Without question, there has been a budding “bromance” between between Israeli P.M. Bibi Netanyahu and President Donald Trump for quite some time. Netanyahu greatly admires the current American president, and sees him as a bipolar improvement on his predecessor, Barack Obama. We all remember Netanyahu’s unique, distinctly partisan political address to Congress, in which he warned against the Iranian anti-nuke deal, as well as his hyper partisan support of Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. We all are aware of his praise for the American president’s executive decision to move our Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - which convinced many American Jews to label ‘45 “the greatest friend Israel ever had in the White House.” But this was just the beginning. With every passing week, Bibi Netanyahu has become more and more a Trump clone, and less and less a political scion of Ben Gurion, Meir, Peres or Rabin. Unlike Trump, Netanyahu is a totally political animal; unlike his American counterpart, he has spent virtually his entire adult life engaged in this singularly ego-laden pursuit - sometimes masterfully, other times maladroitly. Where ‘45 has shown himself to have a particular fondness for “autocrats” (a cleaned-and-pressed synonym for “dictator”), Netanyahu has a fancy for living a life of luxury. For much of his business and now political career, ‘45 has been hounded by the legal system; now suing or declaring bankruptcy, now being sued or staring down the barrel of indictment. Likewise Netanyahu who, throughout much of his political career, has been dogged with scandals involving such emoluments as pink champagne, Cuban cigars, jewelry and even tickets to a Mariah Carey concert — in exchange for political favors to billionaires. The latest charges against the Israeli P.M., his wife Sarah and son Yair - which will likely end with multiple indictments - concerns their receiving gifts worth more than $280,000 in return for promoting policies that benefited powerful allies. To Trump, $280,000 is mere chump change (or at least is until Congress gets a handle on his real net worth); to Bibi, it’s a vast fortune. Like the POTUS - whose position pays $400,000 a year plus a rather large residence - the Israeli P.M. - whose job pays $168,210 per annum, plus a residence and expenses - has been spending an increasing amount of time dealing with both the legal and political ramifications of all the scandals hovering over their heads. Both have charged ad nauseum that they are piteous victims of a “witch hunt” (that’s ציד מכשפות - pronounced tzayed m’kashefote in Hebrew). Unlike the vast American public, which to a large extent is politically illiterate, sadly gullible and sees things in black and white, the Israeli public is deeply political and loves nothing more than engaging in full-throated debate. Nonetheless, despite this generalized differences, both ‘45 and Bibi abide by pretty much the same political/campaign strategy: keeping their base happy while denigrating and designating the opposition as members of a vast, unpatriotic conspiracy. For Trump, this involves equal measures of fear and flattery, of outrageous boasts and outlandish lies, and slogans to beat the band. Unlike Trump, who operates in a two-party (though somewhat fragmented) political system in which Democrats control the House, and Republicans both the Senate and White House, Bibi is faced with a semi-parliamentary, multi-party system in which even the tiniest faction has a shot at becoming part of a coalition government. As a result of the incredible אַנְדְרָלָמוּסִיָה (ahndra-lamoosia - “utter chaos”) which is threatening to destroy Netanyahu’s governing coalition, he has been making concessions with - and promises to - some pretty unsavory elements in the world of Israeli politics .Facing national elections next month (April 9), Netanyahu has given his הַסכָּמָה (hahs-kahma - approval) for a far-right party, עוצמה יהודית (Otzma Yehudit - “Jewish Power”) to be part of a mainstream list. This is an obvious political sop to the most nativist element in Israeli Society . . . pretty much like ‘45 dog whistling and offering political cover to white nationalists, neo-Nazis and racists, as he did after Charlottesville.
The leaders of Otzma Yehudit are self-identified disciples of U.S.-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, who preached a radical form of Jewish nationalism that promoted unabashed and virulent anti-Arab racism, violence and political extremism. While he was alive, ADL and the vast majority of American Jewish organizations and leaders roundly condemned Kahane and the organizations he founded including the Jewish Defense League (JDL) and Kach, seeing his extremism and hate as anathema to Judaism and democratic values.
It was the same in Israel. For example, upon Kahane’s election to the Knesset, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and his Likud party rejected Kahane’s bigotry and made it a point to leave the parliament hall when Kahane rose to speak. Ultimately, Kahane’s racist activities led to the banning of his Kach Party from the Knesset and it was made illegal under Israeli law, which remains in effect to this day. Already, a member of the current Knesset, the Meretz Party and Labor MK Stav Shaffir (one of my favorite Israeli politicians) petitioned the Central Elections Committee to disqualify Otzma Yehudit from running in the upcoming election. Then too, as an additional move on Israel’s political chessboard, Benny Ganz, the 20th Chief of Staff of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) announced the formation of a new centrist political party - “Blue and White” - after the colors of the Israel flag. In his first press conference, Ganz thanked Netanyahu for his “10 years of service” stating “No Israeli leader is king . . . . We will continue from here.” Army Chief of Staff is the probably one of the most important, if not the most important, public positions. According to a leading Israeli think-tank, 78% of the public trust the IDF, while only 30% trust the government to the same extent. Although many of his policies remain a mystery, Ganz is already polling a couple of points ahead of Netanyahu.
At the moment, no one knows for certain what the forthcoming indictments of the Netanyahus will mean for the upcoming Israeli elections — in much the same way that no one truly knows what the Mueller report will mean to America’s 2020 presidential election. If the political parallels between Netanyahu and Trump carry any meaning, both men should watch their backs . . . for, to misquote Donne: No man is an island/entire of himself . . . send not to know for whom the bell tolls/it tolls for thee.
611 days until the next election.
Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone