The US media took a short break from speculating on the 2020 US presidential race last week to cover the Israeli elections, which are connected to US electoral politics in many ways, most notably of late the controversy over the influence of the Israeli Lobby (AIPAC) and the ongoing melee over Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments about AIPAC’s outsized power. Indeed, the Israel-Palestine issue looks likely to figure prominently in the 2020 campaign rhetoric for the first time ever as we move into the primary season nine months from now. The Republicans, led by Donald Trump and his loudest supporters in Congress, are clearly pro-Israel no matter what, while cracks in the Democratic party’s unwavering support for Israel are growing apace.
After a day of uncertainty about the Israeli election results, it soon became clear that the Netanyahu-Trump ticket had won. The race was closer than many thought it would be. Former Israeli General Benny Gantz, leader of the newly formed center-right Blue and White party, looked likely to win at one point last Tuesday. Overall, parties on Israel’s extreme right did quite well, while the once-legendary Labor Party failed spectacularly. Thanks to an election boycott by Israel’s Palestinian citizens – one-fifth of the voting public—smaller left-leaning parties also had a worse-than-usual showing. Yet despite the disarray on the Israeli left, Bibi Netanyahu might not have won without help and backing from his best friend. Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, as well as the United States designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group, gave Netanyahu the boost he needed to make it across the finish line, as did the Likud leader’s comments about claiming sovereignty over the occupied West Bank on the eve of the elections. Netanyahu now begins his fifth term and will soon be the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history (assuming that the current investigation into his alleged involvement in corruption and bribery doesn’t take him down).
Trump and Netanyahu have so much in common. Both are narcissists, both lie constantly, both rule by fear rather than consensus, and both assume they will enjoy impunity no matter what they do and say. Both are known as womanizers, and both have sons who say and do execrable things without suffering any consequences. Among bigots (now the majority in Israel), Bibi is “King.” Among white nationalists in the United States, Trump can do no wrong. Both men know how to inspire hatred and channel vengeance to their political advantage, and both seem to relish playing with political fire. Both enjoy the support of the most ignorant and arrogant people in their polities, and, in the end, both will do much more harm than good to their respective countries. Neither Trump nor Netanyahu care about the regional or global contexts of their actions, and neither have any respect for international frameworks.
During the eight years of the Obama administration, US-Israeli relations were the worst they’d ever been. Under Trump, however, the United States and Israel increasingly seem to be one entity. Clearly, this perception—reflected in Likud campaign posters showing Trump and Netanyahu together—served the Israeli leadership quite well. And how could it not have, after the pomp and ceremony at the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem and Trump handing the Golan to Netanyahu on a silver platter? Regionally, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Oman are sending clear signals that they are ready to accept Israel and perhaps even naturalize relations in the open, not just behind the scenes, thus abandoning the Palestinians to a fate worse than what they have seen so far—while picking up the bill for Israel’s destruction of Gaza according to Jared Kushner’s over-hyped “peace plan of the century.” Of course, this flowering Gulf-Israeli rapprochement is rooted in all of the parties’ common antipathy to Iran, which appears to be the sole focus of US foreign policy in the Middle East under the ramshackle leadership of Secretary of State Pompeo (who, by the way, has come out as a true believer in bizarre Evangelical Christian Zionists’ fantasies about the End Times and the return of Jesus Christ once all Jews have been ingathered to Israel).
So, will Israel, AIPAC, and American supporters of an increasingly fascist Israel return the favor and help Trump claim victory in the 2020 US elections? Will the implicit Trump-Netanyahu ticket win another term for the worst president in American history? Not if the Democrats can get their act together, mobilize the grassroots, and combine a variety of growing progressive currents into a coherent and unified campaign for the House, Senate, and White House. But, as American wit and actor Will Rogers once wryly noted, “I don’t belong to an organized political party: I’m a Democrat.”
Still, those vocally supporting Trump are truly nauseating to broad swathes of the US voting public. Trump’s recent speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) revealed the moral bankruptcy of the Jewish American right in ways that sickened not only the growing ranks of progressive American Jews, but other traditional Democratic constituencies as well. Despite decrying Rep. Omar’s use of “Anti-Semitic tropes,” Trump repeated many of them in his speech before an admiring crowd of some of America’s wealthiest Jewish conservatives. He referred to Netanyahu as “your Prime Minister,” and implied that Jewish businessmen and financiers could be more supportive of his tariff policies, raising the specters of Jews’ dual loyalty and their supposed control of America’s business and banking sectors.
Then, addressing an audience whose grandparents were tragically refused asylum in the United States while Hitler was slaughtering the Jews of Europe, Trump summed up his immigration policy by saying “we’re full; we have no room here for [Latin American immigrants],” echoing pre-World War II policies that sent European Jewish refugees to their deaths. But instead of condemning Trump, the Republican Jewish Coalition audience, assembled in one of Likud benefactor Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas casinos, showered Trump with love. Matt Brooks, the RJC CEO, declared that Trump had earned the love of the audience:
“There’s no question about all the love that was felt in this room today and … there were a lot of people who were not necessarily with the president during the primary process,” Brooks told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “But I will tell you now, from an RJC perspective in the Jewish community, the amount of support that this president is getting in the Jewish community is growing exponentially.”
A small but vocal group of progressive Jews protested against the racist policies of both Trump and Netanyahu outside of the casino, and the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and prominent Jewish Democrats all condemned Trump’s use of terms such as “your Prime Minister” when referring to Netanyahu during his speech. The fact that the Republican Jewish Coalition, Donald Trump, Bibi Netanyahu, and white nationalists in America now have more affinities with Hitler than the majority of the American electorate will certainly hurt Trump in 2020, as Latino Americans, Black Americans, Arab Americans, progressive Jews, young people eager to see gun control measures enacted, and environmentalists coalesce into a force strong enough to defeat all that the Trump-Netanyahu ticket stands for.
(Read the Arabic version of this article here.)