Profiles in Cowardice: What Republicans in Congress Share With Likud Leaders in Israel

Here is the world’s strongest democracy, impeaching a president on grounds of incitement and lying. Why can’t this be done in Israel?

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Alon Pinkas
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U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) shows the article of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump after signing it in an engrossment ceremony, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 13, 2021.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) shows the article of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump after signing it in an engrossment ceremony, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 13, 2Credit: LEAH MILLIS/ REUTERS
alon pinkas
Alon Pinkas

Israelis who oppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be excused for feeling somewhat envious and frustrated while watching U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Here was the world’s strongest and most stable democracy showcasing and exercising its checks and balances on the grandest of scales: impeaching a president on grounds of incitement and lying. Here was America, the “shining city on the hill,” making the president accountable, taking the moral and principled high ground. What’s more, it wasn’t just the Democrats. Unlike Trumps’ previous impeachment in December 2019, a few Republicans joined the vote on Wednesday.

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Why can’t this be done in Israel?

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks near the border wall in Alamo, Texas, January 12, 2021.Credit: MANDEL NGAN - AFP

The sentiment is understandable, but the comparison can be very misleading and deceiving.

Drawing analogies between Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu is a very tempting political and analytical exercise. There are uncanny similarities in the personality cult status they built, their character, style, perceptions and images of the world, their respective imagined fears and paranoia of vast conspiracies against them, the perennial victimization, the political language and lexicon they use and their political modus operandi.

Both have engaged in autogolpe, or self-coup d’état. They have essentially declared a war against their own democracy and the despised “elites” who supposedly control it.

Both are “post-truth” leaders, employing deceit, lies, fabrications and a fake “What, me?” attitude as a defense mechanism against a diabolical “deep state” that they claim put a contract out on them.

Supporters of Netanyahu and the Likud party wave Trump flags at a party event in April 2019. Credit: Ronen Zvulun/ REUTERS

But that does not tell the whole story. There are substantial differences between them and the bands of sycophants surrounding them.

Netanyahu is a sophisticated, smart, worldly, well-read and experienced prime minister. He is not anti-science, anti-experts or pro-alternative facts like Trump ostentatiously is. Netanyahu is cynical and conniving, yes. An illiberal democrat? Absolutely, but not to the point of actively encouraging insurrection against the state.

In the U.S., some in the media and the punditocracy went head over heals trying to portray the events of the last week and the vote in the House of Representatives on Wednesday as an awakening, a bipartisan last stance against evil. “The Republican Party is torn”; “A civil war in the GOP,” they ceremoniously proclaimed.

Let’s be brutally and painfully honest here. That “shining city on the hill” hasn’t been shining for some time. It ceased to shine since at least the November election, if not earlier, and thanks to the morally imperative impeachment process, a flicker of light is now once again visible. But for the time being, it’s only a flicker.

When just 10 Republican representatives vote to impeach the president for clear and unequivocal “incitement to resurrection” – which was the formal Article of Impeachment – it is not a bipartisan decision. It is a travesty and a disgrace to America’s once revered and stable democracy. It is an insult to everything the Republican party stood for and represented, before it was hijacked by the Trumpist cult.

Yes, Republicans of conscience and principle like Rep. Fred Upton (MI), Rep. John Katko (NY), Rep. Adam Kinziger (IL) and Rep. Liz Cheney (WY) should be commended. But they are, at this particular major junction, a negligible minority.

The number should be engraved: 93 percent of House Republicans voted not to rebuke Trump for betraying the Constitution.

This is in addition to 147 House Republicans and 8 senators who on January 6, after the riot and coup attempt on Capitol Hill, still voted to object to the certification of the electoral vote count, blatantly trying to overturn the results of a free and fair election.

They voted this way two full years before the 2022 Congressional elections. They consciously did this two full months after Trump contrived his deranged, deluded, mendacious and wildly conspiratorial story about a tremendous landslide triumph, stolen from him by a dark, fraudulent cabal.

They chose to do this one week after Capitol Hill, the symbol of America’s government, was attacked by a mob, and one week before Trump leaves the White House anyway.

Fear of the “Trumpian base” is a convenient but dishonorable excuse. It is true that the huge demographic swath of white, rural, no-college-degree, lower-middle-class voters constitutes the major solidly Republican voting group. But pandering to them at this point in time, after all that had happened, is an embarrassing display of political panic and cowardice.

A similar situation exists in Israel, where Netanyahu is shielded by a band of vociferous but spineless sycophants, fearful of both him and his base support. These are the ministers and members of Knesset from Likud, which like the Republican party in the U.S. once prized liberal democracy, but is today acting more like a cult than a political party.

Their political existence and fortunes depend on him, so they cater to his attempts to avoid trial, despite the fact that he was indicted in three separate cases of bribery, fraud and breach of public trust.

There is no impeachment mechanism in Israel, which partially explains why Israel is entering a fourth election in two years. The only way Netanyahu will be separated from power is either via an election loss, or via a court verdict.

So Israelis who may be thinking, “If just 10 Likud members were to rebel against Netanyahu, like former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar did by forming a new, breakaway party,” are free to flirt with that thought and imagine its potential consequences. However, if they look at the inglorious show that the vast majority of Republicans in Congress displayed on Wednesday, they may reconsider.

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