Analysis |

Mueller Indictments and Israeli Police Set Up Trump-Netanyahu Goodfellas Summit

When powerful and narcissistic leaders face similar troubles, each is convinced his pickle is bigger

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2018.
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2018.Credit: Evan Vucci/AP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

The upcoming meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump on March 5 at the White House should be extra-special. In addition to the common interests and shared views that have hitherto united them, Trump and Netanyahu will now sense mutual solidarity and a deep personal bond, unprecedented in the history of the relations between leaders of their countries.

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As usual, the two will lambast aggressive Iranians, dismiss disappointing Palestinians and pooh-pooh hypocritical Europe and the United Nations, but their diplomatic meeting of the minds will be buttressed by their personal and potentially criminal predicaments.

Both leaders feel they are being persecuted by police. Both accuse a leftist media-judicial cabal of orchestrating their ordeal. Both intend to fight their accusers to the bitter end, possibly of the rule of law. The intense experience of trying to evade the law together could turn their beautiful friendship into a torrid love affair, as if, excuse the comparison, they were Bonnie and Clyde.

Trump and Netanyahu have perfected a passive-aggressive system of whining and bullying. First they fire off volleys against concocted persecutors and then they wail that the world is against them. Both portray themselves as heroes of the common people who are fighting the forces of darkness but also as hapless victims of malevolent investigators who are out to frame them. As in any meeting between two such powerful and essentially narcissistic personalities, each is convinced that his pickle is bigger. Both, one must admit, can produce new evidence to back up their boasting. Netanyahu can validly point to the police report that recommended his indictment on two counts of bribery, which theoretically puts him on a path that ends up in jail. Trump, on the other hand, isn’t even a suspect – so far. Give it a rest, Netanyahu can tell him; we’re not in the same league.

But the U.S. president has a powerful rejoinder. The indictments presented by special counsel Robert Mueller over the weekend against 13 Russians who engaged in direct sabotage of the last presidential election undermine the very legitimacy of Trump’s election and thus, of his tenure as president. Netanyahu is suspected of accepting preposterous amounts of cigars and champagne as personal bribes, but Trump stands accused, at least by his more provocative critics, of stealing the entire kingdom. C’mon Bibi, Trump will tell him, you’re dealing in small change.

It’s true that Netanyahu invented “Arabs coming to the voting booths in droves” to help win him the elections in 2015, but with the exception of devout conspiracy theorists who continue to insist that hundreds of thousands of Likud votes were mysteriously stuffed into ballot boxes at the last minute, no one contests the fact that, technically at least, Netanyahu won the elections fair and square. His majority was big enough - and astonishing enough - to silence the doubters.

Trump, on the other hand, got three million votes less than his rival Hillary Clinton. He won the elections by virtue of a mere 70,000 voters in three key states. When one reads the 37 pages of the indictments handed down by Mueller, which depict a well-oiled and generously financed Russian rogue operation that ran a massive con job on millions of unsuspecting Americans, one doesn’t need a feverish imagination to question whether Moscow didn’t hand Trump the presidency on a silver plate, with Clinton’s severed head on it.

Of course Trump seized on the opportunity to proclaim his innocence, or as Netanyahu puts it, “there won’t be anything because there was nothing” in the first place. As with Netanyahu, the meager and partial facts that are already known unequivocally refute such protestations. Mueller’s new indictments have irrevocably debunked Trump’s previous denials of any Russian intervention in his election, but if you link the irrational number of Trump campaign advisers who maintained some contact with Russians together with the black psy-ops operation run from St. Petersburg and Trump’s ongoing refusal to confront the Russians in any way, shape or form - including the quagmire that now faces Israel in Syria - it’s hard to escape the conclusion that something was rotten in Trump’s election and in his administration’s efforts to cover it up. Russia sabotaged the U.S. elections but the president is too busy whining and feeling sorry for himself to do anything about it, now or in the future.

Trump can rightfully show off his executive authorities, which are far more diverse and powerful than Netanyahu’s. The Israeli prime minister can only dream of firing investigators and attorneys who refuse to toe the line, as Trump did when he sacked former FBI Director James Comey and as he is rumored to be contemplating the removal of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is in charge of the Mueller probe. On the other hand, Mueller is not Roni Alsheich, the Israeli police chief who allowed his resentment of Netanyahu to get the better of him and shot off his mouth in a superfluous and damaging television interview. Mueller runs his investigation as a tight ship, with no leaks or interviews, which makes it hard for Trump to attack him frontally.

Unlike Israeli coalition chief and Likud lawmaker David Amsalem, who accused Alsheich of planning a putsch and called former Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who was called in by police to testify, a snitch, Trump’s attack dogs cannot bark away at the well-respected Mueller. They are left with attacking FBI officers on completely unrelated matters, such as the bureau’s tragic failure to act on a warning that Nikolas Cruz was planning a mass shooting at a Florida school, but everyone knows where they’re headed.

Netanyahu and Trump will go out of their way to broadcast business as usual at their upcoming White House meeting. They might even try to manufacture headlines that could theoretically divert attention from their shared predicament. With the exception of their media parrots in both countries who mindlessly repeat their messaging, however, no self-respecting journalist can afford to ignore the big, fat elephant that will be sitting with them in the Oval Office.

An unbelievable coincidence has put both leaders, each in his own way, with his own personality and in accordance to his country’s unique system of governance, in direct conflict with the rule of law and its representatives. Against the obvious benefits of having Israeli and American leaders who coordinate policy and see the Middle East similarly, one must pit the potential PR damage, if not disaster, of them huddling together in the White House in what will inevitably be portrayed as two bunko artists trying to escape the law. Their meeting might be called the Goodfellas summit, but as we all know, it won’t be meant as compliment.

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