Opinion |

What Trump and Netanyahu Both Envy About Vladimir Putin

Both Israel's prime minister and U.S. President Donald Trump are enamored by the Russian president, but for very different reasons

Tzvia Greenfield
Tzvia Greenfield
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Russian President Vladimir Putin. Envied by both U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Envied by both U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: SPUTNIK/REUTERS
Tzvia Greenfield
Tzvia Greenfield

Anyone who visits Russia’s large cities these days will quickly understand what U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu find so fascinating about the former enemy power. There are those who believe that Trump’s desire to be friends with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his country stems from his admiration for the Russian ruler’s strong hand, not to mention the alleged help Russia provided him in last year’s election.

But the truth is probably much simpler: Russia, at least in its Western European part, now has the whitest population in the world; whiter even than Scandinavia or Germany. You hardly ever see other ethnic groups, except perhaps for a few tourists from East Asia. Russia could serve as the last example of a society jealously guarding its whiteness. And if there’s anything Trump craves, it’s to imitate Putin’s model and give America back to the whites. Not just in the corridors of power but throughout the country: to give the poor whites, who have been shoved into crumbling cities and towns in the south and Midwest, another chance in the land to which they immigrated from Europe 200 years ago.

Putin and his methods also hold enormous charm for Netanyahu. Again, this isn’t just because he envies Putin’s one-man rule, but mainly because of the unwritten agreement Putin seemingly has with his citizens which guarantees that he remains in power. One can easily discern in this white and impoverished Russian society that there is almost no middle class. Observing the vehicle-crammed streets reveals plenty of shiny luxury cars that serve the new oligarchy class, and a few old, cheap cars used by the lower classes. There are almost no newish, efficient cars like those typically used by the Israeli middle class.

But based on the feverish apartment renovations, the addition of English to public signposts, the expansions of the subways in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the meticulously clean streets and other major improvements – one can see Putin is promising his voters that he will help pull them out of the lower classes into the middle class, offering a future for young people. It seems to be convincing them.

Putin’s regime, therefore, is not based solely on oppression, but mainly on the promise to improve the state of the lower classes. Netanyahu tried to base his regime on a similar model. Since the right assumed power in Israel in 1977 – and particularly during the 20 years in which Netanyahu has been in the public arena – its primary objective, like Putin’s, has been to secure the votes of the lower classes (not including the Arabs, of course) in return for their gradual entry into the middle class.

While the old middle class, which is mostly Ashkenazi and generally votes for center and left parties, doesn’t interest the current right-wing government, the rising middle class is the core of Likud’s support.

But there may be some good news at the end of this 40-year process. As part of this rise, better education is inevitable and the demands from government change completely. It is very possible that the new middle class, that Netanyahu helped create, is now open to political change.

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