Friends like this

Joseph Aaron

It’s important to know who your friends are. And who your enemies are. And who your friends should be and who your enemies should be.

I know we’re living in times like no other, times in which the president of the United States decides to get into a public feud with a porn star with whom he claims to have never had a relationship, even though he had his Jewish lawyer pay her $130,000 not to talk about it, a feud in which he called her ‘horseface.’

Times in which a journalist who has permanent residence status in the United States and works for the Washington Post, walked into a consulate in Turkey and never walked out. Times in which Saudi Arabia sent 15 of its citizens, along with a bone saw, on a ‘vacation’ to Turkey, in which they landed at 3 in the morning and left less than 12 hours later.

It’s why it’s important to know who your friends are and to choose very carefully when deciding who your friends should be.

Over the last year or so, the prime minister of Israel has sent a whole lot of signals that the Jewish state has been having an increasingly closer and better relationship with Saudi Arabia. He’s said as much publicly and let even more leak out privately. Stories about top Israeli military officials paying secret visits to Saudi Arabia, talks about Israel and Saudi Arabia coordinating against their common enemy Iran, even stories about how Saudi Arabia may have given Israel permission to fly over its territory in case Israel decides to attack Iran’s nukes.

Bottom line is that Bibi has been very proud of Israel’s ever closer ties to Saudi Arabia, boasting how it showed that the Middle East was now a very different place, a place where Israel and Saudi Arabia have found common ground, are working in tandem.

See, here’s the thing. There truly was a time when Israel had very few friends in the world and so couldn’t afford to be choosy. Anyone who was willing to be Israel’s friend, Israel was happy to be buddies with. Which led to the stain of Israel being one of the very few countries on earth that not only had diplomatic and economic ties with apartheid South Africa but actually sold military equipment to apartheid South Africa.

Truth is that was not justified then but it was understandable. But today, Israel has tons of friends, virtually every country on earth has diplomatic relations with Israel. Indeed of the 192 member states of the United Nations, Israel has ties with 157.

Meaning Israel doesn’t have to be friends with countries it should not be friends with, starting with Saudi Arabia. We should have known that already, but we sure as hell should know it now, now that we know Saudi Arabia killed Jamal Khashoggi in cold blood and dismembered his body, which is but the latest in a series of outrages, where the new crown prince has waged a vicious war devastating the people of Yemen, has attacked a fellow Gulf country, and where fear, intimidation and corruption have run rampant since Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, took over as the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

Now yes, I understand that Netanyahu continues to be obsessed with Iran, even though every single top military expert in Israel said the Iran deal made Iran much less of a threat and that Iran, while a nuisance, is very far from being the existential threat Bibi claims it to be. But because Bibi is so scared of Iran, he has been willing and indeed eager to strengthen ties to Saudi Arabia, even though it stands for everything Israel does not, because it too is scared of Iran.

And Saudi Arabia is not the only country Bibi has been chummy with when he shouldn’t be. This year alone he has welcomed warmly to Israel some of the worst dictators on the face of the earth. Leaders of countries that Israel should not have anything to do with, should not be friends with.

Among those Bibi has given a warm welcome to Israel are Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who regularly brags about murdering civilians and has compared himself to Adolf Hitler and  whose first years in office have been called a “human rights calamity.”  Duterte has waged a violent, extrajudicial war on drugs that has claimed some 12,000 lives, harassed and prosecuted his critics.

And yet not only was he welcomed on an official state visit, but while in Israel he went to several army bases, along with his defense minister and top military and police officials, signaling he very much wanted to buy arms from Israel to help him terrorize his people, with Bibi clearly indicating he would be happy to sell him such equipment.

This might be a good place to note that in 2017 Israel supplied Myanmar with ‘advanced weapons’ during the country’s ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya. Myanmar is another country Israel is friends with but should not be.

And there have been other authoritarian leaders Netanyahu has recently met with, including Hungary’s Viktor OrbanRussia’s Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev, among others. When Netanyahu welcomed Orban to Israel he actually called him a “good friend.” This is the same Orban who, during a recent meeting of European leaders, was shunned by them all, none being willing to even shake his hand. Orban heads the far-right Fidesz party, has waged an openly anti-Semitic crusade against Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, who is Jewish, and has praised Miklos Horthy, who led the country following the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. Horthy was a Hitler ally who oversaw the murder of more than 500,000 Holocaust victims together with Nazi Germany.

These are not our friends, should not be our friends and it is beyond insulting to everything Israel is about to welcome leaders like this. As it is to be cozying up to Saudi Arabia.

Which brings us, of course, to Jared Kushner. Kushner is someone who knows absolutely nothing and yet thinks he knows absolutely everything. Which is why Trump has put him in charge of so much, including bringing peace to the Middle East.

In pursuit of that, Jared struck up a bromance with MBS. They have had lunches and dinners together, frequent phone calls and schmooze sessions that lasted until 4 in the morning. Jared more than anyone in the American government has vouched for what a good guy MBS is, what a cool, modern guy, a reformer.

Indeed they have had so much one on one contact, that American intelligence officials grew increasingly alarmed at what kind of signals Jared was sending and how much he was being manipulated by MBS. See Jared, ignorant that he is, saw in MBS a kindred soul who was young like Jared and willing to not follow any usual script of how diplomacy was to be conducted.

Problem is that Jared saw a confidant who would help him make Middle East peace and MBS saw a sucker, who, he told confidants, he ‘had in his pocket.’ And indeed it seemed to be no coincidence that Kushner visited with MBS in Saudi Arabia in October 2017, and that a week later Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, turned up in Saudi Arabia to resign, MBS coercing his resignation as a means of sowing chaos in Lebanon.

The proximity (and secrecy) of Jared’s visit so close to the Lebanon fiasco led to speculation that Kushner winked at MBS’s maneuvering. Separately, the crown prince arrested a bunch of his extended family, soon after Trump’s visit to the country, arranged, of course, by Jared.

And many now believe it has been all of Jared’s cozy conversations with MBS that convinced the crown prince he could get away with the murder of Khashoggi.

So while Jared thought he was enlisting someone who would help him make his historic Middle East peace deal, in fact MBS was playing Kushner, making him feel like he was his good friend. It’s why it’s so important who your friends are and who they should be, a lesson Kushner seems not to have learned.

Indeed shamefully to this very minute Kushner continues to be in touch with MBS, to be defending MBS, working with MBS to wiggle out of this jam, continuing to believe that MBS is his, and our friend.

As someone pointed out, every single major decision Kushner has made in his life has been wrong. He thought it would be a great idea to fire James Comey and urged Trump to do so. Kushner paid more money for a building in New York than anyone ever has and the building is half unoccupied and worth about half of what Kushner paid for it. The list of his other stupid decisions is a very long one.

But his friendship with MBS is perhaps the stupidest and the most unJewish of them all. What bugs me about Jared and his Jewish wife Ivanka is that they make a big deal out of being Jewish. Make sure to post photos on instagram of baking hamantashen with the kids, of walking to shul on Succot.

And yet they are Jewish only when it is convenient for them. Ivanka recently wore a dress that no Orthodox Jewish woman ever would, indeed I’m not sure even Stormy Daniels would. And when Jared convinced Trump that his very first overseas visit should be to, you guessed it, Saudi Arabia, Jared and Ivanka flew there on Shabbat. When asked about that, they said their rabbi had given them permission to. Except the four rabbis closest to them, all said they were never asked and if they had been asked they would not have given such permission. And so when asked to identify the rabbi who did say it was okay, Jared and Ivanka simply have refused to answer.

A good Jew would not be friends with the likes of MBS. Who and what the crown prince is was very clear long before he ordered the grisly murder of Khashoggi. Israel should not be friends with the leaders of Hungary and the Philippines. And the Jewish senior advisor to the president, who, by the way, we just learned, is worth $350 million and yet has not paid a penny of federal income tax for ten years, should not be holding intimate chats with the dictator of Saudi Arabia.

It matters who you are friends with. By being buddies with MBS, all Jared accomplished was to let him feel he had a Jewish friend in high places, and so could get away with murder.

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