Dany Bahar

What do Donald and Bibi have in common that their voters don’t?

I know what you are thinking after reading this title. The comparison is outrageous, you might say. PM Netanyahu is much more of a diplomat than Trump. Bibi knows how to measure his words (well, most of the time, at least) while Trump rarely does. But there is a particular topic in which both have similar thoughts and they are quite open about it.

Trump has advocated in many of his rallies and as guest in TV shows that he intends to “take out” ISIS terrorists’ family members as his strategy to stop terror. He specifically declared: “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families”.

The same week, PM Netanyahu, head of government of a democratic country, issued a consultation to the Government’s Attorney General requesting his opinion on his newest security policy: to expel family members of terrorists from the West Bank to the Gaza strip. This as a mean to put an end to the wave of terror in the past months of lone attackers stabbing and killing Israelis both within and outside the green line.

Do you see the similarity here?

Let me help Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in providing an answer: “No Mr. Prime Minister. We should not engage in activities that might be interpreted as a forceful transfer of population. That would be, in fact, considered a war crime, as established in international conventions”. He should also tell him: “PM Netanyahu, you know, as in any other democracy we also have a judicial system in place which, based on legislation (and not emotions), is the one in charge of defining whether a suspect is guilty or not. This same judicial system –not you- defines the penalty for suspects that are proved to be guilty. Therefore, Mr. Prime Minister, this is a job for the judicial system, not for you.”

If the Attorney General’s answer is not along these lines, then, it will be another blow against our democracy. And, besides that, I ask myself: Is this all what this government can offer Israelis to safeguard the life of its citizens: to punish the families of the youngsters who turned into terrorists in the past few months? Will this stop the wave of attacks? Or will it only make us feel stronger and braver by punishing innocent members of their families?

I doubt it will change a thing.

But in the US, Trump’s statements have been all over the press, and have been strongly divisive even within his own party. Torture has been a matter of debate for years, and Trump’s ideas on punishing terrorist’s families are the core of heated debates in national television. However, in Israel, there is very little to no debate about this among Netanyahu’s political base. Not even a debate on whether forceful transfer of terrorist’s families from the West Bank to Gaza constitutes or not a war crime. And this blind support for Netanyahu is simply unbelievable.

I’m very curious about what is it that Trump’s supporters like about him. But I’m even more curious to understand what makes Netanyahu popular up until today. After all, he promised security and that is the one thing in which he has failed dramatically. After being in power for 7 consecutive years there have been a wave of unprecedented terror attacks that have killed dozen of Israelis; there have also been massive construction of terror tunnels under our noses from the Gaza Strip to Israeli territory; and on top of all this, the world signed a deal with Iran –which Netanyahu could not stop- with consequences that might or might not be catastrophic to Israel’s security.

And yet, after all this, Bibi remains highly popular among his base, same as Donald.

About the Author
Dany Bahar is a fellow in the Brookings Institute in Washington DC. He holds a PhD in Public Policy from Harvard University.
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