You didn’t have to be Israeli for Donald Trump’s latest remarks targeting Hillary Clinton to evoke the kind of incitement that led to the assassination of late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
In a scathing column published late Tuesday, after Republican presidential nominee Trump made his comments, suggesting that Second Amendment supporters could somehow stop his rival, The New York Times' Thomas Friedman wrote that the violent rhetoric used against the late Israeli leader and Trump’s words were impossible to ignore.
Friedman’s column opened: “And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin got assassinated. His right-wing opponents just kept delegitimizing him as a 'traitor' and 'a Nazi' for wanting to make peace with the Palestinians and give back part of the Land of Israel.
Of course, all is fair in politics, right? And they had God on their side, right? They weren’t actually telling anyone to assassinate Rabin. That would be horrible.
"But there are always people down the line who don’t hear the caveats. They just hear the big message: The man is illegitimate, the man is a threat to the nation, the man is the equivalent of a Nazi war criminal. Well, you know what we do with people like that, don’t you? We kill them. And that’s what the Jewish extremist Yigal Amir did to Rabin.”
Friedman quoted Haaretz writer Chemi Shalev, who pointed out the danger of what Trump was unleashing in his coverage of the Republican National Convention.
After the rallying cry of “Lock Her Up” rang across the RNC venue, Shalev wrote: “Like the extreme right in Israel, many Republicans conveniently ignore the fact that words can kill.
There are enough people with a tendency for violence that cannot distinguish between political stagecraft and practical exhortations to rescue the country by any available means. If anyone has doubts, they could use a short session with Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, who was inspired by the rabid rhetoric hurled at the Israeli prime minister in the wake of the Oslo accords.”
For good measure, Friedman concluded his piece with harsh words, calling Trump a “disgusting human being” whose “children should be ashamed of him.”
Trump made the remarks against Clinton that rocked the U.S. political landscape at a rally in North Carolina Tuesday, saying that “Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people – maybe there is – I don’t know.”
The outcry against the comments – interpreted by many as suggesting that gun enthusiasts might shoot Clinton – spread like wildfire across mainstream and social media immediately after Trump uttered them.
Several politicians and journalists suggested that the statements were a serious enough threat against Clinton that they might justify some type of legal action against him by the U.S. security apparatus.
Former National Security Agency and CIA director Michael Hayden, who was one of 50 national security leaders that signed a letter expressing concern about Trump, told CNN that “if someone else [besides Trump] said that outside of the hall, he'd be in the back of a police wagon now, with the Secret Service questioning him.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren taunted Trump, tweeting that the Republican presidential hopeful “makes death threats because he's a pathetic coward who can’t handle the fact that he’s losing to a girl” and, addressing Trump directly, wrote that “your reckless comments sound like a two-bit dictator, @realDonaldTrump. Not a man who wants to lead the greatest democracy on the planet.”
But perhaps the most devastating reaction came from an actual victim of political violence – former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head by an unbalanced opponent and nearly killed back in 2011.
Giffords issued a statement calling for all Americans “from Donald Trump himself, to his supporters, to those who remain silent or oppose him – to unambiguously condemn these remarks and the violence they insinuate” and emphasizing that “when candidates descend into coarseness and insult, our politics follow suit. When they affirm violence, we should fear that violence will follow.”
In what has become an often-repeated routine, any hope that Trump might use the break to pivot to positivity and polish his tarnished image was shattered by the devastating Second Amendment comments, which topped even his slights against the Gold Star Khan family.
And as they have after all of his controversial statements, his campaign blamed the media for misinterpreting his words, saying that Trump was referring to the “weapon” of “unity” – and not suggesting something violent would happen to Clinton.
The controversy erupted at a time when Trump could afford it the least, as his polling numbers against Clinton continued to spiral downwards, including among some of his core constituencies, like Republican women.
His defeat in November, barring disaster, now seems all but certain, and the list of Republican figures distancing themselves from him has grown by the day.
It also happened during a brief period in which, for the first time in months, neither Trump or Clinton completely dominated the headlines, as much of America focused on the Rio Olympics.
The Games have represented a refreshing and much-needed break from the rough-and-tumble of this difficult political season following the two major party conventions.
In what has become an often-repeated routine, any hope that Trump might use the break to pivot to positivity and polish his tarnished image was shattered by the devastating Second Amendment comments and their aftermath.
And as they have after all of his controversial statements, Trump’s campaign and other supporters blamed the media for misinterpreting his words.
The official interpretation by his campaign was that Trump had been referring to the gun lobby’s “weapon” of “unity” and weren’t meant to mean that he was suggesting something violent would happen to Clinton. That explanation, however, has done little to stem the tidal wave of backlash.
Like all of Trump’s highly problematic words, these too will eventually drop from the headlines as Americans once again begin to pay more attention to their gold medal count than politics.
On at least one level, though, the Games are political - reinforcing the Clinton campaign's vision of America.
The diverse racial and immigrant backgrounds of many of the U.S. Olympic athletes are all but an illustration of Clinton’s convention message of togetherness and a repudiation of Trump’s calls to build walls - and now, it seems - evoke incitement.
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