Seven months into his candidacy, the ascendance of Donald Trump continues to stump just about everybody but Sarah Palin.
There is little controversy that 2015 was the year of Trump: Less than two months before the primaries begin, The Donald is still, improbably, way ahead in the polls. With the possibility of a Trump nomination becoming more and more feasible each day, people are trying to figure out what his continued success represents. Is he a joke, a fascist, a media-savvy know-nothing, or just a bored rich guy? Some of his stunts have been so outlandish that most analysts and observers can’t even begin to imagine what a Trump presidency might look like.
While it’s impossible to predict what Trump’s God-given brain and record-breaking I.Q. might come up with, there happens to be a country that has already chosen a very similar mix of racism, xenophobia, and billionaire-friendly preposterousness that he is selling.
In short: Israel 2015 is the Trump presidency.
That is not to say, of course, that the U.S. and Israel are the same. They share some similarities but each has its own complex, deep-rooted problems. Nevertheless, if Americans want to see what happens to a country when it is governed by populists with little regard for factual accuracy, democratic values or, really, basic decency, they need look no further than their close ally (and occasional nuisance).
'T'-shirt stands for treasonous?
Israel’s current leadership rose to prominence on the wings of the same sort of bigoted spiel that has elevated Trump in the polls. Trump calls Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists? Israel’s Culture Minister, Miri Regev, called African asylum seekers “cancer.” Trump wants a database for tracking Muslims? Three months ago, the Knesset passed the first reading (out of three) of a draconian government-sponsored anti-terror bill that expands the definition of “terrorism” to such a farcical degree that it includes such actions as wearing certain t-shirts, flag-waving, and leaving comments online.
No wonder Trump and the rest of the GOP field are so enamored with Benjamin Netanyahu and his current government: A big part of the menu they’re trying to feed America these days was tested (and, in some cases, tried) in Bibi’s Israel.
For Americans, the hate evoked by Trump, and the popularity he receives when he incites against one group or another, are frightening. In Israel, these kinds of statements have become commonplace in recent years. Ministers and MKs alike have resorted to “colorful” nicknames from the animal world to describe Palestinians, and a vague warning about “Arabs rushing to the polls in droves” turned out to be enough to win Netanyahu reelection.
If anything, compared to some of the statements made by Israeli politicians during the past 18 months, Trump looks tame. Trump makes up a story about New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11? In July 2014, at the height of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Israel’s current Justice Minister (then a mere MK) Ayelet Shaked spread a false story about an arson that burned down the old Jewish cemetery in Jaffa, although there was no arson, and in fact no fire at all inside the cemetery. Just days before that, Shaked notoriously shared an inflammatory article on Facebook referring to Palestinian children as “snakes” and calling for the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians. Trump’s promises to “bomb the s--- out of” ISIS seem mild in comparison.
Some of the things Trump says and some of the ideas he espouses sound extreme even to Israeli ears, for sure. But even if elected president, there’s slim chance he could actually follow through on the most extreme of his (largely unconstitutional) promises.
For Trumpophobes who stay up at night fearing a Trump White House, however, Israel should serve as a troubling example of what happens when outlandish proposals by extremist politicians are translated into reality.
Leftie badges and mini-Trumps
Take, for instance, the controversial “NGO bill” that cleared a major legislative hurdle this week, after being approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. Sponsored by Justice Minister Shaked, the bill specifically targets left-wing NGOs and human rights organizations which get most of their funding from foreign governments, by forcing their representatives to wear special tags that note their foreign funding in every meeting with government officials or upon visiting the Knesset.
The idea of “leftie badges” was derided worldwide when it first came to light last month, spurring countless online memes mocking the historical irony. Yet the fact remains: After years of debate and delays, the prospect of the anti-democratic NGO bill becoming law is closer to reality than ever.
But the NGO bill is just one of many examples. Israel, due to its parliamentary system, has no single far-right figurehead like Trump, but in recent years its political arena has become awash in mini-Trumps and Trumpettes: outlandish opportunists who capitalize on prejudices and fears in order to make a political fortune by appealing to a growing crowd of angry ultra-nationalists.
Last year Netanyahu eventually killed the “nation-state bill,” that aimed to effectively remove the “democratic” from Israel’s definition of itself as a “Jewish democratic state”, but the fact that it was proposed at all demonstrates the complete disregard for democracy energizing much of the Israeli right. Trump supporters want an “America for Americans,” free of immigrants, Muslims and other minorities? In Israel, the same camp tried to make Israel a country only for Jews.
By now, the parallels should be clear. Israel’s right-wing and the GOP frontrunners currently share not just prominent campaign donors, but also radical agendas. Both drink from the same well of despair, ignorance, rage and ineptitude.
The direct effects of this surge have been a severe weakening of Israel’s (already shaky) democracy and a wave of incitement that contributed to an increase in Jewish terrorism. Most frightening, perhaps, is that as with Trump in the U.S., Israeli politicians learned that bigotry pays off - big time. The Trumps of Israel now govern, and they are remaking Israel in their image.
So Americans, if you want to know how a Trump presidency might look like, take a good long look at Israel. You may not like what you see.
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