Netanyahu Photobombs U.S. Election Campaign, Much to Trump’s Delight

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers remarks at the Hudson Institute's Herman Kahn Award Ceremony at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 22, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers remarks at the Hudson Institute's Herman Kahn Award Ceremony at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 22, 2016. Credit: Andrew Kelly, Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to intervene, once again, in U.S. presidential elections. He is about to help, once again, the Republican Party. He is raising concerns and sparking ire, as before, in the White House and the Democratic Party. Like a compulsive gambler who returns to the same roulette table where he lost a fortune, Netanyahu is placing our chips on the wheel once again in the hope that he’ll finally hit the jackpot.

Of course, the Prime Minister’s Office will contend that Netanyahu’s meetings in New York on Sunday with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are fair and balanced. Naturally, his spokespersons will say that previous Israeli prime ministers also met with presidential candidates. The spin doctors will explain that the strategic relationship between Israel and the U.S. compel an Israeli leader to set up channels of communication with potential U.S. Presidents as early as possible. Naturally, the talking points that will be sent to cabinet ministers will stress that the meetings with Clinton and Trump showcase bipartisan support for Israel as well as Netanyahu’s determination to remain strictly neutral.

Nu, shoyn, as the Yiddish saying goes. So they’ll say. The truth is that there is only one candidate who desperately needs Netanyahu’s blessing and legitimization, and his name isn’t Clinton. Only Donald Trump will benefit from Netanyahu placing him on an equal footing with his rival. Only he will require the stamp of kashrut that Netanyahu can give him. Jewish leaders refrain from standing beside Trump, most foreign leaders - besides Egypt’s President Sisi, which isn’t saying much - prefer to keep their distance and many right wing and conservative columnists and commentators, some of whom admire Netanyahu immensely, want nothing to do with the Republican nominee. But Netanyahu is giving him a golden photo-op, and seems even eager to do so.

That’s why Trump was so quick to respond to the peculiar plea issued by a “senior official” in the Prime Minister’s Office over the weekend by which Netanyahu is ready, willing and able to meet with the candidates - and that’s also why Clinton had to be cajoled into agreeing as well. She enjoys a crushing majority among Jewish voters, with or without Netanyahu’s help, and her campaign advisers obviously realized that the dual meetings could only work in Trump’s favor. But they reached the conclusion, and rightly so, that this is an invitation they can’t refuse, because doing so would anger many Jews and allow Trump’s campaign to depict her as Israel’s enemy.

The timing of the meetings is also a bit weird, on the eve of the first and potentially decisive debate that will take place Monday night at Hofstra University in Long Island. The rendezvous with Netanyahu, less than 48 hours before the debate, cuts off Clinton’s studious preparations, though this might not bother Trump, who is said by advisers to be relying on the feelings of his guts and the quickness of his mouth in the upcoming showdown.  America, let’s not forget, is fixated right now on the disturbing video of the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte and anxious about the spread of violent demonstrations. From this angle, Netanyahu resembles a nudnik photobomber who enters the frame and frantically waves his hands behind the broadcasters to shout hello to the folks back home.

Netanyahu could have easily come and gone to and from his annual UN General Assembly speech without meeting Trump or Clinton, and no one would have complained. Heaven knows who or what compelled him to impose himself on the scene. Maybe he couldn’t get over the scant media attention that his UN speech received this year and decided to push himself back into the limelight. Perhaps the same advisers who told him it was OK to embrace Mitt Romney in front of Barack Obama’s fuming face or assured him it was a great idea to collude with Republicans and circumvent the White House in order to address Congress and attack the administration’s nuclear deal with Iran also convinced him that it was a genius move to give Trump an aura of respectability and legitimacy? And perhaps it’s no coincidence, as some people said yesterday, that Netanyahu is reaching out to Trump on the same day it emerged that Sheldon Adelson was getting off the fence to bestow many more of his millions on the tycoon’s presidential campaign?

Whatever Netanyahu’s inclinations, constraints or compulsions, he is taking a miscalculated risk. It will end in a slight embarrassment, at best, or will explode, as usual, in Netanyahu’s face, at worst. Trump is an unguided missile that scorns the rules of the game: what will happen if he goes into a rant against Obama and Clinton with Netanyahu standing at his side? Trump the reality king is quite capable of stealing the show even from an accomplished actor like Netanyahu, and to then leave his host to clean up the mess when he exits right.

But the more distressing scenario is one in which Trump does nothing of the sort: He behaves like a good boy, smiles as he stands besides his besties Benjamin and Sarah, mumbles a few obligatory platitudes about Israel forever and undivided Jerusalem and goes home with the smile of a cat who got the cream on his face. Netanyahu, on the other hand, will come away as the man who put a veneer of respectability on a candidate that many Americans, including a majority of Jews, regard as a crook and a racist who is incompetent to lead the United States - and who has unleashed an unprecedented wave of anti-Semitism.

If Netanyahu’s moves against Obama and the Democrats were unwise and counterproductive up to now, this one will be stained by unworthiness and immorality as well. As for the claim that the gamble will pay off spectacularly if Trump is elected, that’s no different than someone who bets on an earthquake and can then be heard celebrating and patting himself on the back underneath the rubble.