Opinion |

Inspired by Trump, Israel Has Lost Its Shame

The U.S. under Trump has abandoned its role as a beacon of freedom and sanctioned Netanyahu's war on democracy

Uzi Baram
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Tourists in front of a mural depicting U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kissing each other in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, November 6, 2017.
Tourists in front of a mural depicting U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kissing each other in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, November 6, 2017.Credit: Reuters / Mussa Issa Qawasma
Uzi Baram

Perhaps we aren’t yet feeling the full impact of the collapse of the democratic worldview, which was once a fundamental axiom of our self-image as individuals and as a community.

There’s one primary cause of this collapse —and it is located in the United States. Despite the strength of British democracy, the United States was and remains the world’s top exporter of democracy and enlightenment.

No American president ever failed to see himself as responsible for exporting democratic values. Sometimes they succeeded, and sometimes they suffered resounding failures. President George W. Bush went to war for the sake of democracy in the Middle East and never accepted the far right’s agenda in the United States. The same was true of his predecessors, who saw exporting democracy and establishing it in countries around the world as the added value of the American dream.

Granted, we should add the reservation that in the name of democracy, the United States sometimes harmed the very principles that are the foundation of democracy. But President Donald Trump has turned the American worldview on its head.

For instance, Trump has no problem meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been accused of committing crimes against humanity. Trump seeks to make deals, not to shape moral values. He doesn’t aspire to present his country as a model of enlightenment; he wants it to have power for the sake of having power, because “America first.”

Trump’s populism and his contempt for human rights and democratic values affect the entire world. This is evident in his attacks on NATO, an alliance whose value to America is suddenly being measured in economic terms, and in his hints that he hopes for victory by the hyper-nationalist right in Europe.

Trump’s norms are also affecting us. The directors of the war on human rights organizations — a war that admittedly began before his election — has lost all sense of shame under Trump’s inspiration. Israel is baring more and more racist claws.

Trump inspires an atmosphere of understanding for racism, and that is why blatant racists support him — including those who were previously ashamed to display their racism in public. Granted, racism didn’t begin with Trump, but his predecessor, President Barack Obama, never hesitated to preach against any manifestation of discrimination and racism. That was the norm broadcast by his administration – “America is a light unto the nations.”

We have entered a different, darker era. But instead of fighting Trumpism, we’re abetting it, making it a member of our family, too. See, for instance, the fact that it’s already completely legitimate to say that the justice system is biased or to scorn the media, and the fact that the current government doesn’t consider the separation of powers a democratic necessity, but merely an option.

The world rejects him, views him as a transient evil and awaits the moment when his countrymen will get rid of him. We are virtually the only ones who welcome Trump because of the widespread view that he is “good for Israel” (at least until he unveils a deal with the Palestinians, if he ever does, that those who sanctify his path don’t like).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s civic agenda was always similar to Trump’s, but Trump has given him the green light that previous presidents never did. A straight line runs from the outspoken Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to the Tea Party activists in America. Shaked’s indefatigable desire for “governability” is nothing but camouflage for an ongoing and persistent assault on the very democracy that Israel has worked so hard to develop ever since the state was established.