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.
No one saw the letter as anything but a stinging protest. “Old Marines never die, but they do resign after the President ignores their advice, betrays our allies, rewards our enemies, and puts the nation’s security at risk,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) wrote in a tweet, referencing Mattis’s storied career in the Marine Corps.
.. I’ve studied resignations for 28 years. I’ve written a book about them — the world viewed through the medium of the kiss-off, from classical times to the modern day. History is written as much in endings as beginnings. The pivotal changes can arrive not with “Eureka!” moments but with adamant refusals.
.. Yet the most effective leave-takings are composed over time and with military precision. These are made up of the words, distilled from private agonies, that we place on the public record. They must function as appeals to history — as, in a case like Mattis’s — or one good grenade... Keys later said he hadn’t intended to send the letter that began “Dear Boss, Well, I quit.” He’d written it out of frustration late one night and mailed it by accident. Nobody bought that, least of all Creech. But the general did invite Keys to a meeting to elaborate. Keys’s recommendations were heard, his resignation rescinded. By the time he retired in 2007, he was Gen. Ronald Keys, commander of Air Combat Command. But it was the frazzled, almost comedic howl of rage that was Keys’s resignation, rather than the officer’s career, that was most widely remembered. Passed around and published, it quickly formed the template for what became known as the “Dear Boss” letter — Air Force slang for the frustrated officer’s resignation as unrestrained truth attack... Planned, polished and executed for maximum effect, Dear Boss letters are ambushes by nature. The most famous — before Mattis’s on Thursday — was that of the highly decorated Army Col. Millard A. Peck, who resigned in 1991 as head of the Pentagon intelligence unit assigned to search and account for missing-in-action servicemen in Vietnam. Over four pages of complaints that would doubtlessly ring bells with Mattis, Peck wrote of being “painfully aware … that I was not really in charge of my own office, but was merely a figurehead or whipping boy for a larger and totally Machiavellian group of characters.” His department, he said, was nothing but “a ‘toxic waste dump’ designed to bury the whole mess out of sight and mind in a facility with limited access to public scrutiny.”
In a country still ambivalent about remembering Vietnam and haunted by the possibility of prisoners of war as well as those missing in action, the effect was electric. Within weeks, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opened a public hearing. Peck ended up overseeing administrative services for military ceremonies. He had taken the hit, but he’d got the result he wanted: a national public reckoning with the way the military looked after its own.
Is there anyone who wants to hang with Donald Trump?
He’s not wanted.
Not at funerals, though the Bush family, to show class and respect for tradition, held their noses and made an exception.
Not in England, where they turned him into a big, hideous blimp.
Not by moderate Republicans, or at least the shrinking club with a tenuous claim to that label, who pushed him away during the midterms as they fought for their survival and clung to their last shreds of self-respect.
And not by a 36-year-old Republican operative who is by most accounts the apotheosis of vanity and ambition — and who just turned down one of the most powerful roles in any administration, a job that welds you to the president’s side and gives you nearly unrivaled access to his thoughts.
Nick Ayers didn’t see enough upside to the welding. He could do without those thoughts. He said no to becoming Trump’s next chief of staff, and this wasn’t just the latest twist in “As The White House Turns.”
It was, really, the whole story — of a president who burns quickly through whatever good will he has, a president who represents infinitely more peril than promise, a president toward whom a shockingly small and diminishing number of people in Washington feel any real affection, a president more tolerated than respected, though even the tolerance wanes.
.. He’s forever fixated on how wanted he is (“My crowds!” “My ratings!”), but what’s more striking is how unwanted he is. And that’s not merely a function of the crests and dips that every president encounters. It’s not really about popularity at all.
.. It’s about how he behaves — and the predictable harvest of all that nastiness. While other presidents sought to hone the art of persuasion, he revels in his talent for repulsion: how many people he attacks (he styles this as boldness); how many people he offends (he pretties this up as authenticity); how many people he sends into exile.
.. Careerists who would normally pine for top jobs with a president assess his temper, behold his tweets, recall the mortifications of Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson, and run for the hills. Trump sits at the most coveted desk in the world, but almost no one wants to pull up a chair.
.. What happened with Ayers, who is finishing a stint as Mike Pence’s chief of staff, speaks pointedly to the president’s diminished state. Bear in mind that Trump had already started telling people that Ayers would succeed John Kelly as chief of staff, so Ayers’s decision was doubly humiliating. Bear in mind who Ayers is: not just any political climber but someone whose every breath is focused on his enhanced glory, a trait frequently mentioned by Republicans who have watched his rise (and who sense in him more than a bit of Trump).
They still groan and titter about the blast email that he sent out, unsolicited, after he signed on to manage Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. It crowed about all the riches in the private sector that he was passing over. It hinted that his services had been sought by Pawlenty’s competitors: Sorry, guys. It assumed a broad, edge-of-seat audience for the minutiae of his mulling and maneuvering. In fact there were news stories that mockedthe self-aggrandizement of his announcement.
.. At most other times, under most other presidents, someone like Ayers would jump at chief of staff, no matter the job’s infamous rigors. It catapulted such political heavyweights as Dick Cheney, James Baker, Leon Panetta and Rahm Emanuel to greater recognition and relevance.
.. So Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump counted on Ayers’s interest and connived to shove Kelly out — he’ll leave by year’s end — so that they could shimmy Ayers in. They counted wrong. Ever clueless and oh so useless, they didn’t adequately factor in Trump’s toxicity, and the president now looks every bit as isolated as he is.
.. “Trump was left at the altar,”
.. Administration officials like Steven Mnuchin and Mick Mulvaney practically put out news releases to make clear that Trump shouldn’t ask them to be chief of staff. He has no Plan B, just B-list options like Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general.
.. As leaders go, he has never been much of a magnet. He unequivocally romped in the Republican primaries, but since then? He got nearly 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton did, a gap so remarkable that he had to claim a conspiracy of illegal voting to console himself. When he first filled his cabinet, he hardly had his pick of the litter.
Many top Republicans wanted no part of him. Some who did enter the administration agonized beforehand: Were they helping the country or indulging someone who didn’t deserve it?
When Barbara Bush died in April, it was clear to Trump that he shouldn’t travel to Texas to pay his respects. When John McCain died in August, Trump was told to skip the funeral.
The heads of countries that share America’s purported values (pre-Trump, at least) reproach and recoil from him. Prominent corporate leaders rebuke him, despite his administration’s business-friendly policies.
.. By one analysis of the midterms, the overall vote count for Democratic candidates for the House was 8.6 percentage points higher than for Republican candidates.
His wife takes public shots at him. Old friends tattle to prosecutors; new friends don’t exist. Talk about a twist: He sought the presidency, as so many others surely did, because it’s the ultimate validation. But it has given him his bitterest taste yet of rejection.
Toxic Myths of the Confederacy (UnCivil Podcast)
A listener voicemail sends us deep down the rabbit hole into one of the most toxic myths of the Confederacy.
John Sims: Hi, my name is John Sims. um – I – I have a really conflicted past with this thing. When I was a teenager I was a part of an organization called the Sons of Confederate Veterans. And you know and over the course of like 2 to 3 years as I was a teenager I slowly came to realize how terrible the Civil War really was and how messed up the Confederacy was … And, so I, I don’t know, this subject is really like close to my heart and uh if you want to talk to me some more give me a call. My number is beep. Thank you.
.. From an early age he read a lot of history… and he remembers the first moment he fell in love with the Confederacy…[MUSIC OUT]
JS: So when I was probably uh, eight or nine my uncle gave us our first computer, right. It was an old Dell Computer, right. And there was a game that was loaded onto it that was a Civil War themed game. You could move the little soldiers around on a map, plan the strategies out for how they were going to attack each other and things like that. The thing that appealed to me about the video game was that it painted this picture of the South fighting a-against a vastly superior army. They were outmanned, they were outgunned. They were the underdogs. And that really appealed to me. And you know as an 8 or 9 year old, I walked into the kitchen where my mom was and I went, “Mom! I, I think the wrong side won.” CK: As time went on, John became sure the wrong side won… Before he knew it he was deep inside the world of Confederate revisionism…And he connected to other people who felt the same way. And it was there, that he got caught up in spreading of the one of the most toxic modern Civil War myths… Black… Confederate… Soldiers…
.. CK: Groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans talk about black Confederate soldiers a lot… and here’s what they’re saying… free black men enlisted in the Confederate army alongside the very men who were fighting… to keep them enslaved…. Let that sink in…JS: I thought, “well hey, this, this explains it. This shows that the institution of slavery was not as atrocious as, as many historians portray it. “It shows that it must not have been you know as terrible as many people see it today if people were willing to go out and fight and die for it who were on the slave side of that institution.”
[MUSIC OUT]CK: Aiight… let’s just stop right there… This idea that there whole regiments of free black men that were fighting for the Confederacy. That’s that bullshit.
Enslaved people were on the front lines with their masters, but they were enslaved... None of them were enlisted as soldiers…KEVIN LEVIN: in all of the years that I have been, you know, researching Black Confederate Soldiers, I have yet to find, uh, a single wartime account of a Confederate soldier, or a politician, uh, or even, you know a civilian on the homefront who claimed, that these men were serving in the army as soldiers.
CK: That’s Kevin Levin… he’s a historian who has researched this myth for almost a decade
KL: You don’t find that at all and I think that tells us something really important about this, about this myth.
KL: It tells us that whatever slaves were doing, in camp, on the march, on the battlefield even, that Confederates themselves did not consider what slaves were doing as constituting the work, uh, or the responsibility of soldiers.
CK: Towards the end of the war when the Confederacy got really desperate… they told slave owners that they could enlist their slaves as soldiers.…But this happened just two weeks before the end of the war… so it’s unlikely that even these forcibly enlisted black men ever saw battle.JH: But the story of black Confederates willingly going into battle throughout the war to defend slavery… it’s all over the internet…. On message boards and in blogs and in articles … including one written by John Sims…
JS: I wrote an article for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Put it in their newsletter, and it was on Black Confederate Soldiers.
JH: The idea of black Confederates proved to John that the war wasn’t about slavery. Slavery was just a pretense the North used to violate the rights of Southern states.
After John put that article about black Confederates in the newsletter… he expected praise and admiration from his new friends. He thought they would love it.
JS: The response I actually got was either crickets, just nothing, no response at all, or, or grumbling. Like a, a response of almost like, “why would you lump them in with our people.” Like, “why would you lump in these- these, um, African-Americans with the- the valiant soldiers of the South?”
The thing is it solidified to me was there were segments of this organization that certainly were, you know, racist.
CK: John started feeling like the Sons of Confederate Veterans weren’t interested in history… they were interested in what they thought the past should have been…But John’s view of the Confederate history really started to fall apart after he dug a little more deeply into his own family’s past.John Sims: The moment where things really started to break up for me was- I was under this notion that none of my family had owned slaves, right? And this is an argument the Sons of Confederate Veterans makes, is that most of the people who were in the South, the white Southerners, did not own slaves. So I was under this impression that, “Maybe, um, my ancestors didn’t participate in that dark, but small, part of the South,” And I couldn’t find any documentation that said that they were slaveholders, or that they were racist, and so I just, you know, I brushed it off, right?
CK: But all that changed when he found an old article about his ancestor Charles Burkham... CK: I mean this myth is such blatant bullshit that it made us wonder… how did it ever take off? And when we dug into black Confederate myth… what we found… is that this revision history is actually pretty recent.According to historian Kevin Levin, we can trace it back to its beginnings about 40 years ago….
KEVIN LEVIN: The first accounts of, of black Confederate soldiers really doesn’t appear until the end of the 1970s… And in large part in response to the success of the television series Roots.
[ROOTS TV SHOW AUDIO CLIP]
AMES: Get up Toby. Dammit, boy! If you don’t understand my meaning, I got a dictionary in the butt end of this whip that’ll make my meaning clear!”
FIDDLER: You do what Mr. Ames says now, Toby!
CK: For eight consecutive nights in the fall of 1977… families gathered in their living rooms to watch the story of nine generations of an African-American family. The story starts in Africa but spends most of its time exploring their lives under the brutality of American slavery…Since the end of the Civil War, kids like John had grown up on the Confederate narrative …. that slavery was a benevolent system with kind masters. That slaves were happy…
Now, American families were watching stories that changed all that. Roots showed in graphic detail, African-Americans being forced to change their names… being beaten and killed… but also that they had resisted slavery all along.
JH: Confederates, who had tried to control the narrative for so long… felt it slipping awayKL: You begin to pick up chatter among Sons of Confederate Veterans who are very worried that this very popular account of slavery, painted the Confederacy in a negative light. They’re worried, uh, that their own preferred narrative is, is jeopardized.
JH: Confederate enthusiasts had to respond… so they poured over Civil War accounts…looking for any black men near the front lines that they could portray as soldiers…. And they found them… enslaved men in the camps…KL: One way they can do that is by, starting to talk about camp slaves as soldiers, right? As full soldiers in the Confederate army that served in integrated units from the very beginning of the war.
JH: So they rewrote these men’s stories to fit their narrative… and they circulated these revised histories among themselves… in Sons of Confederate Veterans meetings and other rallies… and eventually they got the story out of their private clubs… and into the media….
In the 1990s… there were two Washington Times features that suggested… there wereBlack Confederate Soldiers…
CK: And the story started to gain traction in other places… with even bigger audiences….
After the break, the story of Black Confederate Soldiers finds its way onto popular television….
.. In a 2009 episode of the show… the black Confederate myth took center stage.. a man brought in an old photograph of a white Confederate soldier seated next to a black man in a Confederate uniform….
.. JH: The appraiser tried to give context here… mentioning that it wasn’t unusual for a Confederate officer to go to the frontlines attended by what he called a “manservant.”
And while the descendant on the air makes it clear that his ancestor owned Silas…he also describes the two men in weirdly modern terms… like they were friends.
ANTIQUES ROADSHOW: They’re about the same age, joined the Confederate Army when Andrew was 16, Silas was 17 and they fought in four battles together
The men grew up together, they worked the fields together, and continued to live closely throughout the rest of their lives.
CK: But there was one family watching the segment who knew that Silas didn’t enlist willingly… and wasn’t Andrew’s friend…
MYRA CHANDLER SAMPSON: I was on the phone talking with my sister and her daughter was flipping through the channels and she started screaming, “The slave, the slave, our great grandfather.” And my sister said, “Oh, turn on Antique Roadshow. they’re talking about Silas.”
CK: That’s Myra Chandler Sampson… the great-grand-daughter of Silas Chandler, the enslaved man in the photo…MCS: Oh, I was furious. I thought, “How could he? This is is ridiculous.”
CK: Myra had seen this photo growing up…. Many times. …but where Andrew’s descendant saw two Confederate army buddies… Myra saw something else …MCS: Ok when I see this picture I see Andrew sitting straight, and tall, and proud. And he’s thin. And he’s- He just looks like an ordinary Mississippi white man.
I see Silas scrunched down. Almost scooted forward. To make him look shorter. And I don’t know if he’d been told to- that’s the way he had to appear when he’s with Andrew.
JH: And, and when I look at that picture… to me, you can’t help but look at Silas and think, “the man is just miserable…”
CK: Yeah, I mean to me, it looks like he’s just looking at the camera going, “Do y’all see this bullshit?”
CK: But Myra says no matter what you see when you look at this photo… there are basic facts about Silas and his life that make his relationship to Andrew and to the Confederate war effort… abundantly clear.
For one — the pension application that Silas filed…..describes Silas as a servant of a Confederate soldier…Myra also found a letter from the Chandler family that lays out Silas’s real day-to-day responsibilities… and they didn’t include battle…
MCS: Transporting packages, transporting messages from the plantation to the battlefield. That’s what his, his job was
CK: Eventually by researching Silas’ life, Myra was able to put together the story of Silas the person and what she found was a very different Silas than the manservant she saw presented on Antiques Roadshow…
Myra told us Silas’ family was likely taken from Ghana… he was born in Virginia and taken to Mississippi, when he was 2 years old.
JH: Before the war, Myra says, Silas was already a carpenter…. He helped in the construction of many buildings on the plantation…. And he was loaned out to help build the courthouse in West Point, Mississippi.MCS: When he went away to the war he had just married and his wife was pregnant. and so his son, his first son, was born while he was away with Andrew. And I’m sure that if Silas didn’t have a family, if he didn’t have a wife back home, and he had a chance to escape, I’m sure he would have. He obeyed his oppressor, and followed directions because he wanted to survive, and he wanted his wife and his unborn son to survive.
JH: When Silas died, his family had a mason symbol engraved on his headstone — to acknowledge his work as a carpenter.But almost a century later, the Confederate supporters came up with a different idea about how to memorialize Silas Chandler
MCS: I believe it was 2003 the Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of the Confederate Veteran uh, they, they put an Iron Cross on his grave and a Confederate flag. And they declared Silas a Confederate hero.
It was on all the TV stations and throughout the state of Mississippi. I, I was invited to the ceremony but I told them there was no way in hell that I would attend a ceremony like that.
CK: But of course, that didn’t stop them… and it went far beyond just the ceremony… pro-Confederate groups turned Silas into an icon….There are posters… even t-shirts with his likeness… One t-shirt features Andrew Chandler wounded in battle…MCS: And Silas is down on his knees, uh wrapping Andrew’s leg. And Silas has on a Confederate uniform with a Confederate cap at that time. And believe it or not I ordered that T-shirt ‘cause, ‘cause I wanted to see it.
JH: These groups… had taken Myra’s ancestor away from her…… They had redefined who Silas was.
MCS: It brought out a temper in me that I didn’t know I had.
If I lived in Mississippi believe you me, I would have taken that Iron Cross off. I would have taken it off and burned it, and made a video, and put it on, on YouTube so they could see it.They re-enslaved him when they put the Iron Cross and Confederate flags on his grave. And made these t-shirts, and these posters that they sold. Making profit off of a dead slave – they have no soul. They have no soul – just like their ancestors had no soul in order to keep someone a slave and to profit off of their labor.
JH: In the years of Myra’s research and fighting to get the confederate flags and the Iron Cross off Silas’s grave… that picture from the Antiques Roadshow went up for sale. It was sold to a private collector who immediately donated it to the Library of Congress.
JH: when people come into the Library of Congress, and, and go to look at that picture, what, what would you want them to see?
MCS: They should see what a slave was forced to do in order to save his life and the life of his family. If Silas had not done what he did, I would not be here, and my family would not be here. So, they should see a love story.