By Seth Lipsky
(MONDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2022 / New York Sun) Congratulations are in order for Donald Trump with the news that the Zionist Organization of America will bestow on the former president its medal named for Theodor Herzl. The honor was announced before Mr. Trump expressed frustration with the lack of appreciation American Jews have shown of his support for Israel. There is no more distinguished prize than that which America’s oldest Zionist organization bestows in the Herzl medal.
The ZOA was founded in 1897, the year Herzl convened at Basel the first Zionist Congress. The Herzl medal is more than merited by Mr. Trump. Previous winners include some of the most decorated figures in the Zionist epic — Lord Balfour, Winston Churchill, David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, and another president who once complained about the Jews only to stand by them, Harry Truman.
At first glance, the real estate mogul turned president appears to have little in common with the Viennese newspaperman who dreamed of a Jewish state. Herzl, who died in 1904, was a product of a Habsburg milieu that featured cultural summits but also antisemitism. Mr. Trump arose from Queens and cut his teeth doing deals at Midtown. The dreamer of Zion and the visionary of skylines would seem to be an unlikely pair.
Then again, too, it turns out that Herzl’s dream of a Jewish state was rooted in an understanding of the importance of the land. In 1901, Herzl founded a real estate holding company — the Jewish National Fund — to begin purchasing large tracts in pre-state Israel. That was a generation before President Trump’s father founded, in 1926, the real estate company that bears their name. Fast forward to our time and another chapter of the story.
That was the marriage of Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka to, in Jared Kushner, the scion of another real estate empire and of one of America’s leading Zionist families. We are not an intimate, or even an acquaintance, of these figures. We can’t help imagining, though, that Mr. Trump appreciated the synergies of which Herzl dreamed and that were coming into alignment for a settlement of one of history’s most fraught real estate disputes.
The ZOA honors many elements of Mr. Trump’s record on Israel. The most important feature, in our view, is the courage to address Jerusalem. That grew from the ability to see that reserving Jerusalem for so-called “final status” negotiations, as our State Department insisted on for decades, was, in fact, a formula for failure — a disincentive to lay down arms. Congress finally put its foot down in the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995.
It took 20 years before America gained a president prepared to enforce that law and move our embassy to Jerusalem. Mr. Trump also brought in his son-in-law to help chart the peace agreements known as the Abraham Accords. We ourselves were skeptical of such peacemaking, which had all too often meant America leaning on Israel to be more forthcoming. Messrs. Trump and Kushner saw, as we and others did, that addressing Jerusalem first was a key to peace.
The Abraham Accords are an astounding achievement, comprising so far the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and the Sudan. We don’t want to get ahead of our skis, but there are signs that Saudi Arabia’s rising figure, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, could eventually be prepared to exchange ambassadors with the Jewish state. We don’t take it for granted, but it is no longer impossible to imagine.
This is a moment to remember that while Theodor Herzl was a journalist, a playwright, and a refined figure of the arts, his relations with potentates was vexed. He broke his health schlepping from one capital to the next, pleading his case to Kaiser Wilhelm II and Sultan Abdul Hamid II and others. No doubt Herzl, who sought what he called a “better terrain” for his people, would have appreciated this honor of President Trump.
This op-ed was originally published in the New York Sun and can be viewed here.