It is dismaying how much Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are alike. That was the main theme at the 10th anniversary conference of J Street — the progressive U.S. Jewish Middle East lobby — according to Ron Kampeas, a correspondent for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a news service for Jewish community newspapers. He said there were “repeated and unflattering comparisons of the two leaders” by conference speakers.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, was the keynote speaker. She said, “We are here to call out — and to change — a right-wing, populist government, with a leader who thrives on hatred and division, who mocks and attacks the press, and who sees the strangers among us as a danger to be feared and mistreated, not as fellow humans.”
She paused. “Hmm… about which country am I speaking?” she asked as the audience laughed. “The truth is that Israel beat us to it, with a right-wing leadership years before we had Donald Trump, before right-wing populists captured leadership in Europe, but here we are — the similarities are abundant.”
In my research, I found unnerving similarities. Like Trump, Netanyahu is enmeshed in a number of scandals. He responds by saying that he is completely innocent and he attacks individual reporters who write stories about the scandals. He claims that virtually all of Israeli mainstream print and broadcast media are “fake news” and “liars.” He communicates with his followers via Facebook.
Meanwhile, U.S. casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson publishes two popular free newspapers in Israel, which are mouthpieces for Netanyahu. Adelson is a major Trump supporter and GOP mega-donor. In Israel, he bankrolls Netanyahu and the far right.
Like Trump, Netanyahu claims he is the victim of a plot by his nation’s “deep state” after members of the national security elite have criticized him from the left. In his case, the “deep state” criticizes him for opposing the Iran nuclear deal and for subverting a two-state solution.
Writing in Politico in July 2016, Amir Tibon noted: “The Jewish state’s top generals, spymasters and intelligence chiefs have been the fiercest and most outspoken critics of Netanyahu’s policies over the years; unlike in most Western democracies, where the military is usually considered more hawkish than the civilian leadership, in Netanyahu’s Israel, it’s usually been the other way around. Out of the 17 most senior security and intelligence chiefs who have worked directly with Netanyahu during his time in office, no fewer than 13 have strongly criticized his flagship policies or the direction in which he is leading the country (of the four that haven’t, two are currently still in office).”
Then there’s bizarre conspiracy-mongering in Israel, which is worthy of Trump’s friend and Infowars radio host, Alex Jones, who claimed that the 2012 mass shooting of 20 little kids and six adult staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut was a “false flag” intelligence hoax designed to promote gun control legislation. The kids were supposedly child actors and are still alive.
Recently Michael Oren, Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, admitted that he had opened a formal government investigation of a family of Palestinian activists because he believes they aren’t a real family but a company of actors. This assertion is based upon an internet conspiracy theory which claims that all video of Israeli soldiers abusing Palestinians is staged fiction.
Oren was responding to a storm of international outrage caused by the arrest of a 16-year-old Palestinian girl named Ahed Tamini who was filmed by her mother slapping an Israeli soldier outside their home in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.
Oren thinks it’s suspicious that Ahed is fair-skinned and has long blonde hair. He said the Tamimi family is “not genuine, and was specially put together for propaganda” purposes. He said, “The Tamimi family and those claiming to be part of the Tamimi family have been provoking Israeli soldiers for many, many years now. The children were chosen on the basis of their external look, to look Western, freckled and blond-haired.”
He called their jeans and T-shirts “a real costume. American dress in every respect, not Palestinian, with backward baseball caps. Even Europeans don’t wear backward baseball caps.”
Oren, who was born and raised in the United States, said he and his staff called the Tamimis the “Brady Bunch” after the 1970s situation comedy because “that wasn’t a real family; they were actors.”
No one asked Oren if he thought that Ahed’s 15-year-old cousin Muhammad was performing in a play when he was shot in the face with a rubber bullet by an Israeli soldier during an anti-occupation protest.
Ahed had just heard about the shooting when she slapped the soldier.
Muhammad’s skull was shattered and he required emergency surgery in which part of his skull was temporarily removed.The Israeli military interrogated Mohammad and coerced him into saying he got his head injury after falling off of a bicycle. Major General Yoav Mordecai posted Mohammad’s “confession” on his Facebook page. However, the Tamimi family quickly released X-rays, footage and hospital records that showed that Mohammad was shot, forcing the military to retract.
Ahed is now serving eight months in prison for the slapping incident. Amnesty International has said: “In detention, she endured aggressive interrogations, sometimes at night, and threats made against her family. There is nothing Ahed Tamimi has done that can justify the continuing detention of a 16-year-old child.”
At the very least, Ahed should be freed immediately. But Netanyahu and Trump must also be confronted over their attempts to destroy the Iran nuclear deal and to sabotage a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.