Trump’s hypocrisy, from Jerusalem to Tehran

Is Donald Trump really a ‘morally serious’ president?

Donald Trump Reuters
Trump is in many ways Ayatollah Khamenei's ideal foe, writes Shebaya [Reuters]

This is not a whataboutery piece. As such, the intent is by no means to belittle or discredit what is taking place in Iran by asking “what about Palestine“. 

The Iranian people – like most of their Arab counterparts – live under an oppressive regime that severely restricts the right to dissent, “arresting and imprisoning” according to Amnesty International, “peaceful critics and others after grossly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts”.

This is not a matter of contention among morally serious analysts given the abundance of documentation of human rights violations by rights organisations and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Iran.

Similarly, it is also a matter of consensus among morally serious individuals that the Palestinian people have been suffering for decades under an oppressive Zionist regime and occupation that couldn’t care less about international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people. 

Trump: a “morally serious” president?

I am using the term “morally serious” here for two reasons. 

First, it was used in reference to Donald Trump. The US president’s reckless Jerusalem decision and recent support for the Iranian protests earned him the title of a “morally serious president” in a recent Haaretz op-ed by Jonathan Tobin. 

The second reason is that, despite the ludicrous nature of such a proposition, thinking politically within the framework of “moral seriousness” can be a beneficial approach to assess Trump’s – and any individual’s – views. 

Obviously, what can be described as “morally serious” depends on the moral system we ascribe to. And while the notion of “universal human rights” as a value-system upon which the world order ought to be driven by will sound superfluous, naive and even delusional, it nonetheless provides us with a useful framework whereby political decisions can be measured based on what is commonly referred to as “international human rights standards” – standards that should, in principle, govern the relations of UN member states with their citizens.

Let us then try to think within this rubric about Trump’s positions and give him the benefit of the doubt. Is he really a morally serious president?

“The world is watching”

Take the human right to freedom of expression and assembly as a starting point.

Since the outset of the recent Iranian protests, Trump offered his unequivocal support to the “great Iranian people” and he defended their human rights, including their “right to express themselves”. 

Now it is reasonable to presume that a morally serious president would extend that same support to the Palestinian people. However, Trump has shown that he doesn’t care about human rights violations if the perpetrator is a leadership he supports.


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is a ‘useful enemy’ in that he offers Iran’s leaders an easy way out of addressing legitimate grievances, and from having to answer for their human rights violations”]

When it comes to Palestine, Trump not only declared Jerusalem Israel’s capital with no regard for Palestinians’ view on the matter, but he also implemented a policy of bullying and blackmail at the United Nations, without once being bothered by Palestinian protesters’ legitimate grievances and frustrations.

Not even the killing of a double-amputee prompted him to denounce Israeli violence or send a tweet-in-support of oppressed Palestinians. Nor the fact that 77 children were arrested following his Jerusalem decision (between December 6 and 9). Or that an Israeli “journalist”, Ben Caspit, was widely seen to be insinuating violent revenge on a child – Ahed Tamimi – in detention: “In the case of the girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras”. 

It is almost as if Palestinians do not exist in Trump’s world view – except, of course, for being recipients of orders regarding what “peace plan” they should or should not accept, accompanied with threats to cut funding. Even though – in the case of UNRWA – this is something that could lead to a “humanitarian catastrophe“.

Whereas Trump was quick to say that “the world is watching” Iran’s protests because he considers the Iranian regime a foe (spurring debate among commentators whether he should speak up or be quiet), little did he care for the mother of the first teen killed by Israel in 2018 who said: “No one is listening to us – no one feels the pain that we’re going through. The world is just silently watching.”

If this is presidential moral seriousness, we might be better off forgetting the concept of morality in its entirety.

Trump loves yet bans Iranians

Trump also spoke in support of the Iranian people whose bravery he applauded and whose best interests he claimed to have at heart. 

Yet, by denying Iranian citizens the right to enter the US, Trump is at the same time “playing games” with human lives. His Muslim Ban was widely denounced as a daily reminder of Trump’s discrimination, prejudice and bigotry.

As the ACLU commented, it “takes away the ability of US citizens and green card holders to live with, or even be visited by, spouses, parents, children, grandparents, and other family members … it will exclude friends and family from weddings, graduations, and funerals; prevent grandparents, uncles, and aunts from holding and caring for newborns; deny final visits to ailing relatives …” 

Another important point is that some Iranians living in the US are unable to go home for various reasons, including the risk of arrest or imprisonment should they return. The ban prevents their family members entry to the US, and adds further hurdles and costs in their already-precarious lives. 

Trump is Khamenei’s “useful enemy”

Trump’s double standards and hypocrisy in dealing with internal and foreign policy issues leaves him desperately failing when it comes to his declared goal of restoring American leadership and respect on the world stage. 

In fact, Trump is in many ways Ayatollah Khamenei’s ideal foe. 

He is a “useful enemy” in that he offers Iran’s leaders an easy way out of addressing legitimate grievances, and from having to answer for their human rights violations. For example, Iranian President Rouhani’s Chief of Office Mahmoud Vaezi referenced Trump’s policies as evidence of the US’ insincere support for the Iranian people.

Furthermore, Iran has been under increasing pressure since Trump took office, with increasing sanctions and efforts to annul the Nuclear Deal – an agreement that was welcomed by the Iranian people and seen to be a harbinger of better economic times.

Trump’s appropriation of Israel and Saudi Arabia’s obsession with Iran creates a regional environment of increased polarisation and tension, as we have seen during the Qatar crisis, and in Lebanon during Hariri’s “Riyadh resignation“. The appointment of the “Dark Prince” or “Ayatollah Mike” (Michael D’Andrea) to run the CIA’s Iran operations was also interpreted as the onset of “a more muscular approach” by the US.

All this has created or solidified a state of anticipation for war – one that suits repressive regimes who use external threats to avoid discussing domestic affairs and to justify their policies and foreign-policy choices. 

If indeed “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”, there is much reason to be optimistic for a better future for Palestine, for the Iranian people, and for the Arab world more generally.

However, Trump’s policies in the US and the Middle East have made the road longer, and harder, as he recklessly “plays games” with people’s lives.

If Trump is serious about supporting people’s struggles for freedom and for establishing societies based on the “rule of law’ (understood in its proper sense of promoting the values of freedom, democracy, equality and non-discrimination), he should remember these timely words: “Every nation that proclaims the rule of law at home must respect it abroad and every nation that insists on it abroad must enforce it at home”. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.