As the Trump administration forms, one thing that’s clear is that Everyone Loves Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu would seem to be a role model, as a swaggering demagogical politician who knows how to wield resentments, racial tensions, and social media as levers of power; and several members of the Trump team have praised the Israeli PM over recent days and months.
American political culture and Israeli culture really are joined at the hip. It bears reflecting that the mainstream media and pollsters were nearly as surprised by Netanyahu’s rightwing come-from-behind victory in Israel last year as they were by Trump’s three weeks ago. In an era of conservative counter-revolution, Netanyahu fostered some of the same political fevers that spring as Trump did this fall.
Clintonites backed the loser in that election, too: Yitzhak (Buji) Herzog. And the day after the election in March 2015, Paul Begala, who worked for Herzog, explained what had happened to Clinton campaign chair John Podesta in a leaked email from Wikileaks. Look at all the forward-echoes to Trump, from Muslim baiting to big rallies to the effects of immigration:
Just as patterns of immigration are moving the US left, patterns of immigration are moving Israel right. I have never seen anything like Bibi’s furious surge to the right in the last 4 days. Nothing like it in America. He had robo-calls calling the President “Hussein Obama, the Muslim,” he had ads saying the Arabs will vote in droves. He accused [Yitzhak] Herzog of wanting to divide Jerusalem. Bibi did not win because of Iran. He won because of race. He cannibalized the smaller parties on the right: Bennett’s Jewish Home lost 4 seats, Shas lost 4 seats, Lieberman’s party lost 5 seats, United Torah lost 1. That is a 14 seat decline on the right. Bibi gained 10….
All the smart guys in Tel Aviv thought Bibi was having a nervous breakdown. In the US you could never get away with those kind of racist appeals. But, man, did it work….
We also did zero rallies in the final days – Buji doesn’t like them and he is not a rah-rah guy. This gave all the bandwagon effect to Bibi. I… am deeply depressed that I failed such a good guy in such a big race.
“In the US you could never get away with those kind of racist appeals.” Hmmmm.
Now here are some of the testimonials to rightwing Israel from the Trump administration in waiting.
Kellyanne Conway of the Trump transition team, on the centrality of Netanyahu to the Trumpian worldview:
“[Mitt] Romney in the last four years, I mean, has he been around the globe doing something on behalf of the United States of which we’re unaware? Did he go and intervene in Syria, where they’re having a massive humanitarian crisis?” Conway asked. “Has he been helpful to Mr. Netanyahu?”
After Netanyahu’s speech to the Congress in March 2015, Tom Price, the new Health and Human Services secretary-appointee, who is a Georgia congressman and member of the Israel allies caucus in the House, praised the PM over President Obama, who was “appease”-ing Iran:
“At a time when there are grave concerns over Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon, it is my hope that Congress, and more importantly the Obama Administration, will listen carefully to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s perspective. We cannot turn a blind eye toward or attempt to appease an Iran that would further destabilize the Middle East and threaten the survival of Israel. Such a situation would be profoundly dangerous to the well-being of the American people, our interest and our allies.”
How about Nikki Haley, the South Carolina governor Trump chose for United Nations ambassador. From Haaretz:
Under her leadership, South Carolina became one of the first two states to enact legislation outlawing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel….
In January, Haley championed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s objections to the 2014 Iran deal in the Republican Party’s official response to President Barack Obama’s last State of the Union. While not mentioning Israel by name, Haley said that were the GOP to control the White House, “we would make international agreements that were celebrated in Israel and protested in Iran, not the other way around.”
Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner on the controversial Steve Bannon:
“All I know about Steve is my experience working with him. He’s an incredible Zionist and loves Israel,” Kushner told Forbes.
Jewish News Service report on the Attorney General choice, Sen. Jeff Sessions:
The Mobile Area Jewish Federation last year presented Sen. Jeff Sessions with its first “Yedid L’Yisrael” [friend of Israel] award, a sculpture fashioned from a Hamas rocket that had been fired at Israel. The federation praised his consistently pro-Israel voting record and his advocacy of “the principle that it is in the national interest of the U.S. to ally itself with Israel.” Sessions has earned a zero rating from the Arab-American Institute.
Times of Israel on CIA pick Mike Pompeo:
Pompeo is a reliable backer of Israel and last November had high praise for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after they met on an Israel tour.
Pompeo tweeted on [Nov. 17]: “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.” Pompeo had warned last year that the agreement is “empowering an Iranian regime that is intent on destroying America.”
Apropos of Begala’s email, Netanyahu was more racist than Trump, at the end of his campaign anyway. And Netanyahu went largely unpunished for his conduct in the United States. Liberal Zionists were appalled, but it’s not as if the Jewish establishment generally came down on Netanyahu. Even President Obama’s criticism was reserved. By contrast, many Jewish leaders have expressed sharp concerns about Trump’s language, and his elevation of Steve Bannon and the alt-right, thereby exhibiting a double standard for white nationalism and Jewish nationalism.
Let us return to Begala’s sad lament for a good man defeated by these intolerant forces: Herzog was whupped. But this raises the question of whether it is possible to defeat Netanyahu with a lukewarm version of Zionism, and, in turn, whether it is possible to defeat Trump with a lukewarm Israel-loving centrist.
The political cultures of the two countries are actually connected; and the American left is paying a price for that connection. As Scott Roth writes, “Israel is a dead weight on the Democratic Party keeping it from reforming.” And so until Democratic politicians take on Netanyahu directly, revitalizing the lib-left, we are condemned to see Netanyahu-like results in the U.S.
Thanks to Todd Pierce.