Republicans and Netanyahu's New Government: Twins Separated at Birth

We have ultra-Orthodox, national religious and Messiah-is-coming Jews while the GOP fields Evangelicals, born-again Christians and End-Times enthusiasts.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting on April 25, 2015, in Las Vegas.
Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting on April 25, 2015, in Las Vegas.Credit: AP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

By now you’ve probably heard of Jade Helm 15, otherwise known as the sinister plot to take over Texas by force. The federal scheme to use a military exercise as a cover for occupying Texas and stripping its citizens of their God-given rights would probably have remained a wingnut political theory were it not for the contribution of some relatively heavy hitters: Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who ordered the State Guard to keep watch, Senator Ted Cruz, who promised to grill the Pentagon and tough guy Chuck Norris who opined that this should really be taken seriously.

This is the same Chuck Norris who starred in Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent election campaign by pleading with Israelis to elect “the only leader who has the courage and vision to stand up against the evil forces that are threatening not only Israel, but also the United States.” At the time it seemed “evil forces” meant Iran and Islamic State, but now it appears that Norris may have also had Barack Obama and his Texas-craving administration in mind as well. Republicans view Netanyahu as their stalwart defender on both fronts, especially since his recent speech in Congress: 67% of them said in a recent poll published by Bloomberg that they favor him over their own president.

It’s true that the White House announced on Thursday that Obama was “looking forward to working with Netanyahu and his new government” but given the perception in Washington that Netanyahu has put together a narrow right wing coalition that would be even more unmanageable than the outgoing government, Obama’s “looking forward” was probably meant in the same sense that one anticipates root canal.

On the Republican side, on the other hand, Netanyahu’s new government can truly look forward to a genuinely welcoming embrace that might actually be warmer than ever, now that it has shorn its centrist-liberal element of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, because in addition to the constantly skyrocketing support for Netanyahu and Israel on the American right one can now add their uncanny resemblance. If Israel had a two-party system, Netanyahu’s 61-weak coalition would be first in line to sign a “sister party” accord with the Republicans: in many ways, albeit Jewish instead of Christian, they are now like twins separated at birth.

We’re not talking about your historic GOP and presidents such as Richard Nixon or George Bush Senior, who probably wouldn’t make it past Sheldon Adelson’s threshold, as Tuesday's statement by Jeb Bush makes clear. After distancing himself from former Secretary of State James Baker who was censured by party loyalists for daring to criticize Netanyahu at the recent J Street Conference, Bush took a step further by presenting his brother George W. as character witness and Israel adviser par excellence. Bush is one of a multitude of Republicans vying to serve as the party’s candidate in 2016, but all of them, with the possible exception of Rand Paul, are trying to outdo each other by vowing unquestioning support for Israel, unending hostility towards Barack Obama and unyielding devotion to traditional national, cultural and religious values.

Most Republicans, after all, share the Israeli view of the international arena as pitting black and white, good vs evil, if you’re not with us you’re against us. Like most Israelis – especially those who voted for the incoming government – they extol their people’s “exceptionalism” and its underpinning “Judeo-Christian” ethos. They tend to belittle diplomacy and to put their trust in the use of force. They share and foster the Israeli disdain for Obama’s “naiveté”, for his “weakness” against dictators far and wide, for his “appeasement” of the Muslim world in general and of Iran in particular. They deride decadent and anti-Semitic Europe and detest international forums, especially the hostile UN and its Third World mentality. They stand solidly behind each and every objection that Netanyahu has raised to the Iran nuclear accord as well as the two-state solution: sometimes they might try to outflank him.

Just as Israel’s new coalition has ultra-Orthodox, national religious and Messiah-is-coming Jews who often set the tone, so the Republicans are sometimes under the sway of ardent Evangelicals, born against Christians and End-Times enthusiasts. Many of their opinions on social and cultural matters are strikingly the same: 70% of Republicans object to Common Core, 66% are skeptical about climate change, 60% oppose same-sex marriage, 49% don’t believe in evolution and 57%, according to a recent poll, would me more than happy to have Christianity declared America’s “national religion”. We have a science-denying member of United Torah Judaism as the head of the Knesset’s Science and Technology Committee just as the Republicans have placed Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe to run the Senate’s Environment Committee: he wrote the book on global warming as “the greatest hoax of all.”

Although they now control both Houses of Congress as well as 31 of 50 states, Republicans still feel shunned and disadvantaged, just like Israeli right wingers who have been in power for most of the past 38 years. They share a common paranoia of sinister conspiracies by alien forces teaming up with internal saboteurs to impose a foreign, secular, degenerate lifestyle on them. They are wary of academia, disdainful towards intellectuals and don’t believe a word in the media, unless it strengthens their preconceptions. They are repelled by concepts such as “human rights” and the NGO’s that advocate them; they view leftists and liberals as knee-jerk do-gooders at best, disloyal fifth columnists at worst. 62% of Republicans said in a recent poll that Obama “doesn’t love America”, a close echo to Netanyahu’s depiction of the Zionist Camp as anti-Zionist. And when Netanyahu cried “the Arabs are coming, the Arabs are coming” on election day, most Republicans kept silent, though they were possibly jealous, given their own, arduous efforts to hamper minority votes.

The problem, of course, is that the closer Republicans get – 67% said recently what America should back Israel even when it diverges from US interests – the more the Democrats seemed to be drifting away, even before the formation of a government that many liberals are already describing as extremist, rejectionist and addicted to settlements. The longer the new and narrow coalition survives, the more it carries out its openly stated goals and policies - blocking a two-state solution, combatting human rights groups and foreign-funded NGO’s, reversing the recent modest gains of religious pluralism, curtailing the constitutional sway of Israel’s Supreme Court – the greater the gap will grow between Israel and liberal America, including a large chunk of its Jews, until the differences turn irreconcilable.

This emerging set of circumstances only highlights the potentially critical importance for Netanyahu of the upcoming 2016 presidential elections. Hillary Clinton seems ready to stand a bit to the right of Obama on Israel and Iran and to position herself as a moderate security hawk, but it clear that in the longer run the difference between Democrats and Republicans for such a radically-right Israeli coalition, should it survive, could be like night and day.

The Democrats won’t abandon Israel, but their relations with a narrow coalition in its current contours will inevitably grow tense, cantankerous, and perhaps even unnatural. The Republicans, on the other hand, could easily stay just as infatuated as they are today. Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Bush himself – if they are to be believed – will not only buttress Israel and identify with it, they might adopt Netanyahu him as a kind of Big Brother and diplomatic mentor, even when the entire world will really be against us, as the Jews like to say. For someone like Sheldon Adelson, 2016 seems to be emerging as a once in a lifetime, all or nothing, now or never kind of challenge.

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