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Trump and Netanyahu are allies in a losing battle

Both the American and Israeli governments reek of paranoia, fear, and desperation. The struggle against them must begin with the knowledge that we are opposing a desperate and fearful group.

Donald Trump poses for a photo with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Donald Trump poses for a photo with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

By all accounts, the new administration in the U.S., and the veteran one in Israel should be relaxing and enjoying the heights of power they have attained. Both are facing a weakened opposition while tightening their control on the executive, legislative, and judicial branches in their respective countries. They have done so in the face of frequent predictions of their impending demise, while making few concessions to their critics.

In a certain sense, that appears to be exactly what they are doing — implementing an unapologetically xenophobic agenda in foreign and domestic policy arenas. But if you listen to the tone that characterizes their conduct, a different impression emerges. Both the U.S. and Israeli administrations seem prickly and sensitive, easily rattled by any challenge, overreacting to even the smallest slight.

To some extent, this reflects the character of the leaders in question, more so with Trump who is a truly unusual president, than with Israel’s Netanyahu, who is more of a conventional politician. Yet leaders reflect the political systems that give them power, and rely on the cooperation and consent of many other actors.

This is clearly on display when the Jerusalem municipality attempts to shut down public facilities that provide a platform for dissidents; or when the Senate majority leader hypocritically uses arcane rules to shut down a woman senator’s condemnation of one of Trump’s nominees. Neither of these incidents, at least as far as we know, had anything to do with the American president or Israeli prime minister. What they do have in common, along with many other actions taken by these two administrations and their allies, is their counter-productive effect from a purely instrumental perspective.

By acting in a highly visible and clumsy way to shut down opposition, the ruling parties in both countries are giving far more platform and stature to that opposition than it would otherwise enjoy. And they are not just ham-handed — they are also sloppy and disorganized. This was evident with both Trump’s executive order banning nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, and the new Israeli law retroactively legalizing the theft of privately-owned Palestinian land in the West Bank. Both of these policy moves were crafted in a manner sure to maximize international condemnation and invite robust legal challenge, despite the existence of many effective alternatives.

Demonstrators protest outside Downing Street against U.S. President Donald Trump in central London, January 30, 2017. The protest was held against Trump's planned visit to the UK and following an executive order restricting immigration and refugee requests from seven Muslim countries. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Demonstrators protest outside Downing Street against U.S. President Donald Trump in central London, January 30, 2017. The protest was held against Trump’s planned visit to the UK and following an executive order restricting immigration and refugee requests from seven Muslim countries. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Some see this flailing as masking an evil genius, an attempt to intentionally provoke opponents and create politically advantageous high-profile confrontations. I seriously doubt that. Just look at the processes that led to Trump’s executive order and Israel’s law. The fractiousness and disorder within the governing coalitions that produced these moves are not really indicative of clever design or intentional deviousness.

Instead, the American and Israeli governments reek of paranoia, fear, even desperation. It is evident not just in their operations and actions, but in their manner and style. Over-the-top aggression, easily disproven lies, and a generally irate tone characterizes almost every public statement. This is the opposite of the optimism, confidence, and cool resolve you would expect from factions that have managed to amass such great power.

Here the difference between the two cases only magnifies the puzzle. Netanyahu is genuinely in danger right now, due to spiraling corruption investigations against him. But some of the worst flailing seems to come from other actors in the Israeli system, at times in response to Netanyahu’s objections (the land grab law is one such example). Trump, on the other hand, is clearly the focal point of chaos and incompetence in his administration. However, as a newly-elected president, with majorities in Congress and soon the judiciary, there appears to be little to justify the levels of panic and confusion that often emanate from him and his allies.

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett at a Knesset plenum session to vote on the formalization law, Jerusalem, February 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett at a Knesset plenum session to vote on the formalization law, which retroactively legalizes land taken from Palestinians in the West Bank for building settlement outposts, Jerusalem, February 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The most important clue to solve this puzzle is Trump and Netanyahu’s obsession with attacking, controlling and manipulating the news media (indeed, this is one of the major sources of Netanyahu’s recent legal troubles). Admittedly, even within their own camps, they are extreme outliers in terms of crudity and relentlessness on this issue — something that surely has to do with their individual psychological makeup. But they are also emblematic of a broader approach on the right, which has fueled the rise of rigorously partisan and uncurious media organs such as Israel Hayom in Israel and Fox News in the U.S.

Journalists are a major problem for the Israeli and American extreme right because, despite all their flaws, they occasionally do provide information and cover actual events. In other words, they reflect reality — however partially and inadequately.

Reality is the greatest foe of the extreme right wingers currently in power. In the real world, Palestinians, Mexicans, Muslims, and many other groups that they do not like continue to exist, despite travel bans and land grabs. In the real world, international relations are crucial for the prosperity of both countries and cannot be flippantly dismissed. “Alternative facts” are easily malleable. Actual facts cannot be so flexibly managed. The extreme right is not creating “facts on the ground,” it is being undone by them, bit by bit.

Netanyahu, Trump, and their allies are fighting a losing battle. Deep inside, they know this. If they truly believed otherwise, their disposition would be sunny and confident, not dark and fretful.

This is not cause for complacency. Part of the reason these agendas will be defeated is precisely because people are not complacent — they are mobilized and agitated (at least in the U.S.; this kind of mass opposition seems to be further down the road in Israel and Palestine). Until they are stopped, Trump and Netanyahu can do great harm, some of which will be irreparable. Nonetheless, the struggle against them must begin with the insight that we are not fighting an ascendant and secure power, we are opposing a desperate and fearful faction.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Grandpa Frost

      This article sounds like a whole lot of psychological projection from the left.

      Reply to Comment
    2. i_like_ike52

      I see the writer, like many “progressives” does not accept the view that “the people have spoken”.
      He claims that “reality” supposedly goes against the world view of the ruling “right-wing” governments in Israel and the US. Well, the ‘progressives’ had their chance. In Israel they kept telling us that the Arabs were inevitably going towards democratization and globalization in a “New Middle East”., and as “progressive” Bernard Avishai once claimed, that “the young Palestinian entrepeneurs are going to push aside the armed militias”. Really? Is that what we see in the Palestinian territories and the rest of the Arab Middle East.
      IN the US, President Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize, not for actually doing anyting, but simply for talking like a good “progressives”. His hands-off Presidency oversaw the complete implosion of Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen with massive civil wars in all those countries accompanies by hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees. THAT IS THE REALITY. The voters in Israel and the US learned the lesson.

      Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        I_like_ike52: But the author does accept that the ‘people have spoken’.

        Maor clearly infers this when he writes ‘By all accounts the new administration in the US, and the veteran one in Israel should be relaxing the enjoying the heights of power they have attained. Both are facing a weakened opposition while tightening their control on the executive, legislative and judicial branches in their respective countries. They have done so in the face of frequent predictions of their impending demise, while making few concessions to their critics.’

        Now, Maor is not suggesting that both Trump and Netanyahu have achieved this political power by way of coup; both achieved their current political power because both were elected into office by the people. Yes, the people have spoken. This is what makes it so surprising and downright weird that both Trump and Netanyahu have lurched from one bit of bad legislation to another and seem to be intent on doing all they can to strengthen the resolve of those who are critical of them. Both should be on top of their political game and both appear to be floundering, both seem to be making a dog’s dinner of the process of governance. Trump is almost a cartoon character of a President seemingly intent on proving the line that fact is stranger than fiction.

        All the twitter and bellicose statements or the alternative facts in the world may influence some people. But they cannot stem the tide of actual reality, they cannot change the actual reality.

        My only point of disagreement with Maor is that I’m not too sure that Trump secretly believes that he is fighting a losing battle; I suspect that Trump couldn’t give a toss about which side is going to win or lose so long as his ego and pockets are stroked. At least Netanyahu has serious opposition within this own party pushing him to greater heights of stupidity, but Trump should right now be in control – and he is not. Though his business interests may not doing well – and that will be enough for our Donald.

        Reply to Comment
    3. i_like_ike52

      BTW-the writer’s use of a picture of Bennett which makes it look like he is making a Fascist salute is really beneath everyone’s dignity. It is HAMAS, HIZBULLAH and other Arab/Muslim “progressives”
      (as Judith Butler defines them) that use the Fascist salute. What does the writer think about these “peace partners” that use Fascist/antisemitic symbols?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        That picture of Bennett is entirely appropriate. You are asking us to normalize proto-fascism. This man who marches through Israeli Palestinian neighborhoods at night. Who revels in enthnoreligious power.

        ‘Last week, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said he prefers Jewish studies over science in order “to return and be a spiritual power and export spiritual knowledge to the entire world …. That’s how we’ll return to being a light unto the nations. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” …

        Fascism, in the clear definition of Prof. Zeev Sternhell, is an ideology, not a form of regime, that views the nation, not the individual, as the almost organic, almost living über-entity. The nation is like a tree, and the people are but the leaves with meager rights.

        To glorify and preserve the supremacy of the nation, fascism requires a war against enlightenment, liberal democracy, individual rights and universal humanism. After all, these abominations put the individual in the center, and in doing so impair the supremacy of the national collective.

        In fascism, democracy isn’t a structure of values but only an “aerobic” legislative technique, and culture is only meant to strengthen the nation’s spirit. As a result, these things must be enlisted to impose fascism, and/or to be emasculated by it. Racism, violence, thuggery and all the other dictatorial delights are just side effects of the implementation of the fascist ideology. And that’s it. That’s the Torah.

        Those with sharp eyes certainly have noticed that one entity is missing: God. The Creator. The imaginary comrade in the heavens. Fascism has no God; not German, Italian or Spanish fascism. Fascism has always been secular because it thinks only about the nation, not God.

        And then came the hardalim – the nationalist ultra-Orthodox types – with Bennett as their prophet (or at least his son). Fascism – with all its principles and ideology – has joined God and His commandments. This matchmaking was very successful. The theological pretexts have joined with the fascist ideology, and together they better fight the Enlightenment and its abominations.

        Equality? God forbid. What’s-his-name in heaven chose us only. Individual freedom? Religious freedom? Freedom of conscience? Freedom of movement? What’s-his-name doesn’t allow it. Freedom of expression? Just a bit. For now. Until further notice. After all, excessive freedom of expression could damage the people’s faith in what’s-his-name, blessed be he.

        Fraternity? Only between you and your neighbor, who’s like you, a member of the chosen people. “Brotherhood of nations?” God forbid; that’s for the atheists and communists. There’s no room for brotherhood between those who “go to the polls in droves” and those who have been chosen….’

        http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.743260

        Reply to Comment
    4. Bruce Gould

      “Both the American and Israeli governments reek of paranoia, fear, and desperation.” – without doubt the Israeli government is experiencing paranoia because it is losing control of the narrative as more Jews are willing to call the occupation what it is: incremental genocide. Here’s an astonishing hour and half interview/talk given by Ben Ehrenreich, the author of “The Way To The Spring”:

      http://mondoweiss.net/2017/02/palestinian-incremental-ehrenreich/

      Reply to Comment
    5. Jamil

      This is rather droll. According to the Israeli Left Bibi has been on the verge of paranoid failure ever since he was first elected PM. That was 20 years ago. If only I could fail like he has.

      Reply to Comment