The moment I heard Trump was fixing to pay us a visit in Jerusalem, “Nixon Baba” started playing in my mind.
Published in the JPost op-ed section, May 10th
“Nixon Baba” is a popular Egyptian song that describes a similar visit of an American president to a different Middle East capital: Nixon’s trip to Cairo in 1974.
The song is a cheeky mockery of the Egyptian and Arab leaders who were licking the boots of “Mr. Watergate” even though everyone knew that his Middle East trip – a trip he went on despite having a bad case of phlebitis – was an excuse to avoid the press a month after the Watergate debacle erupted.
Poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, commonly known as El-Fagommi, and singer-songwriter Imam Mohammad Ahmad Eissa, better known as “Sheikh Imam,” turned Nixon’s visit into a sassy song about the hypocrisy of politicians. In her novel In the Eye of the Sun, Ahdaf Soueif’s character Asya explains to her friends how each and every word of “Nixon Baba” carries two or three layers of meaning. For instance, the Arab leaders are nicknamed “the sultans of ful and zeit.” Ful is Arabic (and Hebrew) for broad beans and, as Soueif puts it, “the one thing everyone knows about Egypt is that ful is the basic diet of the Egyptians. Particularly those from the more traditional or poorer sectors of society.” Therefore, calling an Arab leader “the sultan of fool” implies poverty and backwardness.
But there is more. The cheapest way to eat ful is with zeit, Arabic for oil, usually olive oil. But oil, like in English, also means petrol in Arabic and therefore the Arab leaders in the song are both referred to as the rulers of the poor and lords of oil wealth.
The song also suggests that the Arab leaders are giving Nixon “fake respect.” They call him “one of us” or address him as “hajj” – an honorable Muslim title for those who have made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Calling Nixon hajj is mockery. Being named hajj in this context is an honor that a clueless foreigner might find pleasant, but for everyone else it’s clear that Nixon is a hajj in the same way that he is a Muslim and that he is as Muslim as he is “one of us.”
Some Israeli and Jewish leaders have also been licking Trump’s boots in a similar “fake respect” vein and we should expect more of the same during the upcoming visit. Trump’s “Jewish credentials” were often invoked among Israelis and American Jews. He allegedly has a “deep connection” with Israel and I even heard a rumor that he is planning a visit to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s grave in Uman, Ukraine.
For any Jew, embracing Trump should be embarrassing. It’s hard to imagine a less Jew-ish person than The Donald. Jewish tradition teaches modesty and humility, especially when it comes to leadership. Moses, the undisputed role model for Jewish leadership, is considered the most modest and humble of men. He didn’t want to assume power over others. His story tells us that the best leaders aren’t attracted to power, that only if need be are they willing to take responsibility, and that even then they are wary about using their power.
Donald “grab them by the cookie” Trump is a modern-day Pharaoh, an antithesis to Jewish leadership. He is a boastful, narcissistic reality-show figure who made his way to the White House using vulgar figures of speech and self-praise, while demonstrating a pathetic thirst for power and inability to control his urges, not to mention his obsession with possession.
The Jewish revelation that Moses brought was about law. Trump brags endlessly about disregarding the law. He thinks that if you have power you are above the law. As he famously said, “I could shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Yet many pay him respect, even support him.
Nearing the end of last summer I drove north to a West Bank settlement to visit Trump’s official campaign headquarters in Israel. I was working for a foreign correspondent at the time, and he wanted me to find out if there was a story there. When I arrived at the address, I thought that I was in the wrong place. There were no signs, even on the door. Trump’s official campaign headquarters turned out to be the large private home of an octogenarian American couple. There were no campaigners, activists or anything of that sort. Inside, the owner explained to me why he was willing to flush his religious values down the toilet by supporting Trump. He said he hoped that by supporting Trump, Israel would be rewarded with a free pass to “do whatever we want with the West Bank,” which is, he elaborated, “a step towards redeeming the land and bringing the messiah.” I, on the other hand, was slightly skeptical of the prospects that the coming of the messiah could have something to do with supporting a man who speaks publicly about the size of his penis and said things like “you can never be too greedy” or “the beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”
Now, Trump Baba is paying us a visit. We are so excited to welcome him. Our government ministers, rabbis, journalists and businessmen will line up to kiss his fingers and show him our most treasured halls and sites. Even some of our so called “Left” leaders, like those from the Zionist Union, will crawl on their bellies in an attempt to find a crack in Trump’s schedule so they can lick his heels.
At least in this regard, Israel isn’t at odds with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has already climbed the stairs to Trump’s offices, and the Saudi Arabian sultans of ful and zeit, too, will not miss an opportunity to spoil him with gestures and presents.
They will tell him that he is a brother of the Jewish people in Israel and of the Arab world in Saudi Arabia, that he made bar mitzva and hajj in Mecca and that he is “one of us.” They are forgetting, like Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, that the American president is only looking to make himself great again, and that you don’t get what you want by brown-nosing a Baba, but only become an underling.