Tel Aviv Diary: Bibi Takes Another Trick From Trump’s Playbook

I have written about this topic before: the similarities between US President Donald J. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remain striking.

Since the resemblance between this pair has now reached a new level, the matter warrants an update.

On Wednesday night, Israeli media reported the police had decided to recommend Netanyahu be indicted, not only for breach of trust but for bribery.

Last night, Israeli TV aired an interview done some time ago with Roni Alsheikh, the Police Commissioner hand-picked by Netanyahu, in which Alsheikh asserted that the public would be surprised by some of what would come out in its upcoming recommendations.

In addition, Alsheikh stated that somebody (and he was clear who) had hired private investigators to probe those scrutinizing Netanyahu.

The prime minister, taking a page from Trump’s playbook, went public with a Facebook post (Netanyahu is a more active user of Facebook than Twitter) attacking the Police Commissioner, stating:

The hints alleged by the Police Commissioner are so grave that a swift and objective investigation is immediately required, regarding the claim that the Prime Minister ‘has sent investigators’ — and once it becomes clear there is no such connection— the necessary conclusions relating to the conduct of the investigation and the formulation of recommendations against the Prime Minister must be drawn.

In other words, Netanyahu has told his supporters they should ignore the recommendations of the police, since the Commissioner is another one of those “leftists” who wants to bring down the prime minister at all costs.  

GettyImages-687168784 Donald Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on May 23, 2017. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty

The heads of the two main opposition parties made statements that, if you didn’t know the context, could have come from any leader of the American Democratic Party. Labor Party head, Avi Gabbay said:

Netanyahu is humiliating us, the citizens of Israel. Instead of requesting that they wrap up the investigation as soon as possible, Netanyahu has chosen to attack the Police Commissioner, and by doing so, he is trying to dismantle peoples’ trust in the legal system.

While the head of the Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid referred to Netanyahu’s statement as “a desperate attempt of a suspect to use his elevated status to threaten the rule of law and to vilify the police who protect all of us.”

Supporters of Netanyahu were fast to defend him. The head of the coalition, David “Dudu” Amsalem, said: “There is an attempt by the police to engage in a revolt. They see the prime minister as a personal enemy and are dedicated to overthrowing him.”

Israeli journalist Ben Caspit, who has just published a critically acclaimed biography of Netanyahu, stated: “If I had to choose between believing the Police Commissioner, or the Prime Minister, I would have no dilemma which to choose.”

Netanyahu’s situation is similar to that of Trump, in that the end of the case against him is far from over. Once the police recommendations are made, the baton is passed to the Attorney General (who was appointed by Netanyahu and served as his cabinet secretary) to decide whether or not to indict.

It should be noted that there is no time limit for reaching that decision, which is widely expected to take up to a year — even though the Attorney General has been closely involved in the investigation all along and certainly could, if he was inclined, make a decision in a matter of days or weeks.

There are two other recent developments that highlight Netanyahu/Trump similarities.

First, to shore up support among his base, Netanyahu began implementing his policy of trying to expel the African migrants who have been living here for 5-10 years. Of course, akin to Trump, Netanyahu continuously speaks out about these migrants, using derogatory terminology such as calling them “infiltrators.”

In one final irony, it should be noted that less than two years ago, Netanyahu whimsically proposed that Israel bring back the tradition of conducting an annual military parade, a practice which Israel gave up soon after the Six Day War, after which, showing off Israel’s military strength seemed a waste of time and energy.

Netanyahu received little, or no support for his idea, which he had hoped to implement for this year’s 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence. As a result, he was forced to drop it.

So far, Trump’s parade remains in the cards.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.

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