First published in yediot achronot
This article was written before Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day. The author chose to delay its publication until after the holidays.
Madeleine Albright, the former US Secretary of State between 1997-2001 and a historian by education, published an op-ed in the New York Times (April 6, 2018) titled, “Will we Stop Trump before it’s too Late?”. The central idea of her article is that the democracy which has flourished in the Western world, beginning at the end of the Second World War (1945), is fading and giving way to autocratic and fascist trends. This is evident in countries such as Hungary, Poland, the Philippines, Turkey – all of whom are allies of the United States, as well as many others who are not. The man who now sits in the White House is, in her view, has largely acted as a catalyst for these trends.
In reading the list, you cannot help but wonder how much the insights that arise from it are similar or even identical to what is happening here in Israel.
The first insight is that an environment that is characterized by terror threats and class rifts, has unstable and threatened and borders, unruly social media and ambitious people with cynical ideas and plans, all constitute a slippery slope that leads states from democracy to autocracy and fascism.
The second insight is that if a leader who heads a democratic state does not understand the nature of democracy, does not protect it and is not prepared to be killed for it, he will find himself, perhaps even unknowingly, on a path leading to autocracy and fascism. Albright, of course, is pointing at President Trump. I am pointing out an analogy to Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Another insight is that the idea of “a people that shall dwell alone", which President Trump nurtures, is in complete contradiction to the strategy required to protect the democratic idea. Democracy is a strategy of broad coalitions, agreements, open societies, complementary rather than competitive economies, open borders and more. In our troubled country of Israel, I clearly recognize the preference for the policy of "dwelling alone," which leads us to deteriorate into autocracy and, G-d help us, perhaps to fascism down the road. I reject the Prime Minister’s claims that our international situation has never been better.
The Prime Minister boasts of a long line of world leaders lining up at our doorstep. Statistics are worth nothing. The test is which of these leaders will come to our aid on the crucial day? India’s leader, who has waded along with Netanyahu in the ocean and the Kinneret, continues to have extensive relations with the greatest of our enemies - Iran (and I am concerned that the military technologies we supply to him should not spill over into Iran!). President Trump, who recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people, not in the framework of a comprehensive agreement to end the conflict, contributes to the deepening of our isolation. And when Putin, together with Erdogan and Khomeini, are deciding on the future of the Middle East, Trump not only refuses to send a representative on his behalf to these talks, but also announces his intention to evacuate the small American force still deployed in eastern Syria as soon as possible. Those sitting in Jerusalem were blinded to the fact that Trump was looking at the world through a narrowed lens and not through the unwritten moral alliance that has existed between Israel and the United States since the establishment of the state and until his election as president. And, to the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Finance I say that they should not be surprised if, as part of the US budget cuts, they will be informed of a cut in the aid budget to Israel as well.
Albright writes in her list: “Trump has attacked the judiciary, ridiculed the media, defended torture, condoned police brutality, urged supporters to rough up hecklers and…equated mere policy disagreements with treason…He routinely vilifies federal law enforcement institutions. He libels immigrants and the countries from which they come. His words are so often at odds with the truth that they can appear ignorant, yet are in fact calculated to exacerbate religious, social and racial divisions.” Does this sound familiar in our parts?
And to those who will say, ok, what can we do - here too I can quote Albright who, despite her 80 years, still sounds optimistic. First and foremost, defend the truth. Defend the media and do not treat it as an enemy of the public, but rather as one whose job it is to protect the public. Implement and defend the principle that no one is above the law, not Trump and not Benjamin Netanyahu. Each of us must contribute our part to strengthening the democratic basis by recruiting additional supporters to the democratic constituency. Listen attentively to the members of our group. Knock on every door to encourage worthy candidates to enter the political arena. And last but most importantly, ignore the cynical statement that "there is nothing you can do!"
* The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT).