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.
The truth requires greater transparency
.. That experience teaches me that the memo simply doesn’t make its case. Indeed, it gets less persuasive — and the material omissions more glaring — with each successive read. It might disclose the existence of troubling FBI misconduct, but the fair-minded reader has no way of knowing whether it does.
.. A good summary always supports assertions with evidence. A good summary provides context. A good summary even includes relevant information that contradicts its thesis so that the reader can evaluate the best counter-arguments.
.. legal arguments typically depend on lawyers taking thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of pages of depositions and documents, crafting a concise narrative, and communicating that narrative to a judge — with citations referring to the relevant evidence and quotations of it as well.
.. If there is no citation or quotation, a judge will typically ask the lawyer, “Counselor, what record evidence supports that assertion?”
.. One of the first and most vital assertions in the entire memo is the claim that “the ‘dossier’ compiled by Christopher Steele (Steele dossier) on behalf of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application.” This statement is initially offered without proof. One has to read down to the next page to see any reference to evidence:
Furthermore, Deputy Director [Andrew] McCabe testified before the Committee in December 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC without the Steele dossier information.
.. When I read this, I had two immediate thoughts. First, what did he actually say? And second, why the subtle change in language from the argument that the “dossier” was an “essential part” of the FISA application to the statement that the warrant wouldn’t have been sought without the dossier “information”? The “dossier” and the “information” are not the same thing.
.. An effective memo would do more to end the debate. How? By quoting the relevant portions of McCabe’s testimony.
Better yet, it could quote the testimony and attach an appropriately redacted copy of the testimony as an appendix.
.. Even the characterization that the dossier was “essential” is a judgment call based on evidence unavailable to the public. Even worse, it was a judgment call based in part on evidence unavailable even to the rest of the committee.
.. memo should have plainly stated the agreement between the DOJ and the committee, along with the reasons for this agreement.
.. good summaries don’t just support conclusions with evidence, they provide vital and necessary context. On this point, the memo fails utterly.
.. it fails to answer the following questions:
- How did the FISA application actually describe Steele?
.. Democrats are arguing that the political nature of his work was appropriately disclosed. Don’t we need the actual words used to properly evaluate whether the FBI materially misled the court?
- In addition to the information from the Steele dossier, what other information did the FISA application include?
- To what extent did the multiple renewal applications depend on the information in the dossier? The memo notes that a FISA order must be renewed every 90 days, and each renewal must be supported by an “independent” probable-cause finding. A Trump appointee, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, signed at least one of these FISA applications. He apparently believed that the request was supported by probable cause. Why?
- What is the “information” regarding Papadopoulos that triggered the opening of the investigation in July 2016 — a full three months before the Page FISA application? The memo provides information obviously designed to impair the credibility of that investigation — by referring to FBI agent Peter Strzok’s well-known political leanings — but it provides no information about any facts supporting the opening of the probe, leaving the reader with the impression that it was opened solely because Strzok dislikes Trump.
I also wrote above that a good summary “even includes relevant information that contradicts its thesis.” The memo omits any such information, but a Democratic rebuttal exists.
.. But even if the public reviews the Democratic rebuttal, the process is still flawed. The proper way to resolve explosive claims of political bias at the highest levels of government isn’t by dribbling out short memoranda but by issuing comprehensively researched and comprehensively supported majority and minority committee reports.
..it’s not by itself scandalous to review political opposition research — a politically motivated person is no more suspect than the terrorists and criminals who routinely provide information used to support even the most intrusive warrants.
.. When I was in Iraq, we were constantly aware that our sources had their own axes to grind. They didn’t want to defeat their opponents in an election. They wanted them to die in a hail of gunfire.
.. Biased sources are an inherent part of intelligence-gathering.
Donald Trump is many things — most of them despicable — but the leader of a nation he is not. He is not a great man. Hell, he isn’t even a good man.
Donald Trump is a man of flawed character and a moral cavity. He cannot offer moral guidance because he has no moral compass. He is too small to see over his inflated ego.
.. Trump has personalized the presidency in unprecedented ways — making every battle and every war about his personal feelings. Did the person across the street or around the world say good or bad things about him? Does the media treat him fairly? Is someone in his coterie of corruption outshining him or casting negative light on him?
His interests center on the self; country be damned.
.. By claiming that there were some “very fine people” among the extremists marching in Charlottesville, the president made a profound declaration: The accommodation of racists is his creed.
.. According to The Chicago Tribune, one of Fields’s high school teachers said he once “wrote a three-page homework paper that extolled Nazi ideology and the prowess of the Führer’s armed forces,” and that even before then, the teacher said, “he had been well aware of Fields’s racist and anti-Semitic beliefs from private discussions he had with Fields during his junior year.”
.. “At least four times when the boy was in the eighth and ninth grades, Florence police were summoned to his home, mostly by his frantic mother, Samantha Bloom, an I.T. specialist. It was just the two of them living together, and young James, among other incidents, was reported to have spat in her face, smacked her head with a phone and frightened her with a foot-long knife, according to records of the 911 calls. Neighbors, in interviews, similarly described a troubled youth who treated his mother cruelly.”
.. He apparently felt that the media had unfairly condemned him for his original remarks and he was going to be the counterpuncher and strike back at the media. Again, it was all about him, not us.
.. He was not there to heal the nation or to uplift it. He was there for personal exoneration and redemption. He wasn’t there to plead the case that America could rise on the wings of its better angels. He was there to defend the demons.
.. Trump said that he had not initially condemned both sides because he wanted to wait to get all the facts, because that’s what he likes to do.
On Saturday, when tens of thousands of protesters turned out to counter a small group of radical racists, Trump’s first response was to tweet: “Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you.”
This man doesn’t wait for facts. This man doesn’t care about facts, or much else for that matter. He only cares about himself, his image and his positioning.
.. I am among the 67% of Republicans who approve of Trump’s response to the mayhem in Charlottesville.
If, unlike Charles Blow, you watched the entire press conference, you would approve too. Trump said unreservedly that racists, white nationalists, Nazis, whatever you want to call these freaks should be condemned.
Taken out of context by this columnist and most of the news media is that President Trump said that there are good people who believe that these statutes should not be taken down. This is not a controversial statement. You may disagree with this view, but surely good people could take this view.
In the present Trump Derangement Syndrome suffered by this columnist and the major news media, any semblance of nuance, or even fully listening to the president’s words, is lost.
.. Saggio: Mr. Blow lets lay aside the emotion and look at the facts. GDP is up after years of nothingness under President Obama. Unemployment is down. Wages are up. For the first time a President of the United States has faced down North Korea and there is a slim hope for progress. We are beginning a realistic trade policy with China. And many foreign corporations are building new plants in America. Does any of this count with you?
.. Jack Sonville .. As a Jew, to me the most sickening characters in this plot line are the Jews in his cabinet–people like Cohn and Mnuchin. It is not enough to say, well, I know Donald Trump and he is personally not anti-Semetic. They are enablers and excuse-makers. They like being in power so much that they will broach any indignity and throw their heritage and people under the bus.
My question to them: After your time with Trump is done, where will you go to get back your dignity and self-respect?
.. zoe .. I watched the entire press conference. How many times did he say “fake news”? Are there people in this country that believe these statues should remain? Of course. Do you really think that they were marching with torches and armed with riot gear simply to protest the removal of a statue? What is more symbolic that marching with torches? It was very easy for the donald to state what some CEOs have since stated, what Arnold Schwarzenegger stated, what just about anyone on the street could have stated, at the beginning, as soon as we heard what had happened. He was waiting for the facts? Seriously? The donald never waits for facts. Whether you support him or not you know this is true. I watched the entire presser and someone with presidential temperament would have handled it differently. Nuance? He’s afraid of alienating his base. Do you believe him when during the campaign he said he knew nothing of the KKK or David Duke? There were no “fine people” marching alongside people caring Nazi flags and KKK ornamentation with guns at their side.
.. Bob israel .. I am sure that Charles Blow is not naive. When he excoriates President Trump for essentially telling the truth about the Charlottesville riots , that there were people with legitimate motives and also people with violent intent on both sides, which is now becoming clear, he is being disingenuous, at the very least.