The Seven Deadly Sins Shared by Right-wing Politicians in Israel and the U.S.

In the days of Netanyahu and Trump, cowardice rules, racism runs rampant, denial is on the march and hypocrisy is the law of the land

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US President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on May 23, 2017
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on May 23, 2017Credit: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

1. Spinelessness: Many Republicans know that Donald Trump is an erratic U.S. president who acts on impulse. They realize that he is corrupting U.S politics and inciting one American against the other. Some of them surely understand that even if one relies only on what is known, there are valid grounds to suspect that Trump may have been compromised because of contacts with Russia during the election campaign.

Many Likudniks know that the legal smoke surrounding Benjamin Netanyahu has now passed the point where one can reasonably contend that there is no fire. They realize that Netanyahu is waging an all-out war against the Israeli police, dangerously undermining public trust in the country’s law enforcers. They understand that the same fate awaits the attorney general, should he decide to indict Netanyahu, and then the courts, should they decide to convict.

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In both Likud and the GOP there are plenty of useful idiots who are true believers. They believe that a liberal-left cabal is hunting Trump and Netanyahu, each in their own way. The majority, one assumes - or at least hopes - isn’t that gullible. Their fault is far worse: they are cowards. They keep their mouths shut. They swore allegiance to their countries, but it is a mere trifle compared to their loyalty to their careers.

They fear their party's leader. They are terrified by the wrath of his base. They know what happened to colleagues who dared defy their chieftain. So they play along, they dodge and weave, they step out in front when they can defend him and avoid the limelight when they can’t.But when the time comes for their re-elections, they will present themselves to the public as profiles in courage.

2. Stupidity: Seriously, there are lawmakers and many local politicians in the United States who actually believe that there is a “Deep State,” that sinister globalists are pulling the strings, that the intelligence community is infested with traitors, that Trump is being hounded by malevolent prosecutors and that most of what the mainstream media reports is fake news concocted for the express purpose of deposing Trump and destroying the patriotic right.

Likewise in Israel, there are legislators and a multitude of Likud activists and supporters who believe that it’s okay to take lavish gifts from billionaires with interests, that everyone is corrupt so why is Netanyahu being singled out, that the media is part of a conspiracy, the police are bent on framing the prime minister, the legal system is biased and George Soros and the New Israel Fund are pulling all their strings.

Their denseness is not their fault. Nonetheless, one is always surprised by the large numbers of dolts who manage to make it to the highest offices in the land, but perhaps it’s okay: Any liberal who supports commensurate representation for all groups in society cannot fault the idiots for demanding their fair share. And in light of the first deadly sin of their craven colleagues, it’s only natural that the cowardly recede into the background while the stupid take center stage and dominate the airwaves.

3. Hypocrisy: What if it was Barack Obama, as the hackneyed cliché goes, who kowtowed to Putin, bent over backwards for the Saudi Crown Prince, disrupted relations with trusted allies, insulted the intelligence community, undercut the legal authorities, was surrounded by aides prone to dismissal, perjury and prosecution, was making a mint off the presidency and was mired in a potential conspiracy with the Kremlin to sway the elections? What if it was a Democratic president who was running up a monster deficit, disrupting free trade and calling himself “Mr. Tariffs”? Who else but Mitch McConnell could kill one Supreme Court appointment by shelving it for over a year and then blast the Democrats without batting an eyelid for briefly delaying the appointment of another?

And what if it was Ehud Barak or Shimon Peres or any other prime minister not from the right who had a rich track record of soliciting gifts from wealthy friends while in office and who persisted despite knowing full well that it was improper, at the very least? What if it was a Labor prime minister who had been accused by the police in three separate cases of taking bribes and who reacted not by defending himself but by lambasting his investigators?

For that matter, what if it was Barak or Peres who had refrained from retaliating for 450 Hamas rockets? One thing’s for sure: Netanyahu would have accused them of cowardice and capitulation if not outright collaboration, and his minions would utter the explicit word he meant to say but didn’t: Treason.

Black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, smart or silly – it’s all in the eye of the beholder. There is no truth, belief or moral value, only posture, expediency and loyalty to the tribe. Of men and women like these Hanna Arendt noted: “Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.”

4. Fear mongering and rabble rousing: Right wingers thrive on fear. A world without fear scares them. In a world without fear, politicians are expected to improve society, a task that bores some right wingers and strikes dread in others. After all, right wingers, up to and including Trump and Netanyahu, are in thrall of big money, if not actually in its pocket, and big money is happy with the current state of affairs, which is where they made their bucks in the first place.

So they stoke fear for its own sake. If there’s a real threat they will magnify it and if there’s no threat on the horizon, they will invent it. From rapist immigrants to terrorist Muslims, from evil Arabs to treacherous lefties, there’s never a shortage of candidates for the role of bogeyman. For right wingers to survive, they must conjure fear and incite to hate. A world in which people are empathetic and understanding toward each other despite their differences is one in which an average right winger can’t be elected dogcatcher.

And the bogeymen serve a dual purpose: Before the elections, they are the instruments used to rouse the rabble. After the elections they are the convenient scapegoat for all the broken policies the right invariably carries out and all the broken promises that no one had any intention of keeping in the first place.

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5. Racism: Not all of them are, of course. But it is nonetheless the underlying theme of their existence. Republicans can come up with specific rationales for voter suppression, state rights, cutting welfare, opposing Obama and believing he was born in Kenya, but everyone knows, including themselves, what it’s all about: Maintaining white privilege and suppressing minorities, especially African Americans. This has been true of the GOP ever since Richard Nixon adopted the so-called “Southern Strategy,” but Trump released the party from the need to pretend otherwise.

Similarly, Likudniks and other right wingers can elaborate into the night on why the nation-state law does not denigrate non-Jewish minorities, why Arab towns are underfunded, why they are systematically deprived of building permits, why East Jerusalem looks like a garbage dump, why it’s logical for Palestinians to live under military rule for over half a century, why its forgivable for Netanyahu to cry, “The Arabs are coming, the Arabs are coming” on election day and why it's still acceptable to accuse Jewish centrists and leftists of collaborating with the Arabs just because they happen to think otherwise.

Their supporters, however, read their right-wing representatives loud and clear: Jew good, Arab bad. And how dare you accuse us of racism?

6. Sexism: The leader of the Israeli opposition is a woman, Tzipi Livni. The leader of Meretz to her left is a woman, Tamar Zandberg. Of the 16 ministers in the Likud cabinet, on the other hand, there are only two women and both hold minor portfolios, even though Culture Minister Miri Regev makes noise in the media as if she were defense minister at least.

It’s no coincidence of course. Israeli right wingers, like their counterparts throughout the democratic world, represent a conservative worldview that is inherently suspicious of women’s liberation. They are proponents of get-tough, take-no-prisoners policies marked by machismo. They may pay lip service to equality, but only as much as they need to, so as not to lose the women’s vote. And they willingly collaborate with ultra-Orthodox politicians, all male, whose views on women were last popular in the Western world in the mid 19th century.

But Israeli politicians, to their credit, are flaming feminists compared to Republicans, whose imperious views on women were evident in the withering gazes of the majority in the Senate Judiciary Committee as Christine Blasey Ford testified against Supreme Court nominee, as he was then, Brett Kavanaugh. If Israeli right wingers disdain women, their American counterparts think they own them, lock, stock and barrel, including their reproductive organs.

Never mind the abusive and misogynist man who lives in the White House that they salute and praise, as if “grab ‘em by the pussy” was just a bad dream or a completely acceptable point of order.

7. Denial I – Climate Change: This one is truly a deadly sin. The scientific community is convinced that man-made global warming is beginning to torch the earth, but the rabid right thinks it’s all a plot to impose unnecessary regulation on business and industry. California is burning, the American southeast is looking forward to monster hurricanes, the seas are rising along with the temperatures and our grandchildren will live in a world that is the precursor to the novel Dune, but Trump and his minions are having none of it. It’s all a Chinese hoax, the president believes, fiddling as the earth starts to burn.

How dare they? It’s quite simple: Most Republicans know they won’t be around to deal with the consequences of their criminal withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, their evisceration of the EPA and their removal of government imposed controls on manufacturers. So they eat, drink and make merry, because tomorrow they die, way before the earth goes up in flames.

Denial II – the West Bank (and Gaza): This is the potentially deadly sin of the Israeli right. They don’t believe in peace, don’t believe in reconciliation, and don’t believe in dividing the land. They don’t really believe in the alternative of annexation either, because they would have done something about it in their forty years in power. They adhere to the status quo, and the believers among them are confident that God will know how to fix things properly.

Their attitude towards the demographic threat seen by most researchers is the same as the Republican attitude towards climate change: It’s hokum, at best, and a leftist plot aimed at compelling Israel to give up its holy land, at worst. And what will happen when the situation becomes untenable and Israel is forced to choose between apartheid and a bi-national state? That day will never come, and if it does, by then the earth will be cooking itself to extinction anyway.

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