When U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the White House on Wednesday, they shouldn’t find it hard to make chit-chat before getting down to business. After all, they have a lot in common.
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Both like money, luxury -- the good life. Both are vain, self-adoring, superior types. Both are gifted demagogues. Also, both have an evident disliking for minorities in their countries, Trump mainly for Mexicans and Muslims, Netanyahu mainly for Arabs. In this connection, they have one other thing in common: The formative influence in each of their lives was a racist father.
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Trump revered his father, Fred Trump, who took him into his lucrative real estate business, taught him the ropes and left him a fortune. Asked a month ago by reporters from the Times of London and Bild who his heroes were, the only person Trump could name who approximated that role was his dad.
Fred Trump was arrested in 1927, at age 21, at a Ku Klux Klan rally in New York. In 1950, Woody Guthrie, regretting the lease he’d signed at Trump’s Beach Haven apartment complex, which didn’t allow in blacks, wrote a song called “Old Man Trump”:
I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate / He stirred up in that bloodpot of human hearts / When he drawed that color line / Here at his Beach Haven family project.
By 1973, Fred Trump was chairman of the family real estate business, having made Donald the president, and the U.S. Justice Department sued them for refusing to rent to blacks. In an out-of-court settlement, the Trumps agreed to let the Urban League civil rights organization monitor its compliance with the law, but in 1978 the Justice Department charged that nothing much had changed, that “racially discriminatory conduct by Trump agents has occurred with such frequency that it has created a substantial impediment to the full enjoyment of equal opportunity.”
Trump family history came full circle after Donald’s election as president, when the KKK celebrated.
Netanyahu likewise revered his father, the eminent historian Benzion Netanyahu, and the elder’s stamp on his son’s worldview was plain. Benzion was secretary to Vladimir Jabotinsky, ideological fountainhead of the Revisionist movement that birthed the Likud, and after Jabotinsky’s death in the United States in 1940, Netanyahu Sr stayed on as a Revisionist leader, lobbying American leaders for Zionist goals. At the opening of the Benzion Netanyahu Interchange in East Jerusalem in 2013, the prime minister said of his late father, “He saw a love for the Jewish people locked in a struggle with anti-Semitism, and that love of the Jewish people had to win. He taught me about the enormous responsibility that we have to ensure the security of the State of Israel and build up its future.”
But if Benzion Netanyahu had a love for the Jewish people, he also bore a deep animosity and mistrust for Arabs – all Arabs. In a 2009 interview with Maariv, when he was 99 but still perfectly lucid, about to leave for a working visit in the U.S., the professor emeritus of Jewish history told his interviewer how there could never be peace between the Jews and Arabs, how one side would eventually drive the other out, and how he believed “the Jewish power will prevail” by means “which will include withholding food from Arab cities, preventing education, terminating electrical power and more. They won’t be able to exist and they will run away from here.”
When Prof. Netanyahu says the devastation Israel wreaked on civilians in the Gaza Strip during the 2009 Operation Cast Lead was “not enough,” his interviewer says to him, “You don’t like the Arabs, to say the least.” He replies:
The Bible finds no worse image than this of the man from the desert. And why? Because he has no respect for any law. Because in the desert he can do as he pleases. The tendency towards conflict is in the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence. His personality won’t allow him any compromise or agreement. It doesn’t matter what kind of resistance he will meet, what price he will pay. His existence is one of perpetual war.
On Election Day 2015, the professor’s son, one of the most prolific, effective Arab-bashers in Israeli political history, preserved his career by getting his supporters to the polls with the warning that “Arab voters are streaming in droves to the polling booths.”
So Donald Trump and Bibi Netanyahu didn’t come by their bigotry accidentally; they were raised and molded by bigoted fathers. That’s not armchair psychiatry; that’s recorded modern history. It helps cement the two leaders’ shared reputation as racists, and shows their ethnic prejudice to be so deeply rooted until it’s just silly to hope that Trump, 70, or Netanyahu, 67, will change.
There’s every reason to think they’ll recognize each other as natural allies, kindred spirits, at the White House on Wednesday, and that they’ll work together beautifully. Destiny seems to have willed them together. You could almost say it’s in their blood.
Larry Derfner is a copy editor at Haaretz and he blogs at www.larryderfner.com. His memoir "No Country for Jewish Liberals" (Just World Books) will be published in April 2017. Follow him on Twitter: @DerfnerLarry