The Jewish state chooses its battles carefully
ISRAEL has long seen itself as the protector of Jews everywhere and a bulwark against global anti-Semitism. It has brought prominent Nazis such as Adolf Eichmann to justice and it rescued Ethiopian Jews threatened by war and famine in the 1980s and 90s. Just last week it denounced a crass notice in a Swiss hotel telling “Jewish guests” to shower before entering the pool. So Israel’s government could reasonably have been expected to condemn the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, which featured neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us”, and to criticise the mealy-mouthed response by Donald Trump, whose presidency has energised the white-supremacist movement in America.
Instead, the anti-Semitic rally, which descended into violence, and Mr Trump’s tepid early comments were met with silence by the government in Jerusalem. Only after Mr Trump’s carefully scripted denunciation of “the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups” did Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, issue a tweet saying, “Outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred.” Mr Netanyahu made no reference to where or when these expressions were made, or to who was making them. Nor did he react to Mr Trump’s later comments, which pinned blame for the violence on both the neo-Nazis and the people who turned out to oppose them... his reluctance to speak out against anti-Semitism in America is about more than that. Mr Netanyahu and his supporters seem to believe that the people opposing the white supremacists are at least as dangerous to Israel as the neo-Nazis. Take Mr Netanyahu’s son, Yair, who condemned the neo-Nazis on Facebook, but added that the counter-protesters of Antifa and Black Lives Matter “hate my country (and America too in my view) just as much” and “are getting stronger and stronger and becoming super dominant in American universities and public life”... Even Rabbi Marvin Hier, who recited a prayer at Mr Trump’s inauguration, blasted him last week. “No one could ever compare neo-Nazis, the Klan and white supremacists to demonstrators that are demonstrating against them. To equate the two sides is preposterous,” said Rabbi Hier... Mr Netanyahu and his Likud party have won three elections, in part by accusing the left and the media of undermining Israel’s security. This, along with the prime minister’s co-operation with Orthodox Jewish parties, has alienated those American Jews who identify with the opposition in Israel. To some it looks as if Mr Netanyahu only sees anti-Semitism in those who oppose his policies... Consider his treatment of Viktor Orban, Hungary’s populist prime minister. Mr Orban’s government has been accused of running an anti-Semitic poster campaign against George Soros, a Jewish American financier with Hungarian roots who funds liberal causes, and organisations that are critical of Mr Orban... Mr Orban, on the other hand, is one of Mr Netanyahu’s closest allies in Europe.
The president doesn’t pretend to represent all citizens—just his most hardcore supporters.
.. Trump has carved out for himself a uniquely agonistic and tribalistic persona. He’s polarizing, and proud of it.
.. To win the presidency, you first need to win the support of a major political party, which means having a partisan identity. But once in power, the commander in chief is supposed to preside over the whole nation, not just those who voted for him.
.. But Trump has decided to forgo any attempt at conciliation. Instead, he’s run a bluntly partisan presidency, where his rhetoric is geared toward pleasing fanatical Fox News viewers more than creating a broad coalition. It’s a peculiarity of Trump’s behavior that he talks openly about his base, not even pretending to be the president of all Americans.
.. “The ugly truth is that white nationalists, the KKK, neo-Nazis and other bigots are indeed part of the Trump base,” columnist Brent Budowsky argued at The Hill. “Trump should throw these bigots out of his base. He should say he does not want their support. He should name names and name hate groups, loudly and repeatedly, and say he does not want their votes, their support, their praise and that he believes they are a stain on America.”
.. Rather than heeding such advice, Trump is moving in the opposite direction—and paying a political price for it.
.. As the president is increasingly criticized from outside his base, he’ll increasingly use his passionate fans as a political shield. And as Charlottesville proves, if those fans end up killing someone, the president will defend them. Caught in the closed loop of fan-servicing, Trump is setting the nation on a path toward further radicalization and further violence.
morning papers were full of stories demonstrating that his political legitimacy, or what small reserves he had left of it, was steadily draining away. After days of prevaricating, America’s business leaders were finally abandoning him en masse.
- Top generals from all five military branches were issuing statements implicitly rebuking him.
- Many White House staffers were despairing of him.
- And even some members of the Society for the Protection of Spineless Conservative Politicians, otherwise known as the leadership of the Republican Party, were starting to distance themselves from him, albeit hesitantly and anonymously, via leaks to journalists and statements from well-connected intermediaries
.. “I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them,” Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, said in a statement.
.. It is now clear that when Trump announced on Wednesday that he was disbanding two White House advisory councils made up of C.E.O.s and other business bigwigs, he was telling another one of his tall tales. One of the groups, a council on manufacturing, had already agreed to disband itself, because its members could no longer justify (to their employees, stockholders, and customers) coöperating with the cretin who said there were some “very fine people” among the torch-wielding protesters who marched through Charlottesville on Friday night, chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews won’t replace us.”
.. As of this writing, none of Trump’s aides has resigned in protest at the President’s statements. But a number of them have been busy getting the story out that they are mad as hell.
- Three different sources told the Times that Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic adviser, who is Jewish, was incensed by the President’s remarks. The Washington Post reported that
- John Kelly, the former Marine general who took over as the White House chief of staff a couple of weeks ago, with a mandate to impose some order on all the chaos, had been left “deeply frustrated and dismayed;
- Bloomberg reported that Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, who was standing next to Trump at Tuesday’s Trump Tower press conference, had gathered his staff together and assured them that he had no idea that the President was going to say what he did.
.. Before composing his ode to the statues of Confederate leaders, he tore into two Republican senators who had dared to criticize him by name for what he said about Charlottesville: Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Jeff Flake, of Arizona. In one tweet, he described Graham as a “publicity seeker.”
In another, he endorsed a little-known Republican politician who is challenging Flake in a primary race: “Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is weak on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!”
.. Bannon described the Unite the Right marchers as “a fringe element” and “a collection of clowns.” But that seemed like an effort to have it both ways, which is a familiar Bannon tactic. As the head of Breitbart News, he gave an influential platform to elements of the alt-right but vehemently denied that the site was racist.
.. “If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats,” Bannon told Kuttner.
..“Trump is using the precious capital of the bully pulpit to talk about confederate monuments in between savage attacks on fellow Republicans,” Holmes, the former aide to McConnell, told Politico Playbook. “Just think about that.
- Not tax reform.
- Not repeal and replace.
- Not North Korean nuclear capabilities.
- No focused critiques on extremely vulnerable Democrats who have opposed him at every possible turn.”
.. While McConnell and Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, have both put out statements saying that racism and white supremacism have no place in the G.O.P., neither of them has explicitly criticized Trump. Even now, most Republicans are too intent on pursuing their regressive policy agenda, and too frightened of incurring the wrath of the Trump-supporting hordes going into the 2018 midterms, to do what almost all of them must know, deep down, is the right thing.
.. Outside the arena of national security, the Presidency is a weak office; to get anything substantial done, the person in the Oval Office has to put together coalitions, bringing along powerful people and interest groups. As the health-care fiascodemonstrated, Trump wasn’t very good at that stuff to begin with—forgive the understatement—and he has just greatly compounded his difficulties.
.. By dint of his pigheadedness, or prejudice, or both, he has moved onto political ground that makes it virtually impossible for other people in influential positions .. to stand with him, or even to be seen to coöperate with him. That is what happens when a President throws away his own legitimacy.
.. Trump may have convinced himself that he doesn’t need political allies, or corporate advisers, or anybody else—that he can bully his opponents into submission and succeed through simple force of will. Maybe he thinks that invoking the memories of Lee and Jackson, the Southern battlefield commanders, will help his cause. It won’t: the fate of the Confederacy was settled more than a hundred and fifty years ago, and right now, Trump’s Presidency seems headed to a similarly ignominious ending.