Opinion

'No Daylight'? Netanyahu's Embrace of Trump Is Toxic to Israel's Cause

In 'Trump-friendly' business terms, Netanyahu has now cross-branded Israel with the most retrograde forces and policies in the American landscape.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a news conference in New York City, January 11, 2017 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, January 22, 2017.
LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS

Whatever else history judges to be Barack Obama’s record on Israel, one thing is clear. Eight years of testy relations between the American president and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu provoked a new standard metaphor for disappointment, resentment, and petulance: “no daylight.”

Michael Oren, the former ambassador to the United States, invoked the term in an influential op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal in June 2015,   as the Iran nuclear agreement was heading for a Congressional vote. He bemoaned the passing of those mythic days of yore when America the superpower always strode in sync with Israel the client state.

Put aside for a moment that ahistorical analysis, which overlooked examples of deep dispute between Israel and American presidents from Eisenhower to Carter to both Bushes. “No daylight” instantly became the requirement for the U.S. to be seen as a true ally, a genuine friend.

Very tellingly, Donald Trump invoked the phrase in his March 2016 speech to the AIPAC conference, in a bit of pandering that was drafted by his Orthodox son-in-law and chief Jewsplainer Jared Kushner. Trump reasserted the concept, if not the exact words, in his amicable contacts with Netanyahu after winning the presidential election.

Well, now Trump and Netanyahu are about to meet in Washington, and the Oscar Wilde rule is about to come into play: Be careful what you wish for, you might get it. “No daylight,” you see, applies in both directions. It is not just a synonym for “Israel, right or wrong.”

For the most part, I will leave it for Israeli commentators and scholars to parse the problems of having an American administration so supportive of the settlement enterprise and, most recently, the latest reapparance of the 50-year fantasy that Sunni Arab nations will compliantly take the Palestinians off Israel’s hands.

Suffice it to say that Trump’s recent tepid tut-tutting about settlement expansion means little next to other facts. 

One is the Republican Party platform he pushed through, which dropped endorsement of a two-state solution. Two is the imminent appointment of David Friedman, a financial and ideological backer of the occupation, as ambassador to Israel.

Three is the delegation of peace-making efforts to Kushner, whose family not only poured money into Netanyahu’s campaign in the late 1990s but put him up as a house-guest. You don’t get less daylight than all that.

As an American Jew, though, I’d warn my Israeli brethren about reciprocity. Netanyahu now has no daylight from a president whose approval rating during what is normally the 100-days honeymoon is a record low and whose hateful policies have driven the vast majority of American Jewry into fervent opposition.

Netanyahu now owns a piece of Trump’s unconstitutional ban on Muslim immigrants and refugees. He owns a piece of Trump’s bigoted attacks on Mexicans and on the wall he proposes to build against them. 

(Indeed, Netanyahu even tweeted support for it.) Netanyahu owns a piece of Trump’s crony capitalism, in which the nation’s highest office is used to promote the family’s commercial ventures.

The problem with no daylight goes beyond Trump the individual, regardless of how uniquely abhorrent he is. Trump merely represents the fulfillment of the Republican Party’s steadfast march to the right, from Newt Gingrich in the mid-1990s to the Tea Party in the late 2000s.

The president is the useful signature on the GOP’s agenda: tax cuts for the rich, privatization of the social safety net, reversal of abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

To put it in business terms, which are always useful in assessing Trump, Netanyahu has now cross-branded Israel with the most retrograde forces and policies in the American landscape.

He even had to zip his lip after a White House statement on the Holocaust deliberately omitted any mention of Jews. The Republican Congress, Netanyahu’s claque in fighting the Iran deal, refused to bring up a corrective resolution for a vote. http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-1.770522

As long as we’re on the subject of branding, Netanyahu might want to take notice of the stampede away from Trump. During the Super Bowl, the most-watched event on American television, advertisements from such major companies as Budweiser, Airbnb, Google, and Audi extolled immigrants and racial diversity. 

A collection of high tech companies joined the legal assault against Trump’s Muslim ban

When the basketball star Steph Curry learned that the chief executive of Under Armour had praised Trump as in an interview, Curry denounced the stance. 

He was soon followed in that criticism by two other luminaries affiliated with the athletic-apparel company - Duane Johnson, the actor commonly known as The Rock, and ballerina Misty Copeland.

Stores ranging from upscale Nordstrom’s and Carson Pirie Scott to middlebrow T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s have either dropped or essentially hidden Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. 

Donald Trump is radioactive. Donald Trump is political kryptonite. Donald Trump infects whatever touches him. Choose your metaphor. The point is the same: any association with him will enduringly damage the associate. And Netanyahu has put Israel’s reputation, Israel’s cause, Israel’s moral standing, into an embrace with Trump.

“No daylight” may sound appealing. Until you realize that the absence of daylight is the presence of total darkness.

Samuel G. Freedman, a frequent contributor to Haaretz, is the author of eight books, including “Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry.” Follow him on Twitter: @SamuelGFreedman