As American voters in the United States and around the world sat glued to news on televisions and computer screens, wondering who would be their next president, and how the future would be affected by who would sit in the White House for the next four years, Israeli politicians also were watching and worrying.
And perhaps no one should be worrying more about his political future, now that President Donald Trump has lost his bid for a second term than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Nov. 5 – two days after the Nov. 3 elections, with the poll results of at least five states representing 68 electoral votes still outstanding, Zman Yisrael, a Hebrew-language news website, quoted unnamed Likud Party officials as saying that a loss by Trump in the Nov. 3 election “could impact Netanyahu badly.”
Opponents of the current prime minister will recall that Netanyahu “severed ties with the Democrats” and that Israel will now pay the price because he “gambled on the wrong horse,” the officials of the political party led by Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu deserves to pay a price, regardless of who was elected the next United States president. And with Biden in the White House that price could be high.
Never has an Israeli prime minister so obviously taken sides in a foreign country’s election. And even more than that, allowed himself to be used by that candidate for his own dog-and-pony show.
Netanyahu even jumped on an airplane the week before this country completely shut down due to the second wave of the coronavirus in order to participate – without a mask and without subsequent quarantine, as required here – in a White House signing ceremony for the Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The ceremony was designed to curry favor with Evangelical Christians, Trump’s base of support. And Netanyahu decided to go himself, and not send his foreign minister as the Arab countries did, in order to raise his profile with both Trump and his supporters here in Israel. Weeks later, Trump would catch the coronavirus at a similar gathering at the White House.
But meanwhile, Netanyahu appeared to be reveling in his physical closeness to the U.S. president, which put his wannabe, mini-me Trump syndrome on display for everyone to see.
One has only to look at Netanyahu’s social media feed to feel his Trumpian tendencies. Can you even count how many times our prime minister has used the term “fake news”?
Trump, the article in Zman Yisrael also pointed out, coordinated his major changes in U.S. policy vis a vis Israel with recent Israeli elections. He recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel a month before national elections in April 2019 and less than a year earlier had moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, a powerful boost for Netanyahu. The Trump administration released the so-called “plan of the century” to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians ahead of the March 2020 election.
What rabbit will Trump be able to pull out of his hat for early elections likely to be held here in Israel early next year? Especially since he probably will be dragged kicking and screaming out of the White House on Jan. 20.
And will he even want to, because Trump is all about having a transactional relationship, and Netanyahu may have recently fallen short. On the heels of last month’s announcement by the U.S. that Sudan would recognize Israel – less than two weeks before the U.S. election and a blatant attempt by Trump to curry favor with Israel supporters in the U.S. electorate – Netanyahu slipped up. In a congratulatory telephone call to Netanyahu about the normalization of relations with Sudan, Trump asked him if he thought that “Sleepy Joe” – the president’s nickname for Democratic rival and former Vice President Joe Biden – would have achieved a similar result.
“One thing I can tell you is that we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America, and we appreciate what you’ve done enormously,” Netanyahu told Trump in the call, broadcast live on speaker phone to the White House reporters in the room. Netanyahu, commendably trying to walk a fine line between Trump and Biden, was not effusive enough to satisfy Trump.
In a Nov. 8 morning tweet, Netanyahu congratulated Biden and called him a “great friend of Israel.” In a separate tweet, he thanked Trump “for the friendship you have shown the state of Israel and me personally.”
Netanyahu appears to be actively working to prevent rival and alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz from assuming the premiership one year from now, as provided for in the coalition agreement between the Likud and Blue and White parties. He would achieve this by preventing the passing of a state budget. If national budgets for 2020 and 2021 are not passed before Dec. 23, the Knesset will automatically dissolve and Israel will go to its fourth elections in one-and-a-half years.
But will the Israeli voters keep Netanyahu in office once Trump is out of the White House and if he is at odds with a Biden administration over such issues as the Iran nuclear deal?
Netanyahu has been a disappointment to many of us in recent years, from his indictment – and now trial – on corruption charges in three cases against him, to his blatant attempts to screw over his government coalition partners.
And his desire to hitch his wagon to Trump’s political star has been the biggest disappointment of all. By throwing in his lot with one political party over another, he endangers us when that party is out. And the U.S. government is much larger than just its president.
Once the U.S. election results are finally in, it is time for us Israelis to turn our attention to our country’s leader.
Marcy Oster is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Karnei Shomron, West Bank. To read more of Oster’s columns, visit cjn.org/oster.