President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seem to have two things in common: Both are haunted by criminal investigations; and both blame the liberal media — which vigorously pursue the coverage of these investigations — for trying to circumvent the will of the voters and to illegitimately kick them out of power.
Netanyahu’s situation is much worse. While in Russiagate it remains to be seen how much — if at all — Trump himself was involved in a conspiracy with the Kremlin to interfere with the 2016 elections, the Israeli newspapers report that at any day now Netanyahu might be charged with corruption.
Israelis, whose span of attention is narrow anyway, can hardly keep track of the daily reports about the police investigations: luxurious gifts (with or without quid pro quo); a secret deal with a publisher for better coverage; Netanyahu’s lawyer, cousin, and closest confidant brokering the sale of three submarines from a German shipyard to the Israeli Navy, where bribes presumably oiled the wheels; and more.
Netanyahu has been consistently brushing off all these allegations, saying, “There will be nothing because there is nothing.” Recently, however, he stopped using this phrase, perhaps fearing it might eventually be immortalized like Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
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On May 7, 1940, Leopold Amery, a member of the British Parliament, said to then-Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain the words that Oliver Cromwell had said to the Long Parliament almost three centuries before: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go!’’ Three days later, Chamberlain resigned, and Churchill took over.
On the other hand, Netanyahu, has no reason to fear that Israelis, disgusted as they may be by the mounting pile of corruption, are ready to replace him. His base is strong, and there is no viable contender in the opposition who seems to be able to form an alternative government.
This, however, doesn’t stop Netanyahu from blaming the media. Addressing thousands of his supporters in a rally recently, he used a typical Trumpian lingo: “Now, you see, because both the left and the media — it’s the same thing, you know — they are enlisting now in an obsessive, unprecedented hunting trip against me and my family with a goal to carry out a government coup.”
Blaming the media to divert attention from criminal investigations is one thing. But would Trump or Netanyahu do more serious things to make people forget about their wrongdoings? In “House of Cards” President Underwood declares war on terror in order to defuse a congressional investigation. Is Trump messing with North Korea for the same reason? I doubt it. I think it has more to do with his trigger-happy character. A funny cartoon in Haaretz showed him being restrained by his cool-headed military advisers, who tell him that a military option in North Korea was problematic, to which Trump answers: “In that case, let’s do Venezuela.”
Things are different with Netanyahu, who now seems to have developed a kind of paranoia Nixon had in the heat of Watergate. Also, in the Israeli case there is no shortage of real triggers for war: Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria and, of course, Iran, which Netanyahu had vowed would never be allowed to go nuclear. An alarming move by Netanyahu was just revealed: A motion to amend the law so that a declaration of war would not demand anymore the approval of the whole government, but the OK by few Security Cabinet ministers will suffice. We will have to watch Netanyahu’s movements with a more critical eye from now on.
In the midst of it, Yehezkel Dror, former strategic adviser to Israeli prime ministers, came up with a surprising proposal: Netanyahu should make peace with the Palestinians, and open an embassy in Riyadh. His misdemeanors — if actually committed — will pale in comparison to such historic achievement.
I have a problem with a peace initiative as a means to cleanse corruption. But I’m willing to reconsider my position if Netanyahu accepts Dror’s advice.