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Netanyahu's Complicity With Traitor Trump Has Tainted Israel-U.S. Ties

Of all the world’s leaders, its right-wing populists and ethno-nationalists, no one embraced America’s betrayer as fully and as short-sightedly as Netanyahu. The years ahead will reveal the deep-seated damage that has caused

David Rothkopf
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces a peace between Israel and the UAE. Jerusalem, August 13, 2020; President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Reading Regional Airport, Pennsylvania. October 31, 2020
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, August 13, 2020 (left) and President Donald Trump, Pennsylvania, October 31, 2020.Credit: Abir Sultan/Reuters, Alex Brandon/AP
David Rothkopf

Donald Trump has betrayed his country. He is a traitor, putting his own interests and those of a foreign enemy ahead of those of his country and the oath he took to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. 

But does it matter to the world? Should it?

Should foreign leaders, to whom his perfidy has been apparent since even before he was elected (the Australians first flagged the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russians) have taken that into consideration? Should they have said, "A traitor can’t be trusted," and acted on it, taking care to keep their distance to avoid becoming complicit in his treachery?

Certainly, we know that some foreign leaders did not care to do that calculus. For those who were actually enemies of the U.S., like the Russians – active sponsors of Trump’s candidacy – or the Chinese, who were happy to see America’s influence wane, having a traitor at the head of the United States government was a dream they had long harbored.  

Some saw Trump’s character flaws as an opportunity to exploit. For others, it was simply a matter of conducting business as usual. If the United States elected a traitor president then they would have to deal with that president. It has happened elsewhere in the world. That’s the way the world works. You play the hand you are dealt.

President Donald Trump throws a hat to supporters before he speaks at a campaign rally in Reading, Pa. in Reading, Pennsylvania. Oct. 31, 2020
President Donald Trump throws a hat to supporters before he speaks at a campaign rally in Reading, Pa. in Reading, Pennsylvania. October 31, 2020.Credit: Alex Brandon,AP

Some leaders – right wing populists or ethno-nationalists – had been swept into power by similar forces as those that elevated Trump, and they seized on this natural affinity. They included the UK’s Boris Johnson, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and several in Eastern Europe, perhaps most notably, Viktor Orban. 

Others, of course, especially after exposure to Trump, chose a different path and were more cautious, arms-length or, when circumstances called for it, critical and directly challenging: Angela Merkel of Germany, Justin Trudeau of Canada, Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, and, after an attempt at comity, Emmanuel Macron, to name but a few.

But of all the world’s leaders, no one embraced the traitor as fully and as short-sightedly as Benjamin Netanyahu. Indeed, even Trump’s geopolitical sugar daddy Vladimir Putin would sometimes tweak Trump, or whack him across the nose with a newspaper, just to show him who was boss.

But Bibi decided he wanted to be Trump’s junior partner, a member of his administration, the only one of Jared Kushner’s special assistants with his own plane.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office prior to signing the Abraham Accords. Sep 15, 2020
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office prior to signing the Abraham Accords. September 15, 2020.Credit: TOM BRENNER/ REUTERS

To be fair, it was sometime during the Obama administration that Bibi decided his real partner in ensuring Israel’s security was not the government of the United States, as had been the case for all his predecessors since 1948, but was instead the U.S. Republican Party. It was a bold miscalculation, based on the deep antipathy between Bibi and his acolytes, and Barack Obama and his administration.  

But Netanyahu did not have to pay an immediate price for his opportunism, because fate (with a little help from Russian intelligence) produced a victory for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

At this point, Netanyahu saw Trump as a godsend. 

Instead of the "difficult", Democrats, who were committed to a two-state solution and who concerned themselves with human rights, you had Trump, who had not the slightest concern about long-term U.S. interests in the Middle East and was motivated openly and frankly only by what made him personally look good politically.  

Trump had advisors associated with the Israeli right, like Kushner, David Friedman and mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, and Netanyahu saw an opportunity – and it was a chance enhanced by the evangelical Christians surrounding Trump. Those evangelicals were fervently pro-Israel, and also keen to set the stage for the Rapture. 

US ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu  extend a Israeli-US scientific cooperation agreement to include Israeli institutions in the occupied West Bank. Oct 29, 2020
US ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu extend a Israeli-US scientific cooperation agreement to include Israeli institutions in the occupied West Bank. Oct. 29, 2020.Credit: EMIL SALMAN - AFP

Stroke Trump’s ego, work with those around him, and Netanyahu could get him to advance his agenda – whether that meant moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, getting America’s blessing to expand more settlements, rewriting maps, getting tough on Iran or looking the other way when it came to Israel’s serial abuse of the Palestinians.  

Over the past four years, the strategy has paid political dividends that have helped Netanyahu stay in office. But, now, we can begin to sense that the Israeli prime minister is beginning to sense he has made a mistake. He seems ready to try a pivot.  

That was clear last week when Trump sought to suggest that no progress could have been made on regional peace deals if the U.S. president had been "Sleepy Joe" Biden. Netanyahu, known for his slavering and over-the-top praise of Trump in his presence, demurred, saying that he welcomed the assistance of all Americans in advancing the cause of peace.

It would have seemed a perfectly normal, politic thing for an ex-diplomat like Netanyahu to say, had it not been so clear that he was seeking to distance himself from the man in whose pocket he has lived for the past four years. The expression on Trump’s face when his boy let him down was priceless…and telling.

As Netanyahu must know, the chickens are going to come home to roost should, as seems likely, Joe Biden is elected president next Tuesday. Biden, being a seasoned foreign policy professional who is surrounded by seasoned professionals, will not articulate the collective disgust at Netanyahu’s behavior within the Democratic Party. They will articulate a more traditional stance toward Israel and toward the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

But they also see Netanyahu as effectively the head of the Jerusalem chapter of the U.S. Republican Party. That would make him difficult to trust even if Netanyahu himself were not such an untrustworthy guy who shares with Trump serious problems with the law.  

Israeli protesters rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the country's first premier to face criminal charges while in office, outside his Jerusalem residence. May 24, 2020
Israeli protesters rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the country's first premier to face criminal charges while in office, outside his Jerusalem residence. May 24, 2020.Credit: AFP

But, by embracing a guy like Trump who so completely sold out the U.S. to his Russian sponsors, whose teams’ ties to and contacts with the Russians were so manifold, and who systematically undermined America’s foundational alliances, Netanyahu essentially declared that he too does not care about U.S. interests, U.S. security and traditional U.S. alliances.  

That many of his policies have actually made Israel less safe and U.S. interests less secure – from undermining an Iran deal that was working, to pretending the Palestinians didn’t exist – will compound the emerging difficulties. Bibi has made the past four years his public statement that, he like Trump, places his own political success ahead of anything. 

In other words, by drawing so close to a man who betrayed the U.S., Netanyahu demonstrated himself to be profoundly untrustworthy. The years ahead are certain to reveal the deep-seated damage that has done to U.S.-Israel relations. 

Only when Trump leaves office can the stain and the damage associated with the partnership between these two corrupted, untrustworthy leaders begin to be undone. Only then will the U.S. and Israel have a chance to find their way back to a healthier relationship.  

That will however, require a return to norms in which Israeli leaders eschew partisanship in the U.S. and in which they demonstrate that they not only prize a U.S.-Israel relationship that values integrity, soundness of leadership and real security, but they will seek it ahead of political optics and the narrow, expedient self-interest of transient leaders.

David Rothkopf's latest book is "Traitor: A History of Betraying America from Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump." He is also a podcast host and CEO of The Rothkopf Group. Twitter: @djrothkopf The views expressed here do not reflect those of his company or its clients

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