10 Mar

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


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World Politics

United States

Opinion: Meet Donald Trump’s twin: Benjamin Netanyahu

The embattled Israeli prime minister clings on to power despite being mired in scandal. Just like the man in the White House


Netanyahu: A congenital liar, even other heads of state say he is. But not Trump the Dump. A nasty piece of work, who closest allies are base criminals. Outside of lying, he simply lines his pockets and those of his family. He’s ugly. He’s vain. He rules over a country that has been losing the respect of the rest of world, every year, for decades. His country has a very small, informed liberal section and a significant percentage of extreme, borderline fascist, nutcases that live under the values of the 16th century.

Netanyahu is Trump the Dump’s Idol.

The McGlynn


Each day brings a scandalous new revelation as investigators probe deep into the affairs of the leader and his inner circle. The inquiries range across multiple fronts, tangling politics and business and involving both the top man’s closest aides and his immediate family. On a really big news day, the investigative authorities announce they’ve arranged a plea bargain with one of the key players, coaxing them to turn state’s witness against the man they once served so loyally.

In response, the leader resorts to social media to denounce his tormentors, claiming a witch-hunt by once-trusted institutions – the media and the courts, even the attorney general he himself appointed – and casting himself as the victim of a liberal establishment that hates him and his supporters. To his opponents’ despair, the ploy seems to work. The base stays with him. Despite everything, his poll numbers hold firm. But still, day after day, the legal net tightens.

If that fairly sums up the situation of Donald Trump, it also works for the man the US president greeted so warmly in the Oval Office this week: his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu. The two posed for pictures in matching dark suits and blue ties, flanked by their wives who also seemed to be colour-coordinated. Bibi and the Donald: they could almost be twins.

I’ve spent a week in Israel and the West Bank, speaking to politicians, diplomats and decades-long observers of Netanyahu, and the parallels are starting to look uncanny. While special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russia affair has expanded into a wider exploration of Trumpworld, so Israel’s prime minister faces a police inquiry into no fewer than four separate allegations of serious corruption, each one helpfully numbered.

Case 1000 centres on allegations of old-fashioned bribery: gifts of cigars, champagne and the like to Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, from a pair of billionaire businessmen who, the PM admits, he helped out, including on “tax issues”. Case 2000 alleges that Netanyahu sought to cook up a deal by which he would use the law to hurt one newspaper in order to boost the economic fortunes of its rival, in return for warm coverage from the latter.

Case 4000 is similar, an offer to a media tycoon to ensure state policy favourable to his telecoms company, in return for positive coverage of Netanyahu from a news website owned by the magnate. What could prove most serious is Case 3000, which accuses some of Netanyahu’s most trusted consiglieri of fraudulently profiting from Israel’s purchase of submarines from a German company. (The PM is not yet officially a suspect in the submarine affair, but as Aluf Benn, editor of the liberal daily Ha’aretz, told me, this threatens Netanyahu most because it touches on the military and national security – areas Israelis regard as “sacred”.)

For most politicians, a war on so many fronts would be overwhelming. And the Israeli press has indeed started to speak of the prime minister in a kind of conditional past tense, assessing the speeches he made this week in Washington as his last “before he embarks on the next phase of his career: as a defendant”. But such obituaries might just be premature.

Those poll numbers, which still show his Likud party on top, are the least of it. Even his most bitter critics admit that Netanyahu dominates the political landscape, dwarfing all his rivals both inside and outside his party. In the PM’s chair for nine years, and having held that post for three years in the 1990s, he is the country’s longest-serving leader since its founder, David Ben-Gurion. Israelis now struggle to picture anyone else in the role.

While outsiders see a terrible stasis, if not paralysis, with the occupation now in its 52nd year and the conflict with the Palestinians as far away from resolution as ever, most Israelis see stability, relative prosperity and, above all, quiet. Military funerals have become a rarity; people board Tel Aviv buses or sit in Jerusalem cafes without first calculating the odds of a suicide bombing. For this, they credit – even grudgingly and without affection – the man who offers himself as Mr Security.

He also benefits from the fact that so many of the scandals’ juiciest details relate not to him but his wife. Stories of her taste for luxury or her screaming fits as she demands more flattering treatment in the papers have turned her into a Marie-Antoinette-meets-Lady-Macbeth villain, a rod for lightning that would otherwise strike her husband.

But it’s his Trumpian qualities that are most striking. Trump was born into serious money, while Bibi was educated in a series of prestige institutions. Yet both pose as the plucky champion of the excluded, persecuted by the same permanent, snooty elite that has kept the little guy down for so long. “We are being attacked all the time, every minute and every hour,” Netanyahu complained on Thursday. “Listen to Israeli citizens who support us and who want justice.”

Both men rely on those most powerful fuels: fear and hate. While Trump regularly points an accusing finger at African Americans, whether athletes or war widows, Netanyahu knows how to play on Jewish Israeli fears of Palestinians, and not just those in the West Bank and Gaza but those who are fellow citizens living inside pre-1967 Israel. They have not forgotten how he won the 2015 election, by issuing a last-minute alert to his base that Arab voters were flocking to the polls “in droves”. In 2016, he hinted that a series of devastating forest fires in the north could be the handiwork of “elements with great hostility towards Israel”: code for Arabs.

Above all, what Trump and Bibi share is a toxic combination of selfishness and shamelessness. Trump thinks nothing of taking to Twitter to slam the FBI or the justice department, even if that means breaking Americans’ trust in vital institutions. All that matters is his own immediate self-interest. Netanyahu prefers posting videos on Facebook to tweeting, but the targets – and the effects – are the same.

It’s no good pointing out that Netanyahu helped dislodge his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, a decade ago by solemnly declaring that a prime minister under suspicion of corruption could not make vital decisions of state. Just as it’s futile reminding Trump of his “lock her up” claims against Hillary Clinton. Both are brazenly incapable of embarrassment. They are without shame.

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National Rifle Association attempts to block state from raising rifle-buying age, saying it violates second amendment

rick scott

Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, called the bill ‘an example to the country that government can, and has, moved fast’. Photograph: Mark Wallheiser/AP

The National Rifle Association (NRA) filed a federal lawsuit over gun control legislation on Friday, just hours after Florida’s governor Rick Scott signed it into law.

Lawyers for the NRA want a federal judge to block the new age-restriction on buying a gun – raised to 21 from 18 – from taking effect, saying it violates the second amendment.

The new legislation raises the minimum age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21, extends a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns, and bans bump stocks that allow guns to mimic fully automatic fire. It also creates a so-called “guardian” program that enables teachers and other school employees to carry handguns.

The new measures come in the wake of the 14 February shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead. The 19-year-old gunman used a legally purchased assault rifle to attack the school, which had expelled him.

On Friday afternoon, Florida’s governor, flanked by family members of students who were killed in the massacre, signed the $400m bill that tightens gun laws in the state. It represents a compromise that Scott, a Republican, said balanced “our individual rights with need for public safety”.

“It’s an example to the entire country that government can, and has, moved fast,” he said.

The bill is not what many of the survivors of the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, wanted, which was a blanket ban on assault weapons for the general public.

But it marked, for a Republican governor, a rare break with the National Rifle Association. Marion Hammer, the NRA’s Florida lobbyist, called the bill “a display of bullying and coercion”.

Scott had been opposed to the idea of arming teachers, promoted by Donald Trump in emotional White House meetings with the bereaved after the shooting. Scott said he was not convinced about that part of the bill.

“I’m glad, however, the plan is not mandatory,” he said. “If counties don’t want to do this, they can simply say no.”

The NRA’s Chris Cox said the bill punishes law-abiding gun owners for the criminal acts of a “deranged individual”.

“Securing our schools and protecting the constitutional rights of Americans are not mutually exclusive,” he said.

Student activists called the legislation “a baby step”.

“Obviously, this is what we’ve been fighting for. It’s nowhere near the long-term solution,” said Chris Grady, a senior at the school and an organizer of a rally against gun violence planned for 24 March in Washington, called March for our Lives.

“It’s a baby step, but a huge step at the same time. Florida hasn’t passed any legislation like this in God knows how long.”

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Bishops make forceful intervention as Irish parliament begins to debate referendum bill

An anti-abortion protester in Northern Ireland in 2012

An anti-abortion protester in Northern Ireland in 2012. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The Catholic church in Ireland has called on its followers to vote against liberalising the country’s strict anti-abortion laws in a referendum in May, in its most forceful intervention yet in the debate.

As the Irish parliament began to debate a referendum bill, the bishops called on Catholics to “work actively” to resist change.

Under the terms of a bill agreed by the government on Thursday, voters will be asked in May whether they want to repeal the eighth amendment, which was inserted into the constitution in 1983 and gives unborn foetuses and pregnant women an equal right to life, effectively enshrining a ban on abortion.

The government says that if the yes vote wins it will push legislation through parliament later this year to allow abortions to be carried out up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.

The bishops said in a statement: “We believe that the deletion or amendment of this article can have no other effect than to expose unborn children to greater risk and that it would not bring about any benefit for the life or health of women in Ireland.

“We encourage you, therefore, as members of the human family, to work actively towards keeping the right to life in the constitution, in the name of equality, fairness and compassion for all.”

Currently, terminations are allowed only when the life of the mother is at risk, and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.

On the subject of women and girls who become pregnant through sexual violence, the bishops said: “A child conceived following rape is also a person. He or she has rights, including that most fundamental of all rights, the right to life … these children are innocent and they are entitled to the best support and care that we can provide.”

Ireland’s health minister, Simon Harris, said on Friday that a yes vote in May would represent a “quantum leap from our position today, where we have one of the most restrictive regimes, similar to Saudi Arabia.”

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