The coronavirus epidemic created an illusion of stark difference between Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump. Netanyahu was hysterical but also decisive, probably saving countless lives. Trump was capricious and anarchic, at a cost of tens of thousands of preventable American deaths.
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Netanyahu’s ruthless attack on the legal system and the rule of law at the start of his criminal trial on Sunday should have dispelled such concerns. With its wild accusations, unsubstantiated defamations, hackneyed conspiracy theories and total obliviousness of truth, logic, decency or proper governance − Netanyahu’s speech, masked ministers at his side, proved that the prime minister and the president are still birds of a feather, broadcasting on the same warped wavelength.
Trump is being persecuted by leftist Democrats, lying journalists, generals, inspector generals, administration officials, experts on anything, Barack Obama, the FBI, CIA and the Department of Justice, until he had it fixed. Netanyahu’s situation is a bit more amorphous but, according to the latest opinion polls, no less persuasive: Netanyahu, like Trump, is also the target of a dark and all-pervasive leftist-journo conspiracy but the main work of the plot against Bibi is being carried out by “elements.”
Who are these elements, that Netanyahu claimed on Sunday “are trying to carry out an overthrow of the regime against the will of the people?” Who are the “elements” capable of planning, coordinating and executing a wide-ranging multi-arena campaign to topple the prime minister, who control not only the media but the police, state prosecutor’s office and, very soon, the courts as well, who are capable of suborning witnesses, fabricating evidence and framing the most powerful man in the country – and all without leaving even a shred of evidence of their dastardly plot? Ahh, say Netanyahu’s legions, that only proves how sophisticated they are.
Like Trump, Netanyahu views senior civil servants who are unimpressed and undeterred by his stature or threats as mortal enemies – and sitting ducks. Ignoring decades of dedicated government service, Netanyahu used his bully pulpit on Sunday to carry out targeted assaults on the prestige, professionalism and, potentially, personal safety of the police commander, state prosecutor, attorney general, the prosecutor in his case and scores of investigators and lawyers who gathered evidence, drew conclusions and issued recommendations not to his liking. Trump may be coarser than him, but Netanyahu is sticking to time-tested Sicilian formulas.
Small wonder that one can sometimes get confused which of the two said what, when, where and why. Who describes his political rivals as unbalanced and corrupt? Is it Trump on Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi or Netanyahu on Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi? Who has accused his chief law enforcement officer of personal corruption and concocting evidence? Is it Trump on James Comey or Netanyahu this Sunday on former police chief Roni Alsheich?
Who described his attorney general as weak, indecisive and prone to extortion? Trump about Jeff Sessions or Netanyahu about Avichai Mendelblit? Who accused a journalist of committing a crime? Was it Netanyahu on Raviv Drucker, a Channel 13 reporter who recently conducted a “mock trial” for the accused prime minister, or Trump, who disseminated old and discredited conspiracy theories about MSNBC host Joe Scarborough? Tough contest.
Who has turned his previously proud party into a floor mat, instituted a regime of fear and revenge based exclusively on cult of personality, disposed of anyone with even a hint of defiance or self-respect and surrounded himself with largely mediocre toadies whose are measured by their willingness to spread Netanyahu’s venom and do his dirty work for him? The correct answer, from the Jerusalem District Court to Trump’s kowtowing cabinet, is, of course, both.
Trump and Netanyahu are waging total war against the rule of law that’s out to get them, political rivals trying to replace them and against democracy, which enables both. They are inciting and divisive politicians who disdain minorities, share an extreme capitalist world view, despise the free media, are friends with dictators but detest liberal leaders, groupies of Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman but enemies of Europe, human rights and international organizations.
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And both anchor their rule on an unholy alliance with fanatic believers, who follow them through fire, water, mud and slime in exchange for advancing what they alone can ascertain as God’s will.
Over the next few weeks, all of these numerous parallels and more will meet, and possibly clash, at intersection annexation. In the eyes of much of the world, though not Israelis themselves, all are linked together. Despite decades of Israel disseminating learned legal and historical arguments, the overwhelming majority of the international community views the territories dubbed by Israelis as Judea and Samaria as occupied.
Annexation, by definition, contravenes international law, which prohibits the acquisition of territory by force. It is also an explosive device, the world believes, that will incinerate the last surviving hopes for a two-state solution which, the world maintains, is still the only one possible.
In the eyes of the world it is no coincidence that these two nationalist, ethnocentric and slightly megalomaniac leaders, who defy the law and fight it, who disdain human rights and the international order, who are belligerent on the inside and out, are the ones on the verge of a decision to carry out a destabilizing, potentially dangerous and definitely unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank. On the contrary, such a decision, which entails thumbing their nose at all their rivals, critics and enemies with just one stroke, is right up Trump and Netanyahu’s alley.
This is the same Trump who has already undermined the Western alliance, who is reviled by Europeans, who abandoned the Paris Climate Accords as he did the Iran nuclear deal and organizations affiliated with the United Nations, who pushed Palestinians into a corner of despondence and for whom, it seems, Netanyahu’s wish is the president’s command.
And it’s the same Netanyahu who has invested all in cultivating and elevating a widely despised U.S. president, who hides behind Trump like a juvenile behind his strong big brother, who persuaded Trump to ditch the Iran deal, move his embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and who is now primed and priming his benefactor for his grand finale, the dream of Jewish generations. But he’s conducting this historic Jewish mission furtively, like a thief in the night, before Trump, as things stand now, is removed from the stage by that emerging prince of anti-Bibi darkness, Joe Biden.
Many Netanyahu-watchers are convinced that it’s all a typical Bibi ruse: He’ll push for annexation, find an excuse why it must be curtailed, accuse his internal and external critics of stabbing the nation in the back and potentially call for early elections as well. One should not dismiss such a scenario, but it may be based on an outdated view of what makes Netanyahu tick.
His hitherto unimaginable full frontal assault on the rule of law in Jerusalem this week also seemed like a dangerous deviation, loss of moral compass and direct challenge to the state Netanyahu purports to govern. A few years ago it would have seemed totally berserk, but one inconceivable event leads to another even crazier development and the shock factor invariably erodes. After a while, even lunacy can get monotonous.
Netanyahu, in fact, may have passed the point of no return already. He has pledged annexation so often that he may have blocked his routes for retreat. Netanyahu maneuvered himself into a situation where his only escape hatch, if he desires one, is for President Trump to flatly reject annexation or to limit it to symbolism alone. It’s the only excuse that Netanyahu’s rabid right, now chomping at the bit, is likely to accept.
Trump, however, may not rush to Netanyahu’s defense, because with all due respect to their alliance, Trump’s needs come first. Trump won’t assume the role of bad cop, won’t hurry to save Netanyahu from himself and certainly won’t want to disappoint his annexation-supporting evangelical base, whose leaders maintain close ties with like-minded messianic Jewish settlers.
One way or another, Netanyahu did provide us with a sneak peak at the speech he will likely give if and when the world reacts harshly to his annexation move, regardless of the degree of Trump’s support.
With very slight amendments to his harrowing speech at the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday, Netanyahu will tell Israelis “As the most defamed prime minister in the history of Israel, I am proud to head the most defamed people in history. The media, the left, the Palestinians and anti-Semitic Europe have come together to bring us down. In their blind hatred, they have hurled blood libels, invented laws, contrived cases, ignored our just demands, singled us out for punishment, appointed bent international prosecutors and jaundiced tribunal judges, all in order to get us out of their way.”
“In all 244 years of democracy’s existence, ever since the U.S. Declaration of Independence, no country has ever been charged with annexing Judea and Samaria. They invented a new rule just for us. But we won’t give in. If they couldn’t get me with solid evidence, reams of testimonies and mountains of documents, they certainly won’t succeed when justice is on our side, alongside our savior and deliverer, Donald Trump.”
By then, and it won’t be long now, we’ll all be Bibi: Greedy and aggressive, with a constant sense of grievance and hyper-sense of victimhood, a total lack of self-awareness, resentment against the world and willingness to bring the house down if our innocence is not proclaimed. The world should know that all the laws, rules, regulations and modes of behavior that it has codified since the end of World War II don’t apply to us, as they don’t apply to Netanyahu. We’re special.