Opinion

Israel Election Results: Trump Just Lost His Wall — the One He Called Bibi Netanyahu

What Bibi knows is exactly what Trump, in his heart of hearts, must truly fear. The look of a different wall from the inside. The prison wall

Trump and Netanyahu.
MANDEL NGAN / AFP

True, Donald Trump promised and failed to deliver a wall paid for by the Mexicans he so viciously incited against. And true, he has forced military families into distress, their children denied proper schools and other necessities, just to pay for part of the wall he’s failed to deliver. (Click here for live updates of election results)

But, from the first and all along, the flailing president had one strong, imposing wall to fall back on. And now it’s gone. It was called Benjamin Netanyahu.

>> Read more: Israelis have spoken – the Netanyahu era is over ■ Maybe, just maybe, the age of Netanyahu has come to an end ■ In defeat, Netanyahu looks to Iran and Trump for salvation ■ Bibi the magician has run out of rabbits

The purpose of the Trump Wall was never to protect Americans. Its sole purpose was to protect Trump. And now it’s gone.

While no one can know how the next Israeli government will shape up, one look at the prime minister’s face, and one look at the public absence of his activist wife, makes clear that the Benjamin Netanyahu who has dominated Israeli politics for most of the last quarter century, and who came to play a key role in American political life as well, will never be the same.

The strength of the Trump Wall — more accurately, the Bibi Wall — was from the beginning the indomitability of Netanyahu, the prime minister’s adoration on the part of the American evangelical base and of the blind-to-sin pastors who cheerlead them.

Much more than Trump built the Bibi Wall, the Bibi Wall built Trump. Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and recognizing — in a qualified way — the Holy City as Israel’s capital, had relatively little impact on the Israeli electorate. But the moves cemented Sheldon and Miriam Adelson’s critical support of Trump, and have become platinum selling points on Trump’s Bible Belt and gun closet rally campaign trail.

Likud Party election banners showing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with US President Donald Trump, captioned in Hebrew: 'Netanyahu, another league.' Tel Aviv, July 28, 2019
AFP

The fact is, the Bibi Wall began to erode and crumble well before Netanyahu faced the cold clock of Election Night.

In a seamless downward slide, Netanyahu’s campaign appearances went from gigantic, North-Korea-worthy outdoor advertisements showing Trump and Bibi as best buddies, ruling the world together, to a shocking tack which, in the end, cast the White House's Israeli-Palestinian "Peace Plan of the Century” as an imminent danger to Israel. By the end, the talking points of the prime minister had him openly asking Israeli voters “Who do you want negotiating with you against Trump — me, or a government of [Kahol Lavan leaders Yair] Lapid and [Benny] Gantz with the Arabs?”

In a bizarre game of chicken and egg, Trump himself hastened the fall of the Bibi Wall. The president’s failure to provide a grand gesture in support of the Netanyahu campaign was widely noted in Israel, as were a succession of humiliations suffered by Netanyahu at Trump’s hands. Frantic phone calls from Jerusalem to the White House went unanswered. Trump summarily, even nastily, fired Bibi soulmate John Bolton, and the president even flirted with the prospect of direct talks with Iranian leaders.

For Trump, the conduct and the interim results of the Netanyahu campaign have to be cause for serious concern.

The serene mask of Bibi and the thin veneer of the role of Israel’s putative royal family slipped down badly in this campaign, and as it did, as Netanyahu and his number one son ripped the mufflers off the electoral engine, racism began to look much more literally like racism, incitement like incitement, actively disenfranchising minorities like actively disenfranchising minorities, and slandering as treasonously unpatriotic anyone who was not a Bibi voter, as exactly that.

Worst of all, from Trump’s perspective, Netanyahu’s resort to full-throated racism backfired badly — increasing by a quantum leap the participation in the electoral process of the very Arab citizens whom the prime minister had worked so hard to demonize, marginalize and, he hoped, alienate into a paralyzing despair.

Netanyahu’s campaign backfired so severely, and Israeli Arab voting surged so strongly, that the leader of the largely Arab Joint List, Ayman Odeh, was catapulted overnight into the front-runner for the very mainstream position of leader of the Israeli opposition in the Knesset.

While Netanyahu barricaded himself in the prime minister’s fortress of a residence, Odeh was expansive and much sought-after in speaking to reporters on Wednesday. “We’ve endured a decade of incitement, of being shut out, a decade of delegitimization,” Odeh said, adding that he’s now considering the position of opposition leader.

“This role is unprecedented for Arab citizens. There’s great influence in it, also in the realm of [public] awareness, consciousness.”

“We are the ones who truly lead the opposition, therefore we are certainly worthy of the position of opposition leader.” He noted that the opposition leader’s role is to speak in response to the prime minister, and to speak with world leaders on such issues as the nation-state law and unrecognized villages in the Negev.

“Finally, finally, there will be an opposition at all levels in Israel.”

But for Trump, all this may pale before Netanyahu’s worst fear. It is the specter of revolt within his own party, and with it the loss of the primary barrier separating the strongman leader and the prospect of criminal prosecution.

The tottering of the Bibi Wall in Israel has been accompanied by an eerie and uncustomary silence from most Likud leaders — waiting, in fact, to see which way the wall will eventually fall.

What Bibi knows is exactly what Trump, in his heart of hearts, must truly fear. The look of a different wall from the inside. The prison wall.