Israel’s Right and GOP Convention Share a Penchant for Incitement and Delusion

At the Republikudnik gathering in Cleveland, the sky is falling, America is crumbling and Clinton is the enemy.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump works a crowd in Arizona on June 18, 2016.
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump works a crowd in Arizona on June 18, 2016.Credit: Nancy Wiechec/Reuters
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Israeli journalists who attended the Republican National Convention this week should give thanks to popular conservative radio host Laura Ingraham: She made them feel right at home. When Ingraham theatrically lifted her eyes to the top bleachers and called out to her “friends in the media” to stop their lies and distortions about Donald Trump, the crowd reacted with loud and sustained howling and cheering. You didn’t even have to close your eyes to imagine that it was Benjamin Netanyahu or his firebrand Culture Minister Miri Regev who were scolding the media and that the convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland was actually a right wing campaign rally at Tel Aviv’s Yad Eliyahu stadium. The similarities were both striking and chilling.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Amir Cohen, Reuters

Then there was Melania Trump, in the role of you-know-who, whose petty theft of Michelle Obama’s words morphed into an unending saga of denials, rebuttals and counteraccusations against the entire world, but above all the media. Or Sheldon Adelson, not as a metaphor but the actual person, the only billionaire to openly embrace Donald Trump, courted by one and all, reportedly rebuffing the renegade Ted Cruz from entering his suite. And Ron Dermer running around like he owned the place, though he did say he’d be at the Democratic convention as well.

Credit: CNN

The Republican Party extols American exceptionalism to a point that it melds into outright chauvinism; it views Islam as a mortal enemy. It calls for immediate repudiation of the Iran nuclear agreement. And it detests multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union with the same gusto as its doppelgängers in Tel Aviv.

The GOP views itself as authentically rooted American and its rivals as cosmopolitan internationalists; Republicans are true patriots was their critics are traitors in waiting; like the Israeli right wing, they too are the perpetual victims of disdainful cultural and intellectual elites. They support more rather than less religion in state and they are waging eternal war against the liberal secular heathens who are turning America into a latter day Sodom and Gomorrah.

A delegate holds a campaign sign for Donald Trump during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 19, 2016Credit: Bloomberg

Not to mention that the Republicans believe that the U.S, should support Israel to the hilt, no questions asked, that they view Israel as a “beacon of democracy and justice,” as Netanyahu often exclaims, that they steadfastly ignore the Palestinians, unless it’s as a nuisance, that they define the BDS movement as anti-Semitism with no ifs or buts, that they recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal and undivided capital, that they reject a definition of Israel as an occupier in the West Bank, that they  oppose any and all foreign intervention in peace efforts and that they have just abandoned their party’s formal support for a two-state solution. Bayit Yehudi leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett would sign on the dotted line in an instant.

Of course, the GOP isn’t exactly the Likud, though you must admit that the composite Republikudnik does have its charm. In fact, it is more similar to Israel’s right wing as a whole. As in Israel, fundamentalist and religious believers exert influence far beyond their actual proportions, by virtue of their dedication and enthusiasm. Many of the delegates in Cleveland this week can easily identify with Israel’s Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, a teacher at a state-funded yeshiva for soldiers, who recently caused a ruckus in Israel by describing members of the LGBT community as “perverts”, who are “driving the country crazy.” He would be happy to learn that the GOP platform now allows parents to agree to quackish “conversion therapy” for their gay kids, which he also espouses. And both sides no doubt agree with Levinstein’s condemnation of the West’s decadent liberal culture and its “values of defeatism, myth-breaking and as the icing on the cake to all this devastation - promiscuity.”

People tend to point out that in America minorities vote for Democrats but in Israel they vote for Likud. But that depends on your definition of “minority”. For example, are North African and Asian Jews who are known as Mizrahim and who tend to vote for Likud really a minority, like African Americans and Hispanics, or are they simply a distinct social-economic group within the greater Jewish community in Israel, just as lower and middle class whites are aligned with Trump in America. If that is the case, then the only true minority in Israel are the Arabs, who prefer to call themselves Palestinians, and they give as many votes for the Israeli right as Trump can expect to get from African Americans, meaning only slightly more than zero.

The GOP, which was once considered to be the more sober and realist of the two big parties, is now suspicious of science, culture, philosophy and academia, viewing them as channels of propaganda for their liberal/leftist practitioners. The same is true of the Israeli right. Instead, Republicans have succumbed to a world of dark fantasies, tall tales and self-delusions. Anyone who took the trouble to listen to all the speeches in Cleveland was left with no doubt that the United States is crumbling, its economy tanking, its society coming apart at the seams, its defenses falling prey to far more sophisticated enemies. Trump told the New York Times this week that America is in such a mess in terms in terms of civil liberties that it cannot lecture foreign countries any more, which is an echo of old Soviet propaganda that responded to American reprimands with the retort “And you are lynching Negroes”.

The next elections, delegates were told, is the very last chance to save America from the devastation wrought by the Obama administration. Republicans trace the start of the great American decline to 1992, when Bill Clinton came into office. Then there is an inexplicable gap of eight years - possibly erased by a secretary in the White House, along with the five million emails that President Bush’s staff deleted with nary a whisper of protest from Republicans - and history resumes again in 2008, with Obama’s election. As far as the Republicans are concerned, Obama is solely responsible for the mayhem in the Middle East, while the Iraq War has disappeared into a black hole. The tragedy in Benghazi in which four American diplomats were tragically killed, is in their eyes on a par with Pearl Harbor and September 11 combined. And the stagnant US economy, which isn’t really, is Obama’s fault, as if it hadn’t collapsed just as he came into office.

Trump and Israel's Culture Minister Miri Regev next to the Statue of Liberty Credit: Moti Milrod, Wikipedia, AP

This is more or less par for the course for Israeli leaders, including the current prime minister, who perpetually portray Israel as facing dire existential threats even when the country is at its strongest and most secure. Leaders who pin the blame for Israel’s troubles in the north to Ehud Barak’s unilateral withdrawal in 2000 while ignoring Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon’s invasion 17 years earlier. Leaders like Netanyahu himself who defend the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange as a painful but necessary price to pay for a kidnapped Israeli soldier, because “All of Israel are guarantors of each other”, but lambasted the 1985 prisoner exchange with Ahmed Jibril prisoner swap, in which three soldiers are released, as a historic mistake and a grievous self-inflicted blow to the war on terror. Who persuades Israelis that there is no causal link between the occupation and Jewish settlements and that Israel’s PR problems are all due to an inexplicable outbreak of global anti-Semitism along with Jewish double agents at home who spread lies about Israel, such as the existence of occupation, with the help of foreign governments. It is like Netanyahu deflecting any blame whatsoever for the breakdown of the hitherto intimate relations with Washington, but convincing only himself, his most ardent admirers and, naturally, Republicans.

A delegate cheers while Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, speaks during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., on Tuesday, July 19, 2016.Credit: David Paul Morris, Bloomberg

Like the Israeli left, the GOP’s rivals are never portrayed as harboring different viewpoints but rather as not having America’s best interests at heart. More often than not they are corrupt and, increasingly, purposely harming their country. After all, Chris Christie didn’t make do with Benghazi and the email affair, he “indicted” Clinton for everything from bowing to Russia and China, enabling Iran, losing Libya and creating the Syrian catastrophe, all with some implied link to millions of dollars deposited in her coffers and services rendered in exchange. Small wonder that the GOP crowd sounded at times like a lynch mob when shouting “Lock her Up, Lock her Up” with some bolder members in the audience promoting the slightly harsher “Hang the Bitch” in the hope it will catch on.

An attendee dresses as US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton with handcuffs prior to the start on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016Credit: Joe Raedle, AFP

Israelis couldn’t escape hearing echoes of “Prosecute the Oslo criminals”, which was a popular refrain 20 years ago, along with “We will expel Rabin with blood and fire”, “Rabin the traitor” and “Rabin the murderer”. And then there are the generations of "Jewboys" and "Judenrats" and self-hating Jews, Israelis and Americans alike, whose sin was to pursue peace with the obvious intention of weakening Israel, pursuing the fraudulent peace in order to weaken the country, and now the “Implanted foreign agents” who continue to destroy Israel from within, so the only recourse is to brand and excommunicate them. With all the differences, one is then reminded by association of the November Criminals, the communists, Jews, socialists and Catholics who were suspected of harboring dual loyalties and of denying Germany victory in World War I and then collaborating with the world to cripple it forever through the Treaty of Versailles. Allusions to Nazi Germany are restricted in Israel only to analogies made by the right, but in Cleveland this week several brave souls who listened to Christie and others tweeted out the words Dolchtoss Legende, the stab-in-the-back myth used by German right wingers, especially the Nazis, to pave the way for Adolf Hitler.

All of this didn’t begin with Trump, of course. The GOP didn’t start to detach itself from reality and to turn insular, belligerent and at least partially racist the moment he came down the Trump Tower escalator last year to announce his candidacy. It wasn’t Trump who fused conservatism, nationalism, chauvinism and old-time religion to the concoction that compels much of what the GOP is today. What Trump did was take the party to its logical destination by repudiating any remaining pretenses of decency, integrity and playing by the rules. Like Netanyahu and other right wing leaders, Trump purged the old guard of the party, those whose burning ambition to win was nonetheless still tempered by a commitment to play by the rules.

In the New Republican Party, blind patriotism reins supreme, hostility to political rivals is a compulsory and perhaps deadly ritual and incitement is a legitimate instrument to achieve power. On Election Day, who knows, Trump might make a dramatic last minute appeal to warn Americans that “African Americans and Hispanics are coming to the polls in droves, in buses provided by lefties and liberals”. Small wonder, then, that Republicans adore Netanyahu and that it is only with them, and not with his own people, that he feels truly at home.