Opinion

While in Israel, Trump Could Pick Up a Few Tips From Netanyahu About Staying in Power

After all, Netanyahu was a Trump-like politician before Trump was, and he was not even limited to two terms

President Trump stepping off Air Force One in New York, May 4, 2017.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

It’s official. On May 22, U.S. President Donald Trump will be visiting Israel. The White House has confirmed that the president's first overseas trip will be a three-stop tour of the major centers of monotheistic religions: Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican, after which he will continue on to a NATO meeting in Brussels and to Sicily, to attend a G7 summit bringing together the leaders of the world's leading economies.

Trump’s first foreign tour is being portrayed as an effort by the president to promote America's alliances. According to one report, the symbolic trip “marks an effort to reset relations with the faith community and to ‘seize the opportunity’ presented by the rise of the Islamic State to develop closer ties with Middle Eastern allies.”

On his Israel visit, Trump is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Ostensibly the visit to Israel is meant to promote Middle East peace, but let’s face it, there must be another reason why Trump, unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama, has chosen Israel as one of his first foreign destinations as president. It must be that Trump in hoping to pick up some useful tips in Israel.

After all, Netanyahu was a Trump-like politician before there was a candidate Trump, and the prime minister's minions among Israel’s far right have all risen to prominence thanks to a mix of racism and Tea Party-esque anti-elitism that’s pretty similar to what Trump and fellow Republicans sold to Americans in the months before the presidential election. But unlike the American president, who is flailing after little more than 100 days in office, Netanyahu has managed to stay in power for eight years -- 11 if we count his first term in the 1990s and that doesn’t include the high-ranking government positions he filled in between.

Whether or not Trump achieves his goal of brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians (spoiler alert: he won’t), he would be wise to ask Netanyahu, whose current term in office began in 2009, how to remain in power and remain popular. And that's despite the following:

Netanyahu has regularly scapegoat minorities for political gain. Whenever Trump tries to capitalize on Islamophobia and the fears of Islamic terrorism, he wishes he could be as successful at it as Bibi, who won reelection in 2015 after warning on Election Day about “Arabs going to the polls in droves.” In recent years, demonizing Arabs has been one of Netanyahu’s favorite go-to strategies to easily boost his standing in the opinion polls.

Netanyahu has attempted to delegitimize the opposition. The premier has built his entire political career on incitement against the left. Before he was first elected prime minister, he was implicated in the incitement that later led to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Over the years, Netanyahu has also said some pretty awful things about left-wingers, from his infamous statement that the left has “forgotten what being Jewish means” to his constant vilification of left-wing organizations.  

Regularly attacking the press. Of course, Netanyahu isn’t a big fan of the press, and over the years, he has managed to gain a lot of popularity by constantly attacking the media -- much like Trump -- labeling the media as a key part of the left-wing “conspiracy” to oust him. Of course, as one of his most recent scandals has revealed, Netanyahu was allegedly more than willing to lay down his arms and make peace with a media tycoon in exchange for favorable coverage, but that’s just the art of the deal -- something Trump can surely grasp.

Regularly making up his own facts. Okay, so Trump makes up his own facts sometimes, okay actually a lot. There was no terrorist attack in Sweden attack, no Bowling Green massacre, and his inauguration crowd clearly was much smaller than Barack Obama’s. But Netanyahu has been trafficking in his own versions of reality for years. Did you know, for instance, that Adolf Hitler didn’t even want to exterminate the Jews before a Palestinian leader put him up to it? Or that there was a White House-led conspiracy to oust Netanyahu?

Regularly flaunting conflicts of interests. Trump brought so many conflicts of interests to the White House that America's National Public Radio had to create a whole new desk just to cover them. His policies -- both foreign and domestic -- are rife with conflicts, his cabinet is filled with billionaires and lobbyists and his administration is openly promoting his daughter’s books and jewelry. But Trump, being Trump, is overdoing it. He could learn from Bibi about how to openly maintain conflicts of interest without it harming his approval ratings. That includes, for instance, the case of Netanyahu's billionaire confidant and benefactor Sheldon Adelson, who created a whole newspaper for the sole purpose of giving the prime minister positive coverage, investing $190 million in the venture.

Insulting war heroes and bereaved families. Trump’s war of words with the Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Pakistani immigrants whose son died in Iraq while serving in the American army, was one of the lowest points of his campaign. Trump's derision of Senator John McCain as “not a war hero” is still also considered one of his most embarrassing statements (which says a lot). But the recent specter of Netanyahu's presence at a hearing attended by relatives of Israeli soldiers killed in the course of their army service, as one of his political loyalists humiliated and abused bereaved families, can teach Trump how not to have such an incident even slightly dent his own public standing. 

With Trump already working on his re-election campaign, it is clear that contrary to earlier speculation that he would resign shortly after taking office, the president clearly wants to stick around. But he has done everything wrong in his first three months in office, drawing unnecessary attention to his misdeeds and suffering rock-bottom approval ratings as a result. That's instead of convincing the public and the media that is lack of support is somehow normal. He clearly has a lot to learn from Netanyahu, who has managed to make such effective use of a Trump-like persona that he is seen by many in Israel as the only option.

Luckily for Trump, he will be meeting with Bibi in Israel soon.