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Opinion | Bibi Trump and Donald Netanyahu

Category: Diplomatic Relations,Politics

Bibi will go down in history as the Israeli leader who concretized the distinction between “Israelis’’ and “Jews,’’ noted Bernard Avishai in a smart essay in The New Yorker: “The menace, Netanyahu has implied, is not just the Arabs but what might be termed Israeliness — a legal and cultural identity available to any citizen who participates in Hebrew-speaking civil society, including the 20 percent who are Arab.’’

While Benny Gantz, Bibi’s opponent in the recent election, has argued that, broadly defined, “Israeli identity is increasingly plausible for, among others, young, middle-class Arabs, who accounted for more than 16 percent of students in bachelor’s degree programs in 2017,’’ that is not Netanyahu’s view.

“Netanyahu’s version, in contrast,’’ Avishai explained, “is a state essentially reserved for Jews, including those in the diaspora, who can prove their Jewishness by either rabbinical certification or maternal descent — one that is democratic only in the sense that Jews constitute the majority, the general will of Jews necessarily prevails, and non-Jews are in the state by sufferance, not really by right.’’

That is why Netanyahu passed the recent Nation-State Law, which stipulated that Israel is “the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.” However much American Jews — and traditional, secular American Jewish supporters of Israel — “may try to shield Netanyahu, it is increasingly clear that he is at odds with their democratic standards, which are already under assault,’’ Avishai concluded. “American Jews, like Israeli voters, have choices to make.’’ Is Israel a state for Jews or for all its citizens?

Trump has dabbled in the same kind of tropes. He may not say it explicitly, but his whole worldview, evident from his dog whistles, is that real Americans are primarily white Judeo-Christians — certainly not Muslims — and that all black or brown immigrants are suspect.

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