Is Netanyahu dumping Trump? – opinion

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With reporters and cameras in the Oval Office, Trump confidently used his speaker phone to call the man who has called him “the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.”

U.S. President Donald Trump is seen on the phone with leaders of Israel and Sudan. (photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA)

U.S. President Donald Trump is seen on the phone with leaders of Israel and Sudan.

(photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu better hope Joe Biden wins next week’s election, because he just humiliated a man notorious for holding grudges a long time, seething with resentment and relishing striking back at those who offended him.

US President Donald Trump phoned the Israeli prime minister last week looking for his usual obsequious praise, this time for the Israel-Sudan normalization deal, and an endorsement for his reelection. The two men had traded endorsements before, and this time Trump was in trouble and needed all the help he could get.

Trump also knew that Netanyahu and former US vice president Joe Biden had clashed in the past, and this was the Israeli leader’s chance to get back for past grievances (a Trump specialty).

With reporters and cameras in the Oval Office, Trump confidently used his speaker phone to call the man who has called him “the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.”

“Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal, Bibi, Sleepy Joe? Do you think he would have made this deal? Somehow I don’t think so,” Trump said

The pause was deafening. Netanyahu, caught off-guard, hesitated as Trump just stared at his clasped hands waiting for a reply. And when it came, it was a generic thank you to “America.”

“We appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America,” Netanyahu said, adding, almost as an afterthought, “and we appreciate what you’ve done enormously.”

That must have stung; Trump doesn’t like being compared to “anyone.”

I wonder if the PM got an angry call afterward from his and Trump’s billionaire benefactor, Sheldon Adelson, because at a press conference the following day, Netanyahu thanked “Trump and his team” after first thanking the leaders of Uganda and Sudan for their contributions to the normalization agreement.

Netanyahu, who is more fluent in many more languages than Trump, including English, has no doubt seen the writing on the wall, and in both directions it says Joe Biden has a good chance of becoming the next US president.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been doing some of that writing on the wall himself, also took a slap at Trump this week when he exonerated the Bidens, declaring, “I don’t see anything criminal” about any business Hunter Biden might have done in Russia or Ukraine. Trump’s hysterical accusations of a Biden family criminal conspiracy, fed by a deranged Rudy Giuliani, have been crumbling.

The US poll numbers Netanyahu has been reading show not only that Republicans could be in for a drubbing (I stopped making predictions after I said Hillary Clinton was a sure thing four years ago), but Jewish voters are once again expected to vote three-to-one Democratic.

Trump and a Republican Congress were Netanyahu’s protection in the past. No foreign leader has embraced Trump and the GOP more tightly than this Israeli premier.

Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, once boasted, “There’s not much daylight between Netanyahu and Republicans.”

Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of the leftist J Street, agreed, saying, “Netanyahu is essentially an Israeli Republican.” Netanyahu himself once told an interviewer, “I speak colloquial Republican.”

NETANYAHU HAS largely been deaf to the voices of the Diaspora, relying on his American upbringing and accent, the loyalty of American Jewish leaders of his aging generation, the money of pro-Israel PACs and his own Republican preferences. He’s been silent when Trump invokes the antisemitic trope of accusing American Jews of dual-loyalty, referring to Netanyahu as “your prime minister” and Israel as “your country.”

Netanyahu’s disturbing reluctance to respond to such attacks may be attributed to fear of offending the notoriously thin-skinned president with the voracious ego.

No one has done more to drive a wedge between mainstream American Jewry and Israel. His tight embrace of Trump and the religious Right (in both countries), his plunge into partisan American politics and his attacks on the Obama-Biden administration have helped push support for Israel down on the list of policy priorities for American Jews.

At the same time, the growing influence of the Democrats’ progressive wing has moved the party farther from lockstep support for the pro-Israel agenda, at least as interpreted by AIPAC.

Even if Netanyahu endorsed Biden today, which he won’t, there is little or no chance he can win back the lost support. That must start with new leadership and new policies in Israel, and that is for Israeli voters to decide, not the Americans.

In the meantime, Netanyahu must work hard to repair ties to the Democrats and Biden – if he becomes the next president – that he damaged not just during the eight years of the Obama administration but dating back to Biden’s days as a Senate leader in foreign policy.

Under Netanyahu’s leadership, Israel has become a more partisan issue than in the 1960s and 1970s when Republicans consistently voted against foreign aid and in favor of arms sales to Israel’s enemies.

The policy decisions that Republicans insist prove Trump’s pro-Israel credentials – moving the embassy, recognizing Golan Heights annexation, tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, sanctioning settlements, deals with Gulf Arabs – were not done for Jewish votes (money, yes) but to please the president’s critical white Evangelical base. He said so himself: They were “for the Evangelicals,” who, he complained, “are more excited” than the unappreciative Jews.

Netanyahu’s abandonment of traditional bipartisanship in US-Israel relations leads many Democrats to see him as the Israeli Trump; he has burned too many bridges. Don’t forget that every administration brings in its own definition of the “special relationship” and the “qualitative military edge.” And it can be very flexible, as 21 presidents have demonstrated.

The Israeli government has much work ahead rebuilding relations with Washington if Biden and the Democrats prevail next week. Netanyahu is not the man for that job. Choosing Israel’s leaders is a job for Israel’s voters, who often rank stewardship of the American alliance a leading priority.

Democrats won’t turn against Israel, but there will be serious trust problems for a Netanyahu government. Don’t look for him to be one of the first foreign leaders invited to meet the new president.

If Trump defies the odds and wins, he will remain an angry and aggrieved man who relishes punching back at those he feels offended him. The best hope right now, particularly for Israel, is that Bibi focuses on his corruption trial and staying out of jail as he joins his pal Donald in an early return to private life.

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