During the last Republican debate, there was a point where the three leading GOP candidates were all screaming at the top of their lungs at the same time. The poor closed-captioners at CNN had no choice but to type “unintelligible yelling.”
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To many Americans, it was a shocking moment. Here were the three front-runners for the Republican nomination — one of whom might be the next president — calling each other “liar,” “basket case” and “con artist,” and generally acting like toddlers on meth.
Usually, presidential candidates try to appear, well, presidential.
To Israelis, though, there was something familiar about the proceedings: Israeli politicians running for prime minister don’t debate each other ahead of elections (the last official debate took place in 1996), but televised screaming matches between would-be national leaders hurling insults at each other is very much the norm.
Overall, it is a strange time to be an Israeli expat in America. With Donald Trump dominating the race and tearing the Republican establishment to bits with a mix of proto-fascism and economic populism, the words "shock" and, sometimes, “terrified” keep coming up in conversation among concerned American voters. To us Israeli expats, though, it’s hard not to feel a twinge of nostalgia. This all feels strangely like home.
Donald Trump calling Mexican immigrants “rapists?” Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev did exactly the same thing four years ago to African asylum seekers. She also called them “cancer.” Trump publicly advocating the murder of terrorists’ families? Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked did that two years ago, and she wasn’t even the first or the last Israeli politician to do so. Trump promising to “build a great wall” at the US-Mexican border to protect America from drug dealers?
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said these exact same words when describing his plan to disengage from the Palestinians, and prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to erect fences around Israel in order to protect it from “wild beasts.”
And how about Hillary Clinton, the moderate candidate who’s considered the only hope of defeating Trump and the forces of ultra-nationalism, but who carries around a checkered past and a Pandora’s box of federal investigations. Israelis, too, have had their share of leading candidates running while under investigation. One of them, Ehud Olmert, won the election. Funny story: he’s in jail now.
And don’t even get us expats started on politicians playing fast and loose with facts - have you heard what Netanyahu has to say about Hitler?
While Americans may not know how to deal with the bottomless well of filth that their political system has turned into, Israelis are actually in a position provide some guidance. The American field was still ruled by clean-cut, Ivy League-educated establishment figures until recently, Israel has already experienced a process similar to the one that is currently carrying Trump to the White House.
Fueled by a toxic cocktail of nationalism and big money, a wave of Tea-Party-style anti-intellectualism has led to Israel being currently ruled by a slew of mini-Trump and Trumpettes who boast, incite and yell at everyone, just like their orange American counterpart.
And let me tell you something: it has not made Israel great again.
Israel, of course, is not America. Despite their differences, though, the two do have some similarities, among them the fact that their political systems are heavily influenced by the same pool, and Israel is a good example of what you get when the leadership forgoes realism and sound policymaking in favor of noxious bigotry and authoritarianism.
What you get is a country mired in a security quagmire it has no idea how to end, where visionless politicians have nothing to offer but anti-leftist “purges,” and outlandish opportunists are given free rein to capitalize on people’s prejudices and fears. Israel, in the words of Donald Trump, is a country that “stopped winning” – inequality is worsening, corruption is rife, its politicians are too busy fighting BDS to do anything meaningful about its soaring cost of living, and its security forces are currently waging war on two-year-olds.
It is the advent of Israeli-made mini-Trumps that did it in, triggering an arms race of foolishness that led to comedic proposals such as “leftie badges” and cat transfers. Both fell, but they paved the way for some very serious, very grim proposals, like the one that calls for the expulsion of Arab members of Knesset.
Israel is not the worst place on earth. Not even close. And the U.S. will most likely not “go to hell” after these elections regardless of their outcome. But Americans still unworried about the state of their democracy should look at Israel for a glimpse of a possible future: a security state with yawning inequality, where the bozos and the blowhards reign supreme.