Middle Ages, when the lively commerce that had existed in the Roman Empire broke down and people no longer knew what was happening in the neighboring town.
It also holds true in the case of the Israeli wall. Benjamin Netanyahu’s wall not only keeps Palestinians out, but it keeps Israel mentally marooned in the Middle East.
Like its fanatically religious neighbors, Israel is increasingly developing its own brand of conservative, militant and intolerant Judaism.
Tragically, it has more in common with militant Islam than with what we have come to associate with the Jewish values of universalism, tolerance and inclusion. Israel is guarding the purity of its interpretation of Judaism no less aggressively than the Saudis do with their brand of Islam.
It is also trying to define what it means to be an Israeli and Jewish in purely Middle Eastern, illiberal and undemocratic terms, as evidenced by the Nation State Law drafted last year.
Little wonder that Israel is so friendly with Saudi Arabia and is drawing ever closer to the hard-line Gulf states. Meanwhile, it is increasingly separated from the liberal West and, by extension, from its own roots. The wall is an expression of such attitudes, but it also reinforces them.
American jews Vs. Trump
As a matter of fact, Israel is now at war with American Jews, its strongest and most valuable supporters. Some 35% of American Jews belong to the Reform denomination, which Israel barely recognizes, while another 30% don’t have a religious affiliation.
American Jews are also extremely liberal. Trump, as ever the divider, is in effect splitting American Jews from Israel. There is a reason for that from his vantage point: Jews were the only white ethnic group in the United States who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, by a 70%-25% margin.
Similarly, in the U.S. midterm elections last November, three quarters of American Jews voted for the Democrats.
In contrast, in last year’s opinion polls, 69% of Israelis expressed confidence in Trump. Trump is more beloved only in the Philippines, where his approval is at 78%.
Compare this to Germany and France, where confidence in Trump is in the single digits. Even in the Brexit-torn UK, this figure is only 28%.
Trump is walling himself in
Trump is the least popular president in U.S. history. His popularity never rose as high as 50% and his approval rating in the United States routinely hovers around 33%.
By electing Trump, Americans have put themselves apart from the rest of enlightened Western democracies. If Trump succeeds in building his wall, it will be merely a visual representation of American degradation — and ultimately, isolation from its traditional allies and historic friends.
Trump’s wall strategy and Israel’s wall strategy thus point to many unpleasant parallels as well as cultural and political consequences one needs to be concerned about.
This article is republished from The Globalist: On a daily basis, we rethink globalization and how the world really hangs together. Thought-provoking cross-country comparisons and insights from contributors from all continents. Exploring what unites and what divides us in politics and culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. And sign up for our highlights email here.