An unprecedented horror show took place Wednesday on Washington’s Capitol Hill. A mob comprising thousands of people, some of them armed, broke into the Capitol building with the goal of stopping the joint session of Congress, convened to confirm the Electoral College results and the election victory of President-elect Joe Biden.
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The rioting mob drew inspiration from a speech by U.S. President Donald Trump, who encouraged his supporters to take action to thwart what he called the theft of the election by Democrats. This was a shameful and frightening nadir for the campaign of wild incitement and thuggery Trump has waged for weeks, since the November election results showed that Biden had won a clear, sweeping and decisive victory.
It’s hard to imagine a worse blow to American democracy, which is grounded in democratic process, respect for the rulings of the courts – which rejected all of Trump’s claims of election fraud and vote theft – and the supremacy of Congress as the representative institution of the people. His attempts to destroy the democratic pillars of the superpower that made him president made clear the danger he poses to his country and the entire world.
A glaring warning was written on the walls of the Capitol Wednesday of the dangers of populism – politics that appeal to the emotions, offer panaceas and lash out against “the elites.” This is a widespread, global problem, so its dangers must be called out worldwide, including in Israel.
There are too many similarities between Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. For Netanyahu, incitement has changed from being a rhetorical tool to being a policy. He views large segments of society as traitors and fifth columns. He depicts the left as an enemy of the nation and the courts, especially the High Court of Justice, as seeking to undermine the foundations of democracy, and his criminal trial as libel and persecution. Netanyahu’s disciples have already amply demonstrated their ability to riot and to attack people who don’t comply with the dictates of the leader-defendant.
“Lawlessness and violence are the opposite of the values we know Americans and Israelis cherish,” Netanyahu said Wednesday in response to the violent scenes in Washington. “I have no doubt that American democracy will prevail – it always has.” But instead of making grandiose statements, Netanyahu would do better to tend to democratic values in Israel – values that have been under incessant attack under his leadership due to the devastation he himself has sown.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.