Time for Netanyahu to Go

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

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.

Trump’s Diminishing Power and Rising Rage

None of Trump’s extremist policy ideas has received public support. The public opposed last year’s

  1. Republican-backed corporate tax cut, Trump’s
  2. effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), his
  3. proposed border wall with Mexico, the decision to
  4. withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement, and the
  5. imposition of tariff increases on China, Europe, and others.
  6. At the same time, contrary to Trump’s relentless promotion of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), the public favors investments in renewable energy and remaining in the Paris climate agreement.

.. Trump has tried to implement his radical agenda using three approaches.

1) The first has been to rely on the Republican majorities in the two houses of Congress to pass legislation in the face of strong popular opposition. That approach succeeded once, with the 2017 corporate tax cut, because big Republican donors insisted on the measure, but it failed with Trump’s attempt to repeal Obamacare, as three Republican senators balked.

.. 2)  The second approach has been to use executive orders to circumvent Congress. Here the courts have repeatedly intervened, most recently within days of the election, when a federal district court halted work on the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project strongly opposed by environmentalists, on the grounds that the Trump administration had failed to present a “reasoned explanation” for its actions. Trump repeatedly and dangerously oversteps his authority, and the courts keep pushing back.

.. 3) Trump’s third tactic has been to rally public opinion to his side. Yet, despite his frequent rallies, or perhaps because of them and their incendiary vulgarity, Trump’s disapproval rating has exceeded his approval rating since the earliest days of his administration. His current overall disapproval rating is 54%, versus 40% approval, with strong approval from around 25% of the public. There has been no sustained move in Trump’s direction.

.. In the midterm elections, which Trump himself described as a referendum on his presidency, the Democratic candidates for both the House and Senate vastly outpolled their Republican opponents. In the House races, Democrats received 53,314,159 votes nationally, compared with 48,439,810 for Republicans. In the Senate races, Democrats outpolled Republicans by 47,537,699 votes to 34,280,990.

.. Summing up votes by party for the three recent election cycles (2014, 2016, and 2018), Democratic Senate candidates outpolled Republican candidates by roughly 120 million to 100 million. Nonetheless, the Republicans hold a slight majority in the Senate, where each state is represented by two senators, regardless of the size of its population, because they tend to win their seats in less populous states, whereas Democrats prevail in the major coastal and Midwestern states.

Wyoming, for example, elects two Republican senators to represent its nearly 580,000 residents, while California’s more than 39 million residents elect two Democratic senators. 

Without control of the House, however, Trump will no longer be able to enact any unpopular legislation. Only policies with bipartisan support will have a chance of passing both chambers.

.. On the economic front, Trump’s trade policies will become even less popular in the months ahead as the American economy cools from the “sugar high” of the corporate tax cut, as growing uncertainty about global trade policy hamstrings business investment, and as both the budget deficit and interest rates rise. Trump’s phony national-security justifications for raising tariffs will also be challenged politically and perhaps in the courts.

.. True, Trump will be able to continue appointing conservative federal judges and most likely win their confirmation in the Republican-majority Senate. And on issues of war and peace, Trump will operate with terrifyingly little oversight by Congress or the public, an affliction of the US political system since World War II. Trump, like his recent predecessors, will most likely keep America mired in wars in the Middle East and Africa, despite the lack of significant public understanding or support.

.. Nonetheless, there are three further reasons to believe that Trump’s hold on power will weaken significantly in the coming months. First, Special Counsel Robert Mueller may very well document serious malfeasance by Trump, his family members, and/or his close advisers. 

.. Second, the House Democrats will begin to investigate Trump’s taxes and personal business dealings, including through congressional subpoenas. There are strong reasons to believe that Trump has committed serious tax evasion (as the New York Times recently outlined) and has illegally enriched his family as president (a lawsuit that the courts have allowed to proceed alleges violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution). Trump is likely to ignore or fight the subpoenas, setting the stage for a major political crisis.

.. Third, and most important, Trump is not merely an extremist politician. He suffers from what author Ian Hughes has recently called “a disordered mind,” filled with

  • hate,
  • paranoia, and
  • narcissism.

According to two close observers of Trump, the president’s grip on reality “will likely continue to diminish” in the face of growing political obstacles, investigations into his taxes and business dealings, Mueller’s findings, and an energized political opposition. We may already be seeing that in Trump’s erratic and aggressive behavior since the election.

.. The coming months may be especially dangerous for America and the world. As Trump’s political position weakens and the obstacles facing him grow, his mental instability will pose an ever-greater danger. He could explode in rage, fire Mueller, and perhaps try to launch a war or claim emergency powers in order to restore his authority. We have not yet seen Trump in full fury, but may do so soon, as his room for maneuver continues to narrow. In that case, much will depend on the performance of America’s constitutional order. 

‘Riling Up the Crazies’

As long as I’ve covered politics, Republicans have been trying to scare me.

Sometimes, it has been about gays and transgender people and uppity women looming, but usually it has been about people with darker skin looming.

They’re coming, always coming, to take things and change things and hurt people.

A Democratic president coined the expression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But it was Republicans who flipped the sentiment and turned it into a powerful and remorseless campaign ethos: Make voters fear fear itself.

The president has, after all, put a tremendous effort into the sulfurous stew of lies, racially charged rhetoric and scaremongering that he has been serving up as an election closer. He has been inspired to new depths of delusion, tweeting that “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican.

He has been twinning the words “caravan” and “Kavanaugh” in a mellifluous poem to white male hegemony. Whites should be afraid of the migrant caravan traveling from Central America, especially since “unknown Middle Easterners” were hidden in its midst, an alternative fact that he cheerfully acknowledged was based on nothing.

The word “Kavanaugh” is meant to evoke the fear that aggrieved women will hurtle out of the past to tear down men from their rightful perches of privilege.

Naomi Wolf told Bill Clinton, and later Al Gore, they should present themselves as the Good Father, strong enough to protect the home (America) from invaders.

The Theory vs. the Facts

9/11 conspiracy theorists responded to refutations by alleging more cover-ups.

It’s worth lingering over Griffin’s response to illustrate a typical reaction among conspiracy theorists to refutation. One of the bedrocks of the conspiracy theory is that U.S. military planes should have been easily able to intercept any of the four hijacked airplanes on 9/11 to prevent the attack. The Popular Mechanics article notes that only one NORAD interception of a civilian airplane over North America had occurred in the decade before 9/11, of golfer Payne Stewart’s Learjet, and that it took one hour and 19 minutes to intercept before it ultimately crashed. Based on initial reports that misread the official crash report, conspiracists had previously cited the Stewart case as evidence that it normally only took NORAD 19 minutes to intercept civilian aircraft.

“That’s a very debated thing,” Griffin told me. “It looks like somebody has kind of changed the story there. I don’t know what happened, but I’ve read enough about it to look like that’s not true that it took that long.” And what about other physical evidence that debunks the interception theory, specifically the NORAD tapes, which document the chaos and confusion of American air defenses that morning in painstaking detail? Griffin’s response is that the tapes have likely been doctored using morphing technology to fake the voices of the government officials and depict phony chaos according to a government-written script. It’s not surprising, he says, that after 9/11, mainstream historical accounts would be revised to fit the official narrative.

“This is a self-confirming hypothesis for the people who hold it,” Meigs says. “In that sense it is immune from any kind of refutation and it is very similar to, if you’ve ever known a really hardcore, doctrinaire Marxist or a hardcore fundamentalist creationist. They have sort of a divine answer to every argument you might make.”

.. Another article of faith among conspiracy theorists is that the conspiracy would not have to have been very large. In Crossing the Rubicon, Michael Ruppert writes that there didn’t have to be any more than two dozen people with complete foreknowledge of the attacks to orchestrate 9/11, and that they would all be “bound to silence by Draconian secrecy oaths.” But those numbers begin to balloon out of control if all of the people and institutions accused of playing a part in the cover-up are counted. They would have to have included the CIA; the Justice Department; the FAA; NORAD; American and United Airlines; FEMA; Popular Mechanics and other media outlets; state and local law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New York; the National Institute of Standards and Technology; and, finally and perhaps most prominently, the 9/11 Commission.
.. Of the alleged conspirators in the cover-up, few play a greater role than Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director. A career academic and diplomat, he was asked to resign from his post in 2004 by representatives of 9/11 families because of an alleged conflict of interest stemming from his role on George W. Bush’s transition team. Zelikow recused himself from any part of the investigation dealing with the time period that he worked with the transition team, but his presence on the commission is all the conspiracists needed to discredit the entire report.
.. “I play a very prominent part in their demonology of the world, but the people themselves don’t come across like raving lunatics,” Zelikow says. “They’re often people who in many respects seem quite sincere, very concerned, very patient. They just are fixated.” The obsessive nature of conspiracism makes it very difficult to discuss or debate issues with some of the more hardcore believers. “They’re not really able to listen to you,” Zelikow says. “It’s almost like you’ll say something and then the tape will just replay its loop again.”
.. In 2007 a conspiracist confronted Zelikow in public with the “fact” that many of the hijackers are still alive. Zelikow responded that the 9/11 Commission had looked into the claims and found nothing to them but could not fit every single debunked conspiracy theory into the final version of the report. The questioner’s reply was to repeat his accusation.
.. I had a similar experience on the same topic when questioning Griffin, who begins his book The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortionswith the “hijackers are still alive” theory. I sent him an email pointing out that this theory relied on discredited media reports—the “hijackers” they had found were just people with the same names as the hijackers. In response, he emailed me a chapter on the topic from one of his books and said he was too busy to discuss the issue further.
.. Another common conspiracist tactic is to obsess over minor points of contention and exaggerate the importance of often easily explained inconsistencies in very hard evidence, such as phone calls victims made to family members on the ground describing the hijackings. For example, Griffin says that the phone calls, records of which were made public as part of the 9/11 Commission, were faked by “voice-morphing” technology that fooled family members on the ground.
.. . The petition he started at the time now has signatures from more than 1,500 licensed or degreed architects and engineers, and he is considered one of the movement’s most persuasive leaders.
.. “We’re calling for a federal grand jury investigation of the lead investigator and his co-project leader,” Gage says. “Whoever’s names are on those reports need to be investigated.”
.. Dozens of peer-reviewed papers have been written that support the official hypotheses, but those are dismissed as well. Both Gage and Griffin do, however, point to the movement’s own peer-reviewed paper, published by former BYU professor Steven Jones and Danish scientist Niels Harrit. Because traditional controlled demolitions would have been audible throughout lower Manhattan had they actually occurred on 9/11, conspiracists have been forced to posit a very obscure scientific explanation for their central thesis: that the demolitions used an incendiary chemical called nano-thermite.
.. Griffin and Gage hold this up as mainstream validation of the movement’s work, but the peer-review process of the paper is suspect. (The editor of the journal resigned over the paper after it was published without her approval, for example, and one of the paper’s peer reviewers is a 9/11 conspiracist who has speculated that the passengers on the four flights are actually still alive and living off of Swiss bank accounts.)
.. The man who created the single most influential piece of propaganda about the 9/11 conspiracy is now ambivalent about the movement he helped make popular. “There’s a certain thing called tact that you need when you’re dealing with the public,” says Dylan Avery, director of the film Loose Change, released in 2005 and since viewed tens of millions of times online. “And I think that is a certain approach that a lot of people lack.”

Avery should know. He has been accused of being a traitor, a spy, or—slightly more charitably—just plain “sloppy.” According to 9/11 conspiracy proponent Michael Ruppert, the movement has been hurt by its acceptance of some of the (relatively speaking) more absurd notions that were featured prominently in the early versions of Loose Change, notions that he says were planted as disinformation by those looking to discredit conspiracists. “That’s one of many reasons why I completely cut myself off from the 9/11 Truth movement in 2004,” Ruppert says. “They just swallowed too many poison pills.”

.. Because conspiracy theorists can’t just have disagreements. If you disagree with a conspiracy theorist, then you probably belong to the conspiracy.

.. But in 2005, Haupt started preaching a theory, referred to disparagingly by other conspiracists as the “no-planer” hypothesis, that the footage of jetliners hitting the WTC seen live on TV that morning was actually of holograms. Around that time, he started accusing other leaders in the movement, including Jones and David Ray Griffin, of being government plants themselves. At the end of 2006 he nearly got in a fist fight with Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi, and by May 2008 he was accused of assaulting fellow conspiracists protesting at Ground Zero.

.. Conspiracists are not being entirely irrational when they express their fears of government infiltration. The FBI’s counterintelligence operation, known as COINTELPRO, spied on and sometimes infiltrated suspected Communist groups, civil rights groups, anti-war activists, and hate groups, among others, until the program was exposed and shut down in 1971. The FBI was using some of these tactics, including surveillance of journalists, as late as 1987.

..  Cass Sunstein, the current administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In it, Sunstein says that domestic and foreign conspiracy theories pose “real risks to the government’s anti-terrorist policies” and argues that the government should be “cognitively infiltrating” groups that purvey these theories. Sunstein proposes having the government send undercover operatives and paid “independent” contractors onto online message boards and websites—and into some real-life groups—in order to undermine the theories.

.. By the third day of actually speaking with people he had believed responsible for covering up mass murder, Veitch was starting to believe he was wrong about 9/11. “After meeting all of these alleged conspirators that were supposed to be in on it, I realized they were normal family men,” Veitch said. “There wasn’t anything conspiratorial about them.” It was when he questioned a demolitions expert atop the rebuilt World Trade Center 7 that he finally changed his mind about 9/11.

.. Veitch announced his “conversion” on June 29, 2011, on his blog and YouTube channel, saying that he hadn’t been wrong to believe that the government was capable of orchestrating 9/11, but he had been wrong about the facts:

I think because the government has lied about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have been killed, we do suspect foul play when other terrible events [happen] … and if governments can lie and kill half a million people, why wouldn’t they lie about killing 3,000? It doesn’t take an incredible leap of fantasy or faith or gullibility. We’re not gullible, we’re just truth seekers. And the 9/11 Truth movement is trying to find out the truth about what happened. … [But you should] not hold onto religious dogma. If you’re presented with new evidence, take it on, even if it contradicts what you or your group might be believing or wanting to believe. You have to give the truth the greatest respect, and I do.

.. This relatively mild renunciation by a relatively minor advocate of 9/11 conspiracy theories was treated as major news in the conspiracy community. Veitch received threatening phone calls and emails. Donations to his site dried up. He was accused of having taken a payoff from the BBC, of having been subject to mind control by “neuro-linguistic programming experts,” of being under hypnosis by British illusionist Derren Brown, and of being a Sunstein-sent cognitive infiltrator. “The best theory I heard has been that I have been deep undercover MI6 or CIA agent,” Veitch said. “[They say] I was basically a one-man sleeper cell waiting to discredit the 9/11 Truth movement and destroy what they call ‘the resistance’ from within.” Last month, Veitch’s site was hacked and a message was sent to his 15,000 subscribers calling him a child abuser. “When your mom phones you saying, ‘Why have you sent me something admitting to being a child molester?’ it’s not very good,” Veitch said.

.. Professional conspiracists like radio host Alex Jones and Ruppert preached conspiracy theories for years before 2001. But for many “truthers,” as they would call themselves, the 9/11 conspiracy was a kind of gateway drug. Most of the leading activists I spoke with became involved in the movement because of the Iraq war, but their anger at the Bush administration soon spread to all major institutions of government and media. “In order to maintain the bubble of the conspiracy, it needs to get more demonic, and it needs to include more people,” explains 9/11 conspiracy apostate Charlie Veitch. “You need more and more evil until you hit the wall of absurdity.”
.. The theory that Veitch gave the most credence to was that there was an ancient order of freemasons, or illuminati, or an extremely rich central banking family that had been in control of all world events since the time of Babylon. According to this theory, 9/11 was a propaganda spectacle orchestrated to make the common man fearful. “There’s something about it which appeals to the ego in people,” Veitch said. “You suddenly feel empowered by having secret knowledge.
.. A more typical theory about who is behind world events like 9/11, espoused by Alex Jones, is that a hodgepodge of disparate banking, corporate, globalization, and military interests are working together to bring about a New World Order of centralized “globalist” government. Jones’ “world government” bogeyman has been around for decades. In his quintessential essay on the psychology of paranoia in American political life, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Richard Hofstadter describes an episode from 1964:

Shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy, a great deal of publicity was given to a bill, sponsored chiefly by Senator Thomas E. Dodd of Connecticut, to tighten federal controls over the sale of firearms through the mail. When hearings were being held on the measure, three men drove 2,500 miles to Washington from Bagdad, Arizona, to testify against it. Now there are arguments against the Dodd bill which, however unpersuasive one may find them, have the color of conventional political reasoning. But one of the Arizonans opposed it with what might be considered representative paranoid arguments, insisting that it was “a further attempt by a subversive power to make us part of one world socialistic government” and that it threatened to “create chaos” that would help “our enemies” to seize power.

.. Like in the case of the Kennedy assassination, [when] you have a horrible tragedy that seems absurd and it’s hard to account for the fact that a single individual could inflict so much grief on the nation, there’s a natural tendency to believe that there must be more at work,” says Lawrence Wright. “In the case of 9/11 there was a sense of disbelief that a man in a cave in Afghanistan could reach out and humiliate the most powerful nation in the history of the world. How could that happen? It must be that something else was at work and because we are so powerful, we must have done it to ourselves.”

.. When Wright was touring the country with his book, he would regularly be confronted by conspiracy theorists who hadn’t read the book but thought that, through clever questioning, they could demolish a case he had arrived at by five years of research and interviews with 600 sources. “I spent a lot of time trying to reason with various people who had these kinds of perspectives. And it was very frustrating,” he said. “There was absolutely no way to argue with them because they rejected any kind of factual evidence.”

 .. The conversation was similar to others Wright had had with other conspiracy theorists. “What they call facts aren’t typically facts,” Wright said. “They sound like facts. They’re asserted. But basically, at the root of the conspiracies are these unproven theories.”
.. the numbers believing the most radical version of the theory have been fairly steady. In 2006, 16 percent of respondents in a Scripps-Howard poll said it was either somewhat or very likely that the collapse of the Twin Towers was aided by explosives secretly planted in the buildings. That number was virtually unchanged in an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll this month.
.. One likely explanation for this trend may be the record numbers of Democrats and Republicans who say they distrust the government.
.. “One of the things I find particularly sad is that the conspiracy theorists in the U.S. have augmented this tendency in the Middle East to deny any cultural responsibility,”
..  “He thought, ‘well, why should I accept any responsibility. Americans are saying they did it themselves.’ “
.. “Middle Easterners are so susceptible to conspiracy theories, but it seems that Americans aren’t much better.”