Trump and Netanyahu: Two Embattled Leaders

One of the TV networks recently interviewed an “Israeli man on the street.”  This supposed citizen, whose English was too good to make him an “average” Israeli, said that the indictment against sitting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “politically motivated.”  The smiling announcer then came back on camera and noted the “similarities” between the Netanyahu indictment and the soon-to-be-completed Trump impeachment in the United States House of Representatives.  The camera panned to a 50-foot high poster in Israel showing Netanyahu shaking hands with Trump. 

I remember seeing those posters when I was last in Israel and thought about the differences between the message conveyed by the Netanyahu/Trump duo versus the austere close-up view of Benny Gantz, the standard-bearer for the Blue & White Party.  I thought to myself that, “Israelis are not going to like this.”  No matter how good Trump has been to Israel, and there is no question that he has been fantastic in standing up for the embattled Jewish state, no population of a small country wants to think of itself as America’s Banana Republic. 

The similarities between the Netanyahu case and the Trump impeachment are superficial.  Both men are powerful, ego-driven and would like to portray themselves as victims of terrible people.   The economies of both Israel and the United States have been booming.  Never has the American Stock Exchange or its economy done better.  As Bill Clinton’s advisors said, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  Israel has gone from a third-world country to one of the most powerful and modern societies on the planet.  Notwithstanding controversial leadership, both nations are doing well and their citizens have prospered like never before. 

The differences between the Netanyahu versus the Trump case are more significant than the similarities.  Trump is being pursued by an opposition House of Representatives and a well-organized hostile press.  Netanyahu has been indicted, after an extremely long and detailed investigation, by his own Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.   Mandelblit is not the equivalent of an Evangelical Christian supporting the President, but rather he is an observant Kippah-wearing Jew whose overall political views are probably little different from Netanyahu’s.  Mandelblit has served as an Aluf (major general), served in a number of battles and was the Military Advocate General.  He has both a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D. in law.  He was appointed attorney general in 2016 with the support of Netanyahu and his Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and is longtime member of Netanyahu’s Likud party.

The nature of the charges is different.  President Trump will be charged with abuse of process, although the Democrats will try to fit it within the bribery or treason accusation.  The allegations of Netanyahu’s attorney general against the prime minister start with bribery but also include fraud and finally breach of trust. Mandelblit claims to be pursuing the simple job of “law enforcement,” stating that “there is no man who is above the law.”  

Another major difference between the Trump and the Netanyahu dilemma is that Netanyahu has been in office a long time.  American Presidents, thanks to the excesses of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, can now only serves two terms which is eight years.  Netanyahu has been prime minister for a period going on thirteen years.  In democratic political systems, more than three terms of a head of state is a very long time. 

Israeli faces daily threats to its existence that the United States can only imagine in the most abstract terms.  6.5 million Jews in the State of Israel cling to a tiny slice of land approximately half the size of New Jersey surrounded by enemies who every day call for their annihilation.  Hamas in Gaza, Hezb’allah in Syria and Lebanon, Iran, which occupies Syria and Lebanon, are arming themselves to the teeth.  Hundreds of thousands of missiles are pointed at Israel and several well-trained armies, formerly terrorist groups, are well-financed and poised to spill the blood of every Jew and Christian in the Holy Land.  During Netanyahu’s term in office there have been wars and deaths of Israeli soldiers, but by and large the enemy has been held at bay. 

Could anyone have done better than Netanyahu at disarming the nation’s foes?  The Israeli Air Defense Force is still flying mostly 40-year old airplanes, even though the expensive F-35’s from the United States are new.   Soldiers like my daughter used Vietnam-era M-16s while money pours in from Iran and other Arab countries to modernize the attack potential of the terrorist armies surrounding Israel.  Israeli reality is incomprehensible to Americans.  We have no military fear of Canada or Mexico, we never had and we never will.   We may have some overall concerns about the motives of Russia, China, and other countries but those are mainly economic challenges.  No one in this country can imagine what it is like to go to bed at night, like citizens of ­­­­­­­­­­Sderot do, wondering how many missiles will fall overnight from the Gaza Strip.

There are those in the United States, and even a few in Israel, who argue that all Israel has to do to assure its safety is to withdraw beyond the 1948 armistice lines established when Israel was attacked by a multitude of Arab nations.  Those 1948 lines are erroneously referred to by some as “the 1967 borders.”  Israel will not survive for any period of time by relinquishing its right of self-defense and creating yet another terrorist state in the Middle East as advocated by many within the Democratic Party. 

There is no room for a prime minister who cannot function or who has lost the confidence of his people.  What Benjamin Netanyahu has managed Trump and Russia’s Putin surprisingly well, he has fallen flat-faced with the Democrats in the United States, who seem incapable of distinguishing Israel from some puppet that they can control with the manipulation of a few strings.  Israel is not a suburb of New York or Chicago, simply waiting to vote Democratic once their current leader is gone.  The Jewish nation has supported Benjamin Netanyahu in part because of overriding security concerns as well as a robust economy with a surprisingly successful social safety net. 

There is one other great difference between Trump and Netanyahu and that is the cultures and expectations of the citizens.  It is much more frequent to hear in the United States the refrain that “Trump is really no different than any other politician.”  That is usually followed by a parade of horribles about past American presidents and politicians, many of which stories are true.  In Israel, every school child knows that the Talmud, the interpretive text of the Bible, was critical of both King David and King Solomon.   King David sent Bathsheba’s husband into war so that he could have the man’s wife in his harem.  The rabbis said that God denied David the right to build the Temple in Jerusalem because of his misconduct.  King Solomon, who did build the Temple in Jerusalem, was roundly criticized for using slave labor to build the Temple and for other excesses.  Solomon, until the end of his life, did not appreciate the requirement of a leader who is both modest and tolerant, as well as wise.  The Jews of Israel still believe that no one should be above the law and that the standards of morality for the Jewish state should be higher than for other nations. 

In America, our religious values and our attachment to ethical precepts have become so diluted by the quest for money and power that we no longer hold ourselves to the standards which our Founders attempted to build into our political system.

On the surface, there are some similarities between the Trump impeachment and the Netanyahu indictment, but a single scratch will show the enormous differences.   

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