Trump’s and Netanyahu’swalls

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 Trump’s barriers needn’t coincide with Netanyahu’s. The isolationism of the US does not necessarily work in favour of the Jerusalem stronghold.   


The right wing has been in power in Israel for 20 years now, attempting to dismantle the humanist/socialist Zionism of Ben Gurion(upon which the State of Israel was built) by replacing it with a Zionism driven by ethnic identity.While this battle rages on, the eyes of analysts, spectators and political players are all trained on the United States. What is true for the West as a whole is even more so for Israel: what happens in the US has systemic effects on the ethos and management of Western civilisation as well as the domestic politics of each individual Western nation.

The relationship with the US president is thus a very demanding and significant test for any Israeli prime minister.After all, the US-Israel relationshipisvery significant in international affairs, far beyond the newly-elected President Trump and the understandable gossip related to such a still-undefinedactor(at least in terms of his foreign policy). The dossier of bilateral relationsbetween the two countriesis crucial to those in the Western camp because it is bound up with the thorny issue of the Palestinian people, as well as regional concerns linked to jihadi terrorism, the war on IS and relations with Iran.

The governing Jewish right wing in Israel was rather rash to welcome Trump’s election with jubilation and hope for a lasting mandate. They praised his vision of the Middle East and approach to relations with Iran.After all,these issues havebeen the identity watershed in the West for the past twenty years. Trump appears to want to interrupt the current narrative, and return to a neocon vision of Iran as an existential enemy (rather than a rival in negotiations) and Islam as an “adversarial” religion. A return to an oppositional relationshipfinds deep right-wing support because it is the crucial first step in developing a collective identity (creating an external “out group” capable of generating internal solidarity).Thus right-wing political actors hope to return to the post-9/11 neoconservative agenda promoted by George W. Bush.He adopted a neo-imperialist vision of the US, employing terminology borrowedoffBenjamin Netanyahu, morally dividing the world into “good and evil”, or “light and shadows”.

Within this narrative,global jihadi terrorism was born out of the shadows of Islam, and the only remedy is to export our democracy;the root of all evil isnot “failed states”, but rather “rogues states” (particularly if they are Muslim). The unrealistic and dogmatic nature of this ideology, particularly as it played out in Iraq, ultimately lost its appeal forthe American people, who voted against it in 2008 by choosing the presidential candidate who had more clearly opposed not so much war per se, but rather “that war”. Obama used his mandate to initiate a new, pragmatic ‘contagement’  (containment backed by engagement)strategy, which attempted to contain enemies with whom negotiations were not possible (such as Islamic radicals) while engaging with actors like Iran, who wererecastfrom being existential enemies to rival negotiators. The ultimate success of this approach was sanctioned with thefinalisation of the nuclear deal with Iran.

But Obama’slegacyisbeing brushed aside, and the Israeli right wing believes that it will now have greater international influence. Plans are being made to move with greater resolve and impetus along the road towards an illiberal and ethnic Zionism, a push that is currently embodied in the many laws and draft bills being discussed or approved in the Knesset.

But these right-wing hopes may be met with disappointment. President Trump is encountering statutory constraints (consider the feud he has fuelled with American intelligence agencies over his relations with Russia)with which candidate Trump did not have to contend.Cracks began to emergeduring a joint press conference with Netanyahu, in which Trump surprised the Israeli prime minister with a warning to exercise moderation and self-control in the settlements on the West Bank. Andthere isanotherreason that the current situation is different:faced with global terrorism in the period between 11September 2001 and Obama’s electoral victory in 2008, Netanyahu voiced such an organic and convincing vision that he became the figurehead of the right wing in the West.With Trump in charge, that may not be the case this time around.

President George W. Bush presided over a perfect marriage between the US’s vision of its relations with Others and of itself. One the one hand, he developed a “moral” doctrine in the fight against terrorism which revolved around anti-Islamism and a clash of civilisations.On the other,he employed this same narrativeto confirm the US’s own Western identity, built on an exciting and successful mix of trust in the absolute value of freedom and its exportation. In other words, Bush II promoted a “neo-imperalist” identity for the West (led by the US), which proclaimed its own self-confidence and greatness in comparison to the outside world. But things couldbe a bit different under Trump. The new American president certainly shares the vision of the Other as an existential enemy.The conception of Iran as resistant to politics and negotiations(and ultimately almost “diabolical”) is an emblematic rhetorical example of this view.Trump also clearly displays a similar level of anti-Islamism moralising. Even with the resignation of Michael Flynn,nothing much has changed. Where Trump does differ from Bush IIis in his vision of the country’s own Western identity. While Netanyahu is still tied to liberalism in political economics (a vision in which freedom also means free markets), Trump is a symptom of the advance of a new right wing that has a different domesticand trade policy agenda.In contrast to the right of Bush’s day,the new “alt-right” is motivated by racism, white supremacism and isolationism. This new right wing views Trump’s strategic mastermind Steve Bannon as its leading light. ItdetestsGeorge W. Bush’s racial indifference just as much as Obama’s tolerant multiculturalism. The alt-rightacknowledges the crises and (relative) decline of the United States in this new century(something the neo-conservatives refused to do), but its responseis to foster isolation. Obama attempted to address the decline of the US by positioning it as a mediator rather than a resolver of global conflicts. But the alt-rightwants to build walls,even domestically. This might sit well with some of the white majority in the US, but how can it be acceptable to the minority(however well-regarded) of American Jews? And if even the diaspora in Europe started to feel cold shivers running down its spine at reiterated indications of racism or disinterest, whether implicit(Trump’s failure to mention the suffering of the Shoa on the day of remembrance) or explicit (the block on refugees from countries with a specific religion),can the Israeli government fail to take notice?

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