Tel Aviv Diary: Netanyahu Borrows Freely from the Trump Playbook

On Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held his second rally this month, mobilizing Likud activists.

The gathering, which was ostensibly in honor of the Jewish New Year which falls in three weeks, was a show of support for Netanyahu in response to the continued investigations into his conduct as prime minister.

Netanyahu once again borrowed a newly imported phrase from Donald Trump, repeatedly attacking the “Fake News industry” that singles him out for attack. “Fake news” is the latest  set of words imported into the Israeli lexicon, this time, not by popular culture, but by the prime minister.  

Netanyahu adopted another act from the Trump playbook when he asked the assembled loyalists why police were not investigating other politicians for the acts of which he was accused?

Unfortunately, Netanyahu had not taught the crowd to behave like Trump supporters, so there were no calls from the crowds to “Lock them up.” There was, however, continued booing from the crowd every time Netanyahu referred to the “fake new media.”

Netanyahu’s actions mimic Trump in another way, i.e., granting interviews only to Israel’s newest news outlet, News 20 (a right wing TV station that is even more monolithic in its support for Netanyahu than Fox News is in support of Trump).

Trump and Netanyahu have both chosen the same political path — reach out to your base.  Almost every action by both Netanyahu and Trump in the past few weeks, and even months, seems to have one thing in common — they are unapologetically designed to please their base, with no attempt to reach out to the rest of the electorate.

GettyImages-687249136 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on May 23, 2017 in Jerusalem, Israel. Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty

Netanyahu and Trump also share one additional common denominator — they share the same mega-donor, American casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson. Netanyahu gains his greatest support from Adelson's ownership of Yisrael Hayom (a free Israeli daily paper, with the country’s largest circulation); a newspaper which Adelson established largely to support Netanyahu. Adelson has also been Trump's largest donor.  

While last night's rally was similar in many ways to the rallies held by Trump, there are three key differences.

First, Netanyahu was talking to the party faithful, who have rallied around the prime minster. The morning after the rally, MK Benny Begin (the son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin) explained why he did not attend by saying he heard the Likud had a new value —i.e., loyalty to the leader — something he found unacceptable.

When Trump attends his rallies, they are not packed with party loyalists but, rather, frequented by those who have developed a personal loyalty to the president.

Second, while Trump has been steadily losing support in the polls, (with a majority finding him to be an embarrassment as president), Netanyahu has continued to lead all potential opposition candidates in poll after poll — and has shown no sign of losing electoral support.

Third, though many oppose Netanyahu's policies, almost no one questions his competence to govern.

At the same time, at least two of the cases against the prime minister seem very advanced, with two former government officials agreeing to become state's witnesses. In both of the aforementioned cases, the first involving the receipt of gifts valued at hundreds of thousand of shekels, and the second involving an attempt to illegally influence the newspaper Yediot Ahronot , Netanyahu’s defenders have not been denying the allegations.

Instead, they have been saying that others have done it before and that his actions do not rise to the level warranting the removal of a prime minister.

A Finnish friend living in Israel turned to me this morning and asked, “How did you get yourself such a leader?”

I turned back and asked,”Which leader?”

She laughed and said, “I guess both.”

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.

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