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.
EVANGELICAL VOTERS MADE UP A SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF DONALD TRUMP’S BASE IN THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. THEIR POLITICAL AGENDA MAY NOT BE PEACE OR PROSPERITY, BUT INSTEAD BRINGING US CLOSER TO THE END OF TIME.
The claim is that Ben Gurion (the first prime minister of Israel) said the following about the settlements in about the 1920s and 1930s:
“We were not just working–we were conquering, conquering, conquering land. We were a company of conquistadores.”
.. The land, he believed, must be conquered by the toil and sweat of Jewish pioneers, not by force of arms.
From: David Landau: “Ben-Gurion: A Political Life”, Schocken Books: New York, 2011.
This much less aggressive stance is evidenced in praxis later:
Why Donald Trump’s biggest Christian champions love him so much.
Observers have characterized evangelical support for President Trump as reluctant yet highly durable. But this depiction ignores Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians who, from the beginning, have been largely enthusiastic Trump supporters.
Sixty-one percent of Pentecostal pastors surveyed in 2016 planned to vote for Trump, and they are a force on Trump’s “evangelical advisory board.” And notably, the Pentecostal-Charismatic media consistently gives the president favorable coverage. Unlike the evangelicals who see Trump as a necessary, but distasteful, conduit for their policy preferences, sincere theological conviction drives many Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians to see the president as a prophetically foretold leader.
.. he uncannily demonstrates deep affinities with certain Pentecostal-Charismatic subcultures. Here are five historic subcultures and theologies that explain why some Pentecostal-Charismatics proudly support Trump.
1. Pentecostal-Charismatic celebrity culture
Trump has cultivated support among Pentecostal-Charismatic celebrities such as Jim Bakker, Paula White and Mark Burns, who, like the president, are media moguls with scandalous histories. These televangelists attain authority as Pentecostal-Charismatic leaders through celebrity culture over (and in some cases, against) traditional qualifications for the ministry, such as ordination or seminary education.
.. the general public historically viewed tongue-speaking, emotive Pentecostals — who burst onto the 20th century American religious scene with a black leader (William J. Seymour), interracial services and female preachers — as delusional or even dangerous.
.. as the movement grew, presidents seemingly warmed up to Pentecostal-Charismatics — even the televangelists. Televangelist Oral Roberts met with Kennedy, Nixon and Carter; in 1985, Ronald Reagan gave a very friendly interview to Charismatic Baptist media mogul Pat Robertson.
.. Trump’s invitation to Charismatic televangelist Paula White to deliver an inaugural prayer alongside evangelical legacy Franklin Graham — a role traditionally performed by respectable religious leaders from mainstream and mainline religious organizations — reflects the changing terms of politics and religion in the U.S. It is a cultural coup to promote White, seen in more traditional evangelical quarters as a “heretic” and “charlatan,” into these honorable ranks.
.. 2. Prosperity
Engaging with devotees of the “prosperity gospel” — whose believers celebrate overt displays of wealth as clear signs of God’s favor (see: the cast of Preachers of LA) — makes sense for the wealthy, celebrity-friendly Trump. His prosperity theology, coupled with his unabashed embodiment of conspicuous consumption, resonates with Pentecostal-Charismatics, who are leading creators and purveyorsof this much-maligned theology.
.. 3. Lowbrow know-how
Pentecostal-Charismatics hail from a long line of anti-institutionalists.
.. Some present-day Pentecostals perpetuate this anti-authoritarian stance, preferring (by wide margins) common sense to intellectual know-how, and viewing cultural elites with deep suspicion and antipathy. Trump’s repeated rejection of scientific consensus regarding climate change and his rowdy approach to foreign policy resonate with Pentecostal-Charismatics. In their view, educated elites don’t faithfully describe the world as Pentecostal-Charismatics know it, and those elites sure don’t know how to fix it.
Like many evangelicals, especially those who identify as fundamentalist, Pentecostal-Charismatics have been steadfast, passionate supporters of Israel, an integral part of their beliefs about “the end times.”
.. Trump’s moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, therefore, is not just fulfilling a campaign promise; to many Pentecostal-Charismatics, it’s fulfilling God’s plan for the end of days. The value of this move can’t be overstated, because it confirms and gives physical reality to Pentecostals’ mystical perceptions of Trump as more potentate than president — a ruler in the order of the biblical kings of Israel.
.. 5. Monarchy
.. For Pentecostals, how America’s democratic government works in tandem with God’s monarchy isn’t always clear. But for most, “the people” don’t ultimately decide the fate of the United States or the world. God decides the future and “brings it to pass” through his own means.
.. When he disregards conventional wisdom, they see someone who, like themselves, goes against a coercive mainstream intellectual grain. When he supports Israel, they see a king, however flawed, and an instrument for the purposes of God. When he moves his embassy to Jerusalem, they see verification of their sacred narrative.
.. When Pentecostal-Charismatic advisers to Trump talk about their role in this divine drama, it is as godly intercessors on the president’s behalf.
From this vantage point, it hardly matters whether Trump behaves morally, won the popular vote or even colluded with Russia. Trump is not just a leader selected by the people: he is an intervention — God’s anointed, divinely elevated ruler. Actually, the sheer unlikeliness of Trump’s win fits the Pentecostal-Charismatic imagination for miraculous intervention, and moves Trump far above the reach of critique.
Lieberman made his career with coarse talk: Israel, he said, should “cut off the head” of a disloyal Arab citizen, or take “a lesson from Putin” on how to deal with terror.
.. Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon, the minister whom Netanyahu fired to make room for Lieberman, spoke bluntly at a press briefing on Friday. “To my great sorrow, extremist and dangerous elements have taken over Israel and the Likud Party,” he said. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who was Ya’alon’s predecessor as defense minister under Netanyahu, angrily reinforced Ya’alon’s message on television later that night. Israel “has been infected by the seeds of fascism,” Barak said.
.. Ya’alon was the I.D.F.’s chief of staff when it crushed the Al-Aqsa intifada, in the early aughts. He ran the last Gaza war, advocated early on for a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program, and mocked Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent peace shuttles as “obsessive.” So his words of warning about Lieberman’s appointment carry particular weight
.. The first is ideological: neo-Zionist, religiously inflected zealotry for the Land of Israel, representing at most a fifth of Israel’s Jews and valorizing the settlement project as messianic. The second is reactionary: the conviction that Israel has no partner for peace, that an Arab leader’s motivation to destroy Israel will correspond directly with his capability—reinforced with references to the pathos of Jewish history.
.. Naftali Bennett, another far-right leader, demanded an end to the “festival of self-flagellation.” Herzog said, “This is what morality and responsibility sound like.” Ya’alon, for his part, who had dismissed veterans of the group Breaking the Silence as “traitors” for exposing routine violations of the I.D.F. code of conduct, could hardly permit attacks on the code itself.
.. Then things fell apart. Herzog told Ravid that he had asked Netanyahu to put their understanding of the peace process in writing, and that Netanyahu had refused to do so. Livni did not tell me precisely what that understanding was, but in last year’s election Herzog all but endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which Blair said on Wednesday would unlock “some steps of normalization.” A written commitment might well cause Bennett’s right-wing faction to bolt from the government, which would be, from Herzog’s perspective, all to the good.
.. For all his bombast, the former prime minister Ehud Olmert once told me, Lieberman is actually a pragmatist, one who supported the two-state solution when he was foreign minister (although, revealingly, his vision called for redrawing the border to place hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arabs on the other side).
.. The real question is whether, by making common cause with the settler right against the I.D.F., Netanyahu is taking on forces that may finally be too big for him to manipulate. The settlers already control education, justice, and rural development
.. Lieberman will bring the defense ministry into this orbit, and will likely try to advance the careers of officers sensitive to the settler agenda. (The political analyst Yoram Peri told me that as many as half of the rising officers in the I.D.F. today wear the settlers’ knitted yarmulkes.)
.. But the senior command, in both the military and intelligence services, remains hostile to Netanyahu. He has not only challenged their authority; he is challenging the prestige of Army service, and is threatening to debase the values with which they claim authority.
The largely secular founders of Israel, the generation of David Ben-Gurion, had a dual vision of Israel as both “a light among nations” and a state like others, part of the international community of nations, outward looking and socially just.
“When Israel has prostitutes and thieves,” Ben-Gurion said, “we’ll be a state just like any other.”
.. Defiant in the face of criticism, both domestic and foreign, they believe that they are building a religious Israel, not a European or cosmopolitan one.
.. “Zionism justified a return to the holy land in terms of universalist values,” said Yaron Ezrahi, a political theorist and emeritus professor at Hebrew University. “The idea was to bring enlightenment and cultural development, to bring universalism to the Middle East. But the settlers are the epitome of particularism, of localism, and they give a bad name to Zionism. If Zionism is a European movement,” he said, “the settlers are colonialism in a post-colonial era. They’ve lost the universal values of Zionism.”
.. Religious Zionism is a relatively large tent, with more liberal and more nationalist wings. But it regards the settlements as “its most important creation in this generation,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, a research center. “There is a growing sense that they are the true future of Zionism, because secular Zionism has been in decline for decades.” They have taken more leadership positions in the Army, have the most vital youth movements and are having a major impact in politics, so “they have a growing sense of self-confidence,” he said.
.. The real danger to religious Zionism comes not from the Palestinians or from abroad, nor even from the dwindling Israeli left. What settlers are really afraid of, Mr. Halevi said, is the secular right, still largely represented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his party, Likud. He said religious nationalists “have an almost apocalyptic fear” that another pragmatic, secular, right-wing government like that of Ariel Sharon will betray them and undermine the settlement movement.
.. Naftali Bennett of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, the religious parties and younger members of Likud. Mr. Bennett, for example, favors the annexation of what is known as Area C, which is 62 percent of the West Bank and includes most Israeli settlements.
.. The struggle for the future of democracy here, Mr. Halevi said, will be “between those who are legitimate democrats and those who don’t really understand it, who pay lip service to it but come from a nationalist and even theocratic place and view certain democratic norms as a threat.”