President Trump's America? Think: Netanyahu's Israel on Bad Steroids

So successful has Trump been in adopting Netanyahu's anti-migrant, anti-minority, scrape-the-sewer model, that some Trump admirers argue that it's now Netanyahu who's aping Trump.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Audience members react as U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Lowell, Massachusetts January 4, 2016.
Audience members react as U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Lowell, Massachusetts January 4, 2016.Credit: Reuters
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

There's little question that Donald Trump is having the time of his life. He was, it seems, born to run. To the consternation of Republican rivals, Trump's brand of gleefully nasty whack-a-mole campaigning has kept him improbably afloat as the party's putative front-runner for the last six months. 

The question of what a Trump presidency might look like in actual practice, however, remains wide open. In fact, it's not at all clear how much serious thought the candidate himself has devoted to it.

On Sunday, asked on CBS' Face the Nation program what he would be like as president, Trump was not about to let policy or issues anywhere near his answer. 

"I would be a much different person, I think, as president. But I would be very enthusiastic, like I am right now, toward the country. We need spirit. We need a cheerleader We need cheerleading."

If Donald Trump hasn't given too much thought to what his presidency might actually be like, maybe it's time the rest of us did.

The campaign itself may be providing significant clues to at least one playbook from which Donald Trump seems to have drawn inspiration: The March election in which Benjamin Netanyahu mined fear of advancing Arab "hordes" to strike election gold.

On Monday, the Trump campaign unveiled the first of a planned cycle of television commercials to air in Iowa and New Hampshire. Early on, the spot shows people rushing toward a border fence, backed by a narrator saying that Trump "will stop illegal immigration by building a wall on our southern border, that Mexico will pay for." 

Fact checkers soon discovered that the footage actually showed Moroccans crossing Morocco's border into the Spanish enclave of Melilla.

Pressed by NBC News to explainTrump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski replied,"No sh--, it's not the Mexican border. But that's what our country is going to look like. This was 1,000 percent on purpose." 

Trump has made no secret of his admiration for the prime minister. During the 2013 campaign, Trump issued an effusive endorsement of Netanyahu, telling Israelis in an online video, "You truly have a great prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu — there’s nobody like him. 

“He’s a winner. He’s highly respected So vote for Benjamin. Terrific guy, terrific leader. Great for Israel.”

There's little wonder why Netanyahu's Israel might hold particular appeal as a model for an America run by Donald Trump. 

And it's not only because Trump – whose commercial also renews his call for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States - has written that the purpose of  West Bank separation barrier is exactly that - banning Muslims from entering Israel. 

No, it's more than that. Every single day in Netanyahu's Israel is a new Throwback Thursday to the America of Trump's boyhood: de jure and de facto segregation, book-banning, McCarthyism, institutional racism, all accompanied by a nuclear-shadowed Cold War with a cartoon villain who says he wants to bury you.

But that's only where it starts. 

Informing and deforming all policy decisions is that default setting of Netanyahu's Israel, that ever-reliable, Only We Know Best blend of colonialism and kitsch.

Then, of course, there is the model of a society which will elect its leaders not on the basis of how likely they are to keep their promises, but on the basis of how much fear, anger, xenophobia, and coded supremacism they can inspire.

You don't have to dip into the archives to see how this works. Just the past few days will serve fine. 

On Saturday night, when Netanyahu addressed the nation from the site of a terror attack for which an armed Palestinian citizen of Israel was being sought, he might well have sought to bring Israelis together, and to stress that the vast majority of Arab Israelis are loyal citizens.  

Fat chance.

Drawing on his sleazebag of tricks, Netanyahu let it be understood that all Arab citizens – more than one out of every five Israelis - were under suspicion of being disloyal. They were, by implication, not "Israelis through and through."

In a technique sure to be appreciated by Trump, Netanyahu decried lax law enforcement in Arab communities – as if Netanyahu himself were not responsible, as though he hadn't come to power vowing security, as though – and this is the key factor – instead of being led by Israelis Through And Through, the nation is actually, truly, darkly run by an unseen leftist/liberal elite, and always has been. 

Think: The Republican Party as an Oregon militia. Think, if you're Donald Trump, Netanyahu's Israel on steroids.

Then it got worse.

On Sunday, Netanyahu upped the ante with a new low. Turning aside a torrent of criticism with a Mr. Machismo "I'm not impressed," he stated that lawlessness to be curbed in Arab communities included what he indicated was the excessive volume level of calls to prayer in mosques.

But even then he wasn't done. On Monday, cabinet minister Ze'ev Elkin of Netanyahu's Likud confirmed that a high-profile, nearly $4 budget allocation to redress longstanding discrimination in assistance to Arab communities had been made conditional. "If a local council doesn’t take steps for the good of the State of Israel then it shouldn’t be able to receive funds from it,” he said.

This is the Netanyahu model in full. Fight terrorism with incitement. Just as you would fight fire with arson. 

That said, Netanyahu may not find harmony with a President Trump, who has demonstrated maverick independence not only on boilerplate pro-Likud positions, but is also beyond the control of Netanyahu's patrons Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. Netanyahu has also rejected Trump's call for a blanket entry ban on Muslims.

Still, so closely has Trump followed the anti-migrant, anti-minority, scrape-the-sewer Israeli leader's model, that some of his admirers are beginning to remark that, these days, it's actually Netanyahu who's emulating Trump. 

A Sunday headline in the arch-conservative Breitbart read: "Netanyahu Echoes Trump on Arab Population Following Tel Aviv Attacks."

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