Whither Trump? Watch the Fate Of Netanyahu
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
If Prime Minister Netanyahu pulls out a victory in the Israeli election scheduled for April 9 — and in the coalition-forming maneuvering that follows in Israel’s parliamentary system — it would be a positive sign for President Trump’s reelection hopes.
Whether Netanyahu is the Israeli Trump or Trump is the American Netanyahu depends on from which direction you look at it. Either way, the similarities are hard to miss.
They are both right-of-center politicians who have been married three times. Both favored scrapping Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. Both backed moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Mr. Netanyahu, like Mr. Trump, has been the subject of extensive legal scrutiny from his own law enforcement officials. And Mr. Netanyahu, like Mr. Trump, has faced a hostile press corps that faults him for flirting with bigotry for political gain.
There are some differences, too. Mr. Netanyahu served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 and has been in office again since 2009. If he wins this month, it’ll be the fifth time he’s elected prime minister. That means the race is subject to some dynamics — “Bibi fatigue,” or a desire to get a fresh new face in the job — that are less strong in the United States, where the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution ordains that “no person shall be elected to the office of President more than twice.”
If Mr. Netanyahu wins — or if Mr. Trump does — one reason will be a kind of anti-elitist backlash. The intensity of the opposition to Messrs. Netanyahu and Trump from entrenched establishment types and their friends in the press seems only to fuel support for both of them, along the lines of the campaign bumper sticker that said “Annoy the Media: Re-elect Bush.” (Though it’s worth remembering that the Bush who initially touted that one was George H.W. Bush, a one-term president who lost to Bill Clinton in 1992.)
In the cases of both Messrs. Trump and Netanyahu, corruption allegations may be shrugged off by a cynical public. It’s hard to work up fresh outrage after the baseline expectations set by the Clintons and Obamas, who got rich via public service from book deals and speaking fees.
Racism allegations also may be less damaging than opponents hope. The accusation of bigotry seems to be made so casually and often these days that its power has been eroded. This is especially so when it’s a kind of indirect bigotry by association — not precisely that Mr. Trump himself is a racist or that Mr. Netanyahu himself is a racist, but rather that Messrs. Trump or Netanyahu weren’t clear, firm, fast, or unequivocal enough in distancing themselves from some small fringe group of extremists who are racists.
The voters, in both cases, may view their choices not as passing moral judgment on the character of the politicians, from whom no one expects purity. Instead they may see themselves as assessing the results achieved on the politician’s watch. In both Israel’s case and America’s, at least so far, those results have been, essentially, peace and prosperity.
On foreign policy, Messrs. Trump and Netanyahu both are conflict-averse despite their hawkish images, preferring peace through strength.
The economies of both countries are humming along at annual real GDP growth rates of roughly 3% and unemployment rates of roughly 4%, with concerns in both places about how equally, or unequally, the prosperity is shared.
The politicians both have pragmatic, centrist streaks, but they are often portrayed by the left-wing press as extremist, far-right ideologues, or at least as implementing far-right policies.
Messrs. Trump and Netanyahu, meanwhile, have attempted to use similar methods to define their opponents, or potential opponents, as left-wingers, as socialists, or as otherwise unreliable.
If this doesn’t work out for Mr. Netanyahu, it doesn’t necessarily mean Mr. Trump is also headed for a defeat. The results in the two places could diverge. Maybe American politics would be different than Israel’s. Maybe Mr. Trump would learn from and avoid Mr. Netanyahu’s errors. Or maybe in the next year or so, the American economy or national security situation will change dramatically.
If Mr. Netanyahu does manage to get himself re-elected again as the prime minister of Israel, it’ll be hard to read as anything other than good news for President Trump.