It Soon May Be Israel’s Turn
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
For the past two years Bibi Netanyahu proclaimed that Donald Trump was his, and therefore Israel’s, best friend who ever has resided in the White House. This delusion extended to many of his friends in the Republican Party as well as to the right-wing elements of the American Jewish community. Following Bibi’s lead, many of the national Jewish organizations including AIPAC have turned a blind eye to the outrageous conduct and disastrous record which has characterized the Trump Presidency. This is true not only in his callous and insensitive conduct of domestic policy but with the catastrophic manner in which he has handled U.S. foreign policy.
President Trump’s America First mantra has successfully alienated America’s friends around the world and encouraged America’s foes. Until last week President Trump had done nothing to affect Israel and America’s relationship with the Jewish State; certainly, from the perspective of the Netanyahu Government and the Jewish right in America. After consulting with President Erdogan, President Trump moved to withdraw summarily U.S. forces from Syria. There are now a growing number of voices in Israel and among American Jews who are becoming alarmed at what the President might decide to do next.
Jews appear to recognize that indeed they and/or Israel could well be the next to be dissed by Trump. In fact, one of Trump’s throwaway lines on Christmas while greeting U.S. troops in Iraq was that Israel will take care of itself since the U.S. gives Israel $4.5 billion a year. This remark was just another example of Trump equating everything he does or does not do to money. This is precisely the kind of remark when coupled with the precipitous withdrawal from Syria which ought to give Israeli leaders pause to consider whether they will be next.
At the same time Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to dissolve his Government and call for new Israeli parliamentary elections, deferred any Trump Middle East Plan–assuming there even is a working proposal—until after the spring elections. This is coupled with the fact that what has been rumored as Washington’s peace proposal was reported by both Israelis and Palestinians to be dead on arrival.
For Netanyahu like Trump, legal problems enter into the Israeli electoral politics. Bibi awaits decisions from the Attorney General concerning three indictments or potential indictments again himself as well as his wife. It now appears likely that in Israel–as was the case with Robert Mueller in the run-up to the mid-term elections in the States–Attorney General Avichail Mandelblit will postpone any potential, possible prosecutions against the Prime Minister until after the April elections.
An additional challenge has now been created for Netanyahu’s re-election bid as a result of the apparent fracturing of elements of his right wing coalition. Netanyahu needs to address the formation on the political right of another party, the New Right Party, headed by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. The new leaders announced on Saturday night that they were forming a breakaway from the Jewish Home (HaBayit HaYehudi) Party, setting Netanyahu up for a contest now on his right of almost five right wing parties. For Bibi as for Trump, the entire political electoral scene is colored by factors which are not policy driven.
Inevitably Israel will be governed once again with a coalition Government. Like the Democratic Party in the U.S. the numerous aspirants seeking to succeed him need to quickly coalesce behind a viable option in order to successfully mount a campaign to oust Bibi. In Israel, however, the parties only have three months not two years to remove the second longest standing prime minister in their history.
As is the case in the U.S., Israelis face an authoritarian ruler operating in a democracy. The Israeli people have an incumbent who appears to be deeply threatened by very serious legal improprieties. They have fewer friends in the world and have policy goals that are clearly not in the best interests of their citizenry. It does not portend good things for Israel in 2019.