Leaders under siege: Trump and Netanyahu battle for their political lives

The president and the prime minister have both chosen a strategy that bypasses attorneys and the courts.

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk to the Oval Office on March 5, 2018 (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk to the Oval Office on March 5, 2018
THE PRESIDENT of the United States, Donald Trump and the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, are each in the midst of a battle for their political lives. It is a legal battle that can determine the legacy of their political reigns. On the one hand, the noose is tightening around the neck of President Trump as the investigation of Russian interference in the American election continues by special prosecutor Robert Mueller.
The Democrats, who have regained a majority in the House but lost the Senate, used the crisis to gain political leverage in the midterm elections, essentially turning them into a trial of the president. Across the ocean, Benjamin Netanyahu is being investigated for corruption and breach of public trust by the Israel Police and by his own appointee to the office of Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit.
The president and the prime minister have both chosen a strategy that bypasses attorneys and the courts. It involves rallying the citizens of their respective countries, in particular their base, who are frustrated by their country’s legal institutions and those they view as the “elite.” In the short term, it may prove effective for each leader, but in the long run, the very essence of Israeli and American democracy may be facing collateral damage.
At first, Mueller’s investigation did not seem to pinpoint Trump. Reports of his son and son-in-law meeting with Russian officials to gather dirt on his opponent, candidate Hillary Clinton, were dismissed by the president. The media had more to speculate about than hard facts to report. It has been reported that at that time, Trump’s legal team, led by two of Washington’s top legal advocates, John Dowd and Ty Cobb, advised the president to employ the “get-along strategy.” This involved being non-confrontational, refraining from tweeting and allowing the legal team to run the negotiations. Things changed while Trump was in England on a diplomatic trip. A press conference, headed by deputy prosecutor Rosenstein presented compelling evidence, gathered by the FBI and the Mueller team, of Russian interference in the US election.
Reports of subpoenas being served to close allies and business associates of Trump were followed by a search of the apartment of one of Trump’s closest confidants, Michael Cohen. The president went on the offensive, having learned in business that the best defense is an offense.
The two attorneys resigned and were replaced by Rudy Giuliani, not just a brilliant legal mind, but also a politician who understands the frustrations of right-wing Americans. These people were rallied, taking the fight out of the courtroom.
The similarity between Netanyahu and Trump is glaring. Netanyahu is under investigation regarding inappropriate intervention in the Israeli media, including promoting laws to benefit newspapers that would give him positive coverage. Other investigations involve inappropriate gifts. Though America has more sensation and drama, Netanyahu has adopted many of the same tactics as Trump.
The prime minister of Israel has rallied his supporters particularly in the periphery of Israel who feel disenfranchised. He has brought together his party in anger and rhetoric that looks like the Siamese twin of what is being done in America. “A witch hunt,” he called it in one of his rallies. He attacks the media, claiming that the investigations are pushed by a frustrated elite who have found no other way to dethrone him except by harassing him with numerous investigations.
Does this sound familiar to you reading this in America? What is democracy? This question has been asked by philosophers throughout history.
Aristotle believed the masses were not intelligent enough to run the country. Later came philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu and others, who believed in a social contract between political leaders and the people.
Both the president and the prime minister have legitimate complaints.
They both have been unfairly treated by the press and sometimes even by the legal elite of their countries. However, history may not forgive leaders who threw their personal matters into the national arena and in the process endangered delicate institutions and disparaged the essential role that civil servants play in our democracy. America and Israel seemingly are growing closer. I hope it is because of mutual interests and shared moral values.
Perhaps though what binds these two leaders is not only their love for their countries, but similar battles being fought with similar tactics.
Israel’s prime minister has tried to present those who oppose his tactics as either his longstanding political rivals or as belonging to the political left wing of Israel. Mr. Prime Minister, the first time I voted, I was a soldier with a high fever in an open field on an army base in the north of Israel. When I insisted on exercising my right to vote, and to vote for you, before being evacuated for medical care, I did so because I believe passionately in the democratic process. I respect you as a defender of Israel and liberator of its economy. But when it comes to tactics, and the way you are fighting your legal battle, I beg you to find role models and teachers other than Donald Trump.
The writer is co-founder of Speakup, a public speaking and political consulting firm