NOTE: I was a regular contributor to Mint Press News going back to 2015. After the editor killed the last article which she’d commissioned for the site, this is one I’d planned to offer to Mint Press before our “break-up.”
As the incoming Trump administration begins to take shape via cabinet appointments and policy pronouncements, it becomes ever clearer that its ideological underpinnings are remarkably similar to those of Israel’s Netanyahu government. Both are widely portrayed as the most extreme in the history of their respective nations. Both rode to power via a fierce tide of anger and resentment against political opponents they derided as left-wing extremists, criminals and traitors. Both exploited fear of ethnic minorities to bolster their support. They espouse a common philosophy of racial supremacy which maintains coherence and unity among their followers.
Netanyahu is a more conventional politician in that he attempts to adhere to minimal democratic norms, and feigns an adherence to standards (albeit low ones) of truth and facts. Netanyahu has been known to retreat from supporting extremist legislation when faced with strong opposition within his own ranks or from Diaspora Jewry. Unlike Trump, he does have a bare sense of limits to his power.
However, the Israeli leader has a tendency to lie that is similar to Trump’s. He exploits memes reminiscent of Trump’s which associate base, even criminal instincts to opponents. Netanyahu whipped the crowd at a 1995 Jerusalem rally into a frenzy, portraying then-Prime Minister Rabin as a concentration camp Kapo and SS officer. Within three weeks, Rabin had been assassinated by a Jewish terrorist under the spell of Netanyahu’s extremist rhetoric.
Similarly, Trump has a tortured relationship to truth, and even reality. He is the ultimate solipsist-narcissist. If America wasn’t a republic, Trump would turn it into a monarchy. He is a kissing cousin to King Louis XVII, who said: “l’etat, c’est moi.” Or alternatively, he is Humpty-Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
Trump’s followers have given Nazi salutes, shouting “Heil Trump!” At his rallies, supporters have called for lynching journalists. They’ve physically assaulted anti-Trump protesters. Trump has been endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, and white nationalists. He has renounced none of it. Nor has he ever pro-actively dissociated himself from any of their despicable views.
On the contrary, his cabinet appointments and those working on his transition team are among the most extreme ideologues in the country. Many of them have swiftly transitioned from once being marginal, kooky figures derided by the mainstream; into powerful purveyors of racial identity politics on a national stage.
Unlike in previous conservative presidential administrations like those of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, in which they appointed a mix of moderates and arch-conservatives in order to satisfy various Republican constituencies, Trump owes no allegiance to the Party mandarins. He owes no debt to the traditional GOP power centers. As a result, America will see a cabinet that if fully aligned with Trump’s radical views.
Examining those who’ve already been named to key posts or those being seriously considered reveals a laundry list of the farthest of far-right ideologues. Starting with Bannon himself, who’s slurred Jews, women, gays, Blacks, and even the GOP itself. He told a colleague the right to vote should be limited to citizens who own property which would, of course, disenfranchise many of those who voted for Trump. But it would probably deny the vote to far more Hispanics and African-Americans than whites.
The incoming national security advisor, Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn had this to say about Islam:
“We are facing another ‘ism,’ just like we faced Nazism, and fascism, and imperialism and communism. This is Islamism, it is a vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people on this planet and it has to be excised.”
Recently, Trump told a boisterous Indiana crowd that he planned to nominate as his secretary of defense: “M-A-D-D-O-G!” And he strung out the syllables as long and rapturously as he could. He never even completed the general’s last name, Mattis. It was as if the only qualification he needed for the job was his nickname. With the implication he was planning to kick some ISIS butt. The crowd ate it up like it was cotton candy.
After being red-shirted as a secretary of state candidate, John Bolton, is a top-contender for deputy secretary. It would be the most senior post under Exxon-Mobil CEO and former climate-change denier, Rex (I’ve always wanted a cabinet secretary with the name “Rex!”) Tillerson, who recently was named as Secretary of State-designate. Bolton is the most fire-breathing of the lot. As George Bush’s UN ambassador, he reserved his most fiery rhetoric for the Iranian ayatollahs, advocating regime change via a joint U.S.-Israeli attack. Though he worked at the UN, he detested it as an institution. He considers international treaties as “non-binding” political obligations. Bolton railed against the International Criminal Court as well. One of the largest donors (almost $1-million) to the election PAC he created was Israeli settler leader, the late Irving Moskowitz.
Though Trump dallied with the idea of being a neutral, honest broker in the Israel-Palestine conflict during the early stages of the Republican presidential primary; and refused to endorse moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he later settled down into a conventional pro-Israel candidate. No doubt, the $11-million in personal donations and $25-million in SuperPAC money from Sheldon Adelson, helped turn him around on Israel.
Though some observers believe (and Trump himself has intimated as much) he might be the first president in two generations not beholden to the Israel Lobby, that hope seems far-fetched. Especially given that all of his foreign policy and defense appointments are vehemently pro-Israel (and naturally, Islamophobic).
Israeli Government Most Extreme in Nation’s History
Like the putative Trump cabinet, when Netanyahu won election in 2009, he tossed moderation to the winds and appointed some of the most rabidly Islamophobic, xenophobic, Jewish supremacist ideologues in the country.
Moshe Feiglin, who once expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and regularly attempts to provoke religious war through provocative pilgrimages to the Haram al Sharif, was Knesset deputy speaker from 2013-2015.
In comments reminiscent of Mike Flynn’s Islamophobia, Miri Regev, now serving as the culture minister, told a crowd in Tel Aviv in 2012 that African refugees, who’d just suffered a (Jewish incited) pogrom, were “a cancer” on the Israeli body politic. Later, she apologized…for insulting cancer patients. Her comments were wildly popular among the Likud Party faithful.
They rant against the 60,000 refugees who traversed hundreds of miles of north African desert, fleeing homes beset by famine and civil war in order to seek a haven in Israel. They created their own isolated detention camps in the sweltering Negev desert meant to treat the detainees so badly they will wish to return home. Echoing Trump’s call to immediately deport 3-million Mexican immigrants, the Israeli government has sent several thousand African refugees packing (it calls the program “voluntary departure”). It gives them travel money, puts them on a charter flight, and deposits them in Uganda, where they have no legal status or right to work. All in contravention of UN humanitarian protocols.
As reward, Israel provides military and intelligence support to dictators in Rwanda and Uganda who participate in this shady scheme.
Israel’s far-right has largely abandoned the country’s former allies among liberal and social democratic parties in Europe. Instead, it has turned to the Euro-right, currying favor with Marie Le Pen, and even Russian neo-Nazi parties who’ve made political pilgrimages to Israel and been welcomed with open arms. This message found a warm embrace on the Israeli right, where they told their interlocutors:
“We’re talking about radical Islam which is the enemy of humanity, enemy of democracy, enemy of progress and of any sane society.
Both see Islam as an existential threat to their respective cultures and ways of life.
Steven Bannon, Trump’s chief political strategist, has similarly viewed the Euro-right as natural allies of the Trump revolution. Trump himself has found a comrade in arms, in Nigel Farage, founder of the anti-immigrant UKIP Party, leader of the Brexit campaign and paragon of the Euro-right.
When Donald Trump speaks of his “wall” he will build to stave off the Mexican ‘hordes’ from overwhelming our country, he has to look no farther than Israel, which has built not one but three such barriers. They bar the door to Palestinian and African ‘hordes’ seeking to pollute the Jewish state. Of course, there is the Separation Wall, started by Ariel Sharon, which barricades the West Bank from Israel. But more recently, Netanyahu has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on massive security fences along the Egyptian and Syrian borders. The Israeli company which built them is now eagerly soliciting Trump’s business in building the wall with Mexico.
In a locution that would warm Trump’s heart, Israelis call those who traverse these barriers not refugees, but ‘infiltrators.’ The term conjures up the fear and hysteria that these individuals evoke as they seek to sabotage the State from within. That they are an enemy fifth column burrowing into the soft underbelly of the nation, seeking to inflict maximum damage.
Though Israeli Palestinians number 20% of the nation’s population and have always maintained loyalty to the State, Jews treat them with disdain and outright racism. Palestinian citizens are second-class at best. Health, housing, education and employment opportunities are far fewer for them than their Jewish counterparts. Funding for Jewish municipalities dwarf Palestinian ones.
The status of American minorities is decidedly better than that of Israeli minorities, but Donald Trump treats African-American, Hispanics and Muslim-Americans with the same level of barely concealed contempt. During the campaign, he urged African-Americans to support him because he couldn’t be worse than their present circumstances. He called Hispanic-Americans rapists and criminals. His routinely equates all Muslims with ISIS.
Israeli Jewish Terror Against Palestinians, Muslims, and Even Jews
The Israeli Jews who support Likud, including those in the settler movement, fuel some of the worst violence against Palestinians and refugees. They routinely deface mosques and churches, and even burn them to the ground. They burn the homes of Palestinian families, murdering them as they sleep.
When wildfires recently burned thousands of acres of northern Israel, Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders immediately blamed Palestinian “terrorists” for setting them, even though there was little evidence to confirm the claims. Though 30 Palestinian suspects have been arrested, Israel has so far announced plans to indict only one for arson. A Palestinian widely viewed on Israeli TV and labelled an arsonist was released without charges when it turned out he was burning trash from his own farm on his own land, after which he himself extinguished the fire.
Netanyahu acted in precisely the same way during the Carmel fires three years ago. During that tragedy, no Palestinians were ever arrested. This attests to a strong streak of xenophobia both among Trump and his supporters, and Israel’s government. They both fear the foreigner or ethnic minority. They both hold to an exceptionalist view of themselves as white nationalists, in Trump’s case; and Jewish supremacists, in the Likud’s case. They promote a sense of cohesion by hating The Other. They nurse a grudge against the most vulnerable because they can blame them for their own failings (this week’s fires destroyed so much, because few lessons were learned from the devastating Carmel fires).
Recently, religious terrorists defaced a Reform synagogue in Ra’anana. They left a knife inscribed with a religious legal text which argued it was permitted for Jews to commit murder in defense of their religion. Next to the knives, in what was clearly intended as a death threat, were the names of three leaders of the international Reform movement. Two of them are rabbis. Aside from a perfunctory denunciation by the prime minister, there have been no arrests. Even if there are, such police activity rarely leads to convictions or jail time. Often, those who are jailed later have their sentences commuted by the President.
This week, three California mosques were targeted with similar death threats by Trump supporters. Notes left at all the sites warned that the new president would “clean up” America and make it shine once again. He would do this by treating American Muslims like Nazis treated the Jews.
The most disturbing parallel between Trump & Bibi is that both are masters of political grandstanding–the theatrical gesture. Trump’s stage is his Twitter account, where he routinely rails against his enemies. Netanyahu too exploits social media to inject venom into the body politics. On the last election day, he produced a rabid video which warned nationalist voters that unless they abandoned right-wing rival parties, that hordes of Arabs would bring a left-wing government to power.
But though each has mastered tactics, neither has any sense of strategic goals or how to achieve them. One has the sense that their political approach involves veering from issue to issue seeking maximum short-term political benefit; while never knowing or caring what the long-term objective might be.
That’s why Netanyahu, despite being the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, is not popular. He reigns through fear, through setting rivals within his own Party against each other. He has no political legacy to speak of: he’s led Israel through several wars but not ended the security threat of terrorism. He has led a robust economy, but one that mainly benefits the upper classes and elites, while fully one-quarter of Israelis live below the poverty line. Netanyahu has done nothing to reduce income disparity, which ranks his country as the fifth worst among 32 OECD states.
War on Media
Both Netanyahu and Trump take to social media to denounce the mainstream media. In the latter’s presidential campaign, there were overt threats against individual journalists, with some singled special opprobrium because they are Jewish. Trump’s then-campaign chair assaulted a female journalist.
Netanyahu takes to Facebook to revile his enemies in the Fourth Estate. He regularly calls and texts editors, publishers and colleagues about unfavorable coverage. He has tamed the media through intimidation and veiled threats, but despite claims to the contrary, he has not reformed it or improved it in any substantive way.
Unlike Trump, Israel’s leader has an ace in his back pocket: Israel’s most popular daily, Israel HaYom, is owned by Sheldon Adelson. Bibi himself has said he would never have won election to the premiership without its backing. It is widely known as Bibiton (“Bibi Paper”). Imagine the equivalent: if Trump owned America’s largest paper or TV station.
War on Women
Coincidentally, both Trump, Netanyahu and Bannon have each been married three times. Trump is a well-known philanderer, having cheated on his first two wives before divorcing them. He’s spouted some revolting statements about women, including the claim Megyn Kelly, who aggressively questioned him during a presidential debate, had “blood coming out of her wherever.” Then of course there was the infamous crack about his being drawn to grabbing beautiful women by the p****.
Netanyahu too has the wandering gene imprinted in his DNA. He cheated on each of his first two wives with women who later became his next wife. Shortly after divorcing his second wife, he met an El Al stewardess, Sara Ben-Artzi, during a layover at the Amsterdam airport. She, as the story goes, got pregnant and refused an abortion. She told him either he married her or she would publicize his infidelity. He married her. She became the third Mrs. Netanyahu. Neither can this leopard seem to change his spots: he’s cheated on Sara as well, shacking up with one of his PR consultants, Ruth Barr.
The Israeli prime minister hasn’t expressed his misogyny as overtly as both Trump or Bannon because feminism and its related issues (abortion, domestic violence, equal pay, etc.) are not the hot button issues they are in America.
Trump and Netanyahu: Loved by the Few, Feared by the Many
Trump will enter the White House with some of the lowest approval ratings since such statistics were kept. Like Netanyahu, he retains the loyalty of a minority of the American electorate. As a result of Democrats who fielded an exceedingly weak candidate, he managed to take the presidency (despite winning 1-million votes less than the losing Mitt Romney in 2012).
Netanyahu too benefits from a political opposition in disarray. Even in the last election, when the Labor coalition appeared close to winning, it could not close the deal: it could not distinguish itself from Likud and other rightist parties. Like Hillary Clinton, Isaac Herzog (leader of the Opposition) didn’t offer a true alternative. He offered a warmed over, slightly more liberal version of the Likud.
Voters in both countries would’ve warmed to an insurgent candidate like Bernie Sanders. But there was none–with the exception of the Palestinian Joint List coalition, which won 13 seats and became third-largest Party in the Knesset. The lesson is that if you give the electorate, whether American or Israeli, a choice between Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, they may not choose the lesser of two evils. They may choose the greater evil.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.