Israel’s prime minister increasingly resembles America’s 37th president.
When the final chapter on Benjamin Netanyahu’s political life is written — and it may be a long time from now — he is likely to go down as the Richard Nixon of Israel: politically cunning, strategically canny, toxically flawed.
The flaws came further to light on Thursday when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that he would indict the prime minister on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu called the inquiry “a witch hunt” and accused Mandelblit of being “weak,” sounding (surely not by coincidence) just like Donald Trump on the subject of Jeff Sessions and the Russia investigation.
Israeli law allows Netanyahu to contest the indictment through a hearing, a process that could take as long as a year. He has no intention of resigning and hopes to win a fifth term when elections are held on April 9.
Perhaps he will. He shouldn’t.
That’s not because Netanyahu is necessarily guilty, or guilty of much. Previous Israeli leaders, including Yitzhak Rabin, have been subject to legal inquests that hinge on relatively trivial crimes. The charges against Netanyahu — the most serious of which involves the claim that he helped a businessman obtain favorable regulatory decisions in exchange for positive media coverage — are still far from conclusive.
Netanyahu’s solution has been to scrounge for votes on the farther — and farthest — right. A few of those votes will come from Otzma Yehudit (or “Jewish Power”), a racist party descended from Rabbi Meir Kahane’s outlawed Kach Party. Its leader, Michael Ben-Ari, was denied a United States visa because Washington rightly considers Kach a terrorist organization. If Netanyahu manages to cobble together a ruling coalition, Ben-Ari could become a power broker within it.
That alone is reason enough to want to see Netanyahu given the boot. Add to the list his
- demagogic attacks on Israeli Arabs, his
- closeness to far-right European leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban and his
- public sympathy for an Israeli soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian terrorist in cold blood, and a consistent picture emerges.
Netanyahu is a man for whom no moral consideration comes before political interest and whose chief political interest is himself. He is a cynic wrapped in an ideology inside a scheme.
Nor is the blight simply moral. Jews the world over face a swelling and increasingly deadly tide of anti-Semitism, while Zionism has become a dirty word in left-wing circles. To have an Israeli prime minister lend credence to the slur that Zionism is a form of racism by prospectively bringing undoubted racists into his coalition is simply unforgivable. It emboldens the progressive assault on Israel. It leaves its defenders embarrassed and perplexed.
Most seriously, it weakens a central element in the defense of Israel and the Jews: moral self-confidence. Anti-Israel slanders may abound, but they will do little to hurt the state if a majority of Israelis understand they have no serious foundation in truth. Netanyahu’s behavior jeopardizes that confidence.
If Donald Trump leaves office before four years are up, history will likely show the middle weeks of May 2017 as the turning point.
.. If Trump has nothing to hide, he is certainly jumpy whenever the subject comes up and his evident worry about it has caused him to make some big mistakes.
.. Though younger and more composed, Kushner is a lot more like Trump than is generally understood.
- Both of them moved their father’s businesses from the New York periphery to Manhattan.
- Like his father-in-law, Kushner came to Washington knowing a lot about real estate deals but almost nothing about government.
- Both entered the campaign and the White House unfamiliar with the rules and laws and evidently disinclined to check them before acting.
.. Thus, Kushner has reinforced some of Trump’s critical weaknesses.
.. Kushner, who has a high self-regard, has taken on a preposterous list of assignments.
.. He was able somehow (likely through his own leaks) to gain a reputation—along with his wife, Ivanka Trump—as someone who could keep the president calm and prevent him from acting impulsively or unwisely.
.. Richard Nixon, who was a lot smarter than Trump is, similarly misread the way the public would react when he arranged for the firing of his special prosecutor, Archibald Cox
.. Mueller’s investigation is limited to considering criminal acts.
.. His purview doesn’t include determining whether Trump should be held to account for serious noncriminal misdeeds he or his associates may have committed with regard to his election
.. of the three articles of impeachment adopted by the Judiciary Committee against Richard Nixon in 1974, the most important was for “abuse of power.”
.. Unless a single act is itself sufficiently grave to warrant impeachment—for example, treason—a pattern of behavior needs to be found. That could involve, for example, emoluments or obstruction of justice... Many of what seemed disparate acts—well beyond the famous break-in in the Watergate complex and the cover-up—were carried out in order to assure Nixon’s reelection in 1972, and they amounted to the party in power interfering with the nominating process of the opposition party. That way lay fascism... By definition, impeachable offenses would appear to concern conduct only during a presidency. But a number of constitutional law scholars, including the Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, who was dubious at first, believe that if a president or his associates working on his behalf acted corruptly and secretly to rig the election, then the preinaugural period should be included... Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation only on February 13, after stories about Yates’s warning appeared in the press—and then, two days after he fired him, the president called Flynn “a wonderful man.”.. weirdly, recently told aides that he’d like to have Flynn back in the White House... Flynn, in conversations with outgoing national security adviser Susan Rice during the transition, asked that the Obama administration hold off on its plan to arm Kurdish forces to help the effort to retake Raqqa, the ISIS capital in Syria. Since Flynn was a paid lobbyist for the Turkish government, which strongly opposed the plan, this action could possibly lead to a charge of treason... Flynn was leading the Russians to believe that they’d receive much better treatment under a President Trump and the Russians went along... A big question is whether Flynn discussed such important policy matters with the Russians without the knowledge of the president-elect... Trump tweeted: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin)—I always knew he was very smart!”.. Brennan testified he was worried that the Russians may even have recruited some Americans to cooperate with their effort to tilt the election... Intelligence analysts picked up conversations by Russians in which they bragged that they’d cultivated Flynn and Manafort and believed they would be useful for influencing Trump. (This doesn’t prove guilt on the part of either man.).. Laurence Tribe is gathering what he believes are impeachable offenses committed by Trump.2.. Tribe sees Trump flouting the constitutional ban on accepting “emoluments”—.. Trump’s firing of Comey for, as he ultimately admitted, “this Russia thing.”.. Trump’s saying to Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and to Ambassador Kislyak, of firing Comey: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”.. There were also Trump’s efforts very early in the administration to get Comey to pledge “loyalty” to him.. In another form of pressure, Trump asked Comey when the FBI would announce that he wasn’t under investigation. Comey didn’t respond... Before it was revealed that Comey had taken notes of their conversations, Trump made a not-very-veiled threat that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations.”.. Where are all the leaks coming from? Many Republicans want to make this the issue rather than what the leaks reveal, but the fact that they keep coming is a sign of the state of near collapse of the White House staff... It’s not an exaggeration to say that Trump has the most unhappy staff ever, with some feeling a higher duty to warn the public about what they see as a danger to the country... Trump is a nearly impossible person to work for:
- he screams at his staff when they tell him something he doesn’t want to hear;
- he screams at them as he watches television news for hours on end and sees stories about himself that he doesn’t like, which is most of them.
.. Leaks are also being made by the intelligence community, many of whom see Trump as a national menace.
.. McMaster has yet to recover his reputation from having emphatically refuted things the Post story didn’t say.
.. Trump’s reckless act is believed to have endangered the life of an Israeli intelligence asset who had been planted among ISIS forces, something extremely hard to pull off.
.. Rosenstein found himself in a meeting with Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who had supposedly recused himself from any dealings on the campaign and the Russia matter) and under pressure to write a memo expressing his own strong negative views of how Comey had handled Hillary Clinton’s e-mail case. The choices before Rosenstein were to write the report, knowing that Comey was going to be fired anyway, or refuse to and resign or be fired. Then what use could he be?
.. he spoke melodramatically of his anguish in having to decide between two choices: to “speak” or to “conceal.” But many observers believed that he had a third choice: quietly to get a warrant and check out some of the e-mails that had traveled from Clinton’s laptop to her close aide Huma Abedin’s to that of Abedin’s then-husband Anthony Weiner before reopening an investigation, much less announcing one and perhaps affect the outcome of the election.
.. Comey’s testimony also angered Democrats by wildly exaggerating the number of Clinton’s e-mails that had landed on Weiner’s laptop—“hundreds and thousands,” he said, when actually there had been just a handful.
.. Comey’s comment that the thought that his actions may have affected the election made him “mildly nauseous” enraged Trump.
.. Everyone who hewed to the White House line that the firing had been based on Rosenstein’s memo, including Pence, was now embarrassed and lost credibility with the press and the public.
.. the respected Cook Report anticipates substantial Republican losses in the House. Republicans are starting to panic.
..Their challenge is how to overcome the twin blights of
- Trump’s chaotic governing and
- his lack of achievements on Capitol Hill
.. unlike Nixon, he can also make use of social media, Fox News, and friendly talk shows to keep them loyal.
.. Trump is, for all his deep flaws, in some ways a cannier politician than Nixon; he knows how to lie to his people to keep them behind him.
.. The critical question is: When, or will, Trump’s voters realize that he isn’t delivering on his promises,
- that his health care and tax proposals will help the wealthy at their expense,
- that he isn’t producing the jobs he claims?
- His proposed budget would slash numerous domestic programs, such as food stamps, that his supporters have relied on heavily. (One wonders if he’s aware of this part of his constituency.)
Why is one of the most ambitious lawmakers in Washington retiring from Congress?
In the political world, to Chaffetz means to throw a former mentor under the bus in order to get ahead, and various prominent Republicans, from former Utah governor and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. to House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, have experienced what it’s like to get Chaffetzed.
.. Chaffetz, who on Thursday said he might not finish out his term, has been considered a contender for Utah governor in 2020 and perhaps one day for the presidency.
.. The once-brash congressional inquisitor has twisted himself into a pretzel trying to explain why he hasn’t been investigating President Trump, the most conflict-ridden commander-in-chief in modern US history.
.. after graduating he went to work for a local multilevel marketing company—think Amway—called Nu Skin, where he worked in PR.
.. allegations that the company was operating as a pyramid scheme. (The company has been Chaffetz’s biggest campaign donor.)
.. He worked briefly in the coal industry, unsuccessfully applied to join the Secret Service, and eventually started a marketing firm with his brother called Maxtera.
.. the former place-kicker campaigned largely on a harsh, anti-immigration platform.
.. leg wrestling Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report.
.. a media charm offensive that would make Chaffetz popular among journalists, whom he cultivated assiduously by passing out his personal cellphone number to reporters and accepting almost any interview request. It’s all about “old-fashioned human relationships,” he told National Journal in 2015. “You’ve got to get out there and invest the time. Work with the media!”
.. a House Republican strategy session and told the assembled members, “I am your worst nightmare.” He explained how the advent of social media had allowed him to bypass the mainstream media and, with very little funding, knock off an establishment candidate.
.. Chaffetz may have underestimated Hatch, whose mild-mannered exterior belies a ruthless political operator. There’s a reason he’s served longer than any Republican senator since Strom Thurmond.
.. There was a bit of information they were going to disclose if he ran. Things were going to get ugly.
.. Chaffetz stapled himself to Mitt Romney, serving as a regular campaign surrogate for the failed GOP presidential nominee, whom he endorsed over his former mentor, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
.. Chaffetz, now running for reelection in 2012, quickly found other ways to nab the spotlight. Before the FBI had secured the Benghazi compound following the September 11 attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, Chaffetz demanded to visit the scene in his capacity as the chairman of the House oversight subcommittee on national security and foreign operations. He dashed off to Libya less than a month later—without any Democrats, as the oversight committee’s policy dictates—to supposedly conduct an independent investigation.
.. The closest he got to the crime scene was Tripoli, 400 miles away.
Chaffetz, who had previously voted to cut $300 million from the State Department’s budget for embassy security, claimed the purpose of his trip was to discern whether the Obama administration had denied requests for more security for the Benghazi compound.
.. He launched a campaign to win the chairmanship of the House oversight committee, then run by the bellicose Rep. Darrell Issa
.. Chaffetz campaigned for the chairmanship as the anti-Issa, implicitly critiquing the oversight chairman’s combative style and suggesting that he could bring to the committee an element of media savvy that Issa lacked. Once again, Chaffetz stabbed a mentor in the back and won.
.. one of his first moves was taking down the portraits of past chairmen, including Issa, that hung in the hearing room. Issa was not pleased. “It’s not a big deal, but it’s just indicative of what his mindset was and how self-centered he is,”
.. Fellow lawmakers, Bardella notes, were repelled that “Jason would be so willing to throw under the bus someone who really tried to help mentor him, for his own gain.”
.. He’d chaired the oversight committee for less than a year before launching an audacious bid for speaker of the House when John Boehner retired. Aside from being a very junior member of Congress, Chaffetz’s bid for the speakership also meant he would be running against his friend and former champion, Rep. Kevin McCarthy.
.. threatening to impeach the head of the IRS over his handling of the nonprofit status of tea party groups and suggesting there might be grounds to remove President Barack Obama from office over Benghazi.
.. HRC, a.k.a. Hillary Rodham Clinton, would have been good for Chaffetz’s political fortunes, however.
.. These listening sessions are typically subdued affairs, but this one drew hundreds of angry constituents, who demanded to know why the chairman of the House oversight committee was not doing more to investigate President Trump.
.. I think he used the fact that he could investigate an administration of an opposing party to his advantage during the Obama years that allowed him to be in front of the cameras repeatedly, and to be seen as pursuing the interests of the Republican Party. But I think what has people, or at least some people, in his district concerned is the appearance of a double standard, that he was very eager to investigate Hillary Clinton and has been extremely hesitant to pursue serious questions about the Trump administration.”
.. Evan McMullin, who launched his anti-Trump effort in Utah, had suggested he might consider challenging Chaffetz or Hatch.
.. “He has almost the perfect rainbow of hate. Liberals will never think he’s doing enough in that position. And of course the alt-right may think anything he does against President Trump is feeding into this frenzy against their president. It has put him in a place where it’s very tough to do right by anyone.”
.. Chaffetz, a canny political operator, has surely read the tea leaves, wagering that it is in his best interests to sit out the bruising political fights of the Trump administration’s first term lest Trump bring Chaffetz down with him.
.. he may take the path of other high-profile members of Congress and nab a lucrative contract with one of the networks, where he can maintain his visibility, build up his bank account, and bide his time for the right moment to get back in the political game.
.. his campaign committee registered the domains Jason2028.com and JasonChaffetz2028.com.