After Right-wing Rule, U.S. and Israel Can't Imagine Future Beyond the Center

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks as former U.S. President Barack Obama listens during a campaign canvas kickoff in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, U.S., October 31, 2020.
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Israel has always dreamed America, and now it’s realizing that dream: Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu are shockingly alike. The prime minister is much better educated and more eloquent than the U.S. president, of course, but the similarity of their modi operandi and beliefs is amazing.

No less amazing is the resemblance between their challengers, Joe Biden and Benny Gantz. Both are mediocre, middle-of-the-road. Both are brimming with good intentions, remarkable in their unremarkableness, with records quite impressive and capabilities much less so. They were supposed to be the hope for change, and they aren’t.

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Both Trump and Netanyahu have sparked fierce, determined, highly motivated countermovements. Civil society in both the United States and Israel have been shaken into life.

But strangely enough they’ve failed to produce viable alternative candidates or alternative ideologies. One might have expected that after four years of Trump and a dozen of Netanyahu, given all the disgust and opposition they’ve provoked, leaders would come forth to try to get the pendulum to swing to the opposite pole, from the populist right to the left.

That didn’t happen. The pendulum stopped midway, in the damned and accursed center. America and Israel didn’t dare push it all the way to the opposite of Trump and Netanyahu.

For a moment it seemed that it might happen in America. There were voices in the Democratic Party that had never been heard; radical, leftist, social-democratic voices that called for justice, equality and civil rights. A few promising candidates from this camp entered the primary races, and it appeared that Trump’s revolution would galvanize the appropriate ideological countermovement, that his polar opposite would rise up to challenge him.

The majority of U.S. media outlets joined the war against Trumpism; it was the finest hour of The New York Times and CNN. The promise of change was in the air, a sense that America would attempt its much-needed recovery from the disease of Trump.

Then Joe Biden won the Democratic nomination. The most middling, most nothing of all the candidates. A whiter shade of pale. From the entire United States, that rich, powerful, advanced country, from all its universities and research institutes, its protest movements and media outlets, from all its 50 states, that’s the cudgel that was found for bashing Trump.

America said no to the left once again. Even the tumultuous years of Trump weren’t enough for the country to summon up the courage to try, for the first time in its history, a new way, the way of social democracy, of more ethical foreign and domestic policy, of helping the weak at home and abroad. An America where money wasn’t everything.

It’s true that Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, whose miraculous election and reelection helped give rise to Trump as a reaction, promised all of the above but unfortunately turned out to be an empty promise. He tried to lead America in a different direction but his handiwork drowned in the turbid sea of American politics that blocked him at every turn.

Even the prime minister of little Israel managed to defeat and humiliate him. Now Obama is helping his vice president get elected, but he must surely be aware that Biden isn’t the great hope that America needs.

Surprise, surprise: The chain of events is similar in Israel, America’s twin. Here there was never even the false hope of change, even though here, in contrast to America, there was once a social democracy with significant accomplishments. Netanyahu’s main challenger in the last election was a drab compromise figure; the main threat to his rule today is a right-winger who’s even more extreme than he is.

The left is silent. It barely exists for Jewish voters, it died peacefully. Twelve years of corrupt, rotten, right-wing rule has led Israelis to the conclusion that they want more of the same. Maybe anyone but Bibi, but also anything but the left.

Israelis weren’t even momentarily misled by false hope. Unlike Americans, they never gave a chance to something different. The Israeli Bernie Sanders might find a home in the Joint List or Meretz. We’re left with Benny Biden or Joe Gantz as the only hopes for a different tomorrow.

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