Benjamin Netanyahu & Donald Trump: A tale of two political hearings

Netanyahu and Trump both find themselves facing trials by their critics

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House last year (photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA)
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House last year
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump already had plenty in common.
They already had similar views about Iran and the wider Middle East. They both use their adversarial relationship with the press to unite their political base. And they both have had a complicated relationship with women, including cheating on their third wife while pregnant.
Netanyahu and Trump have also learned political tactics from each other. The latest example has been Netanyahu speaking with a background of diverse, applauding supporters behind him at his political events. Signs hoisted in the crowd have even had slogans copied from the Trump campaign.
Even their gaffes have been similar. Netanyahu had to apologize after making fun of Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s stuttering, much like Trump got in trouble for mocking a reporter with a disability in November 2015.
The next political challenge that Netanyahu will share with Trump is that, starting on Tuesday, he will face hearings in the Knesset on his request for immunity from prosecution that will be remarkably similar to Trump’s impeachment hearings in the Senate which began this week.
Both hearings are taking place during an election period and are being used to make a point to the public, in an effort to humiliate and defeat powerful incumbents. In both, the politicians formally become judges, with statutory responsibilities.
Just like Trump was abroad at the World Economic Forum when his hearing began, Netanyahu could be in Washington for the unveiling of Trump’s Middle East peace plan when his hearing begins next week.
They also have in common that the votes are such a foregone conclusion that the hearings themselves are practically a waste of time. There is no majority for impeaching Trump in the Senate, where the vote will go along party lines, just like in the Knesset, where the majority against immunity has been clear since Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman switched sides.
But the two hearings are also very different procedurally. While Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar is threatening a boycott of all coalition MKs, in the Senate all senators must attend and sit silently for several hours a day without touching their cellphones.
Unlike the spectacle expected in the Knesset, the hearings in Washington are filmed only by the Senate’s camera, which show the speaker and no reactions of anyone else in the room. Cameras from the press are barred, which has lowered the ratings of the hearings.
Zohar said a decision will be made on Sunday about whether to boycott the proceedings. By law, his MKs have to attend 50% of the hearings or they cannot vote. If Netanyahu decides on a boycott, it could be a sign that Netanyahu will withdraw the immunity request before the vote takes place.
“I don’t want to participate in a farce and political circus that goes against all tradition of never using the Knesset during the recess to help election campaigns,” Zohar said.
He said the hearings of Netanyahu and Trump are “very similar.”
“They are both doing strange things against current leaders because the leaders are too strong to defeat among the people,” Zohar said. “Neither hearing will succeed. They won’t gain in any way. Here and there, the public is smarter, and they can sense when there is legal persecution of a worthy leader who is serving the public well.”
Zohar laughed when asked whether MKs can remain silent for hours. He lamented that Israel has not adopted the Senate’s idea of limiting filming of the hearings to official cameras and used strong language to describe what could happen to Netanyahu.
“Why give them a chance to crucify the prime minister?” he said. “He has become a sacrificial lamb, and this is unreasonable for a man who has devoted his life to serving Israel.”
Netanyahu has followed in the footsteps of Trump by slamming the man who will head the hearing, Blue and White faction chairman and soon-to-be Knesset House Committee chairman Avi Nissenkorn. He did not go quite as far as Trump, of course.
Trump slammed representatives Adam Schiff and Jerrold Nadler, the House impeachment managers prosecuting the case against him, as “sleazebags” at a press conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday. Trump even broke his record, tweeting 131 times that day.
Sounding similar to Netanyahu’s mantra “there won’t be anything, because there isn’t anything,” Trump said: “It’s a total hoax. It’s a disgrace. They talked about their tremendous case and it’s all done.”
In his speech at the Likud’s opening rally at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on Tuesday night, Netanyahu said Nissenkorn was in favor of the economic policies of the Histadrut labor federation he headed instead of a free market. He also said Nissenkorn would have kept the natural gas Israel started exporting last week in the Mediterranean Sea.
Netanyahu was in a particularly good mood at the event, after the Likud replaced its jingle when the prime minister entered the room with the song “Eye of the Tiger” by the rock band that could be named after Netanyahu, Survivor.
Nissenkorn responded by promising that his hearings would be conducted fairly and professionally. His spokesman said he actually would fit better in the calm and orderly hearings in Washington.
“Avi is more of a senator than a Knesset member,” he said.
Besides being Jewish lawyers who became politicians, Nissenkorn could not be more different from Schiff, who has become public enemy number one of House Republicans. Schiff parodied Trump in his statement at a hearing in September, an act Nissenkorn says he will not follow.
“There are clear guidelines for running the hearing and we will abide by them,” Nissenkorn said. “We will hear all sides, and Netanyahu himself has a right to come if he wants. Netanyahu and I have very different political views but we will do this professionally.”
Asked how his hearing will be different than the one in Washington, he said he respected the way it has been handled in the Senate. 
“There it has been organized and it will be here, too,” he said. “We are getting ready for the deliberations. We will do it comprehensively and intensively over the next two weeks and it can be over. We will get it done before the elections.”