LA Progressive

The Prototype for Trump?

“I think he was the first Donald Trump,” remarked Ben Caspit, journalist and co-author of a 2017 bio with Ilan Kfir. It’s “Netanyahu: the Road to Power,” a tell-all about Israeli’s bombastic Prime Minister, the darling of U.S. conservatives and weapons peddlers, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.

The book landed in Israel like a mortar rocket, and it’s been translated into all the languages of Europe. Like the American sensation of Fire and Fury, this book was written by someone (rather, two someones) with journalistic credentials who were “Granted access to their subject and his diary, friends, political allies, and critics,” as expressed in the publisher’s promo.

In a recent interview on i24, the global TV news network based in Jerusalem, co-author Caspit covered many points and answered some pressing questions — though he dodged naming his sources of information for many of the more inflammatory points raised in the book.

Caspit is a longtime Israeli journalist and newscaster. Plus, he’s a senior columnist for “Ma’ariv,” Israeli’s leading daily. To add drama, he has been sued by Netanyahu’s wife.

As one reviewer observed, Caspit “is unafraid of criticizing the extreme right-wing views and single-minded ambition of [Bibi Netanyahu,] this problematic public figure.”

Caspit points out that you can find “many good things about him [Netanyahu] in the book,” as he rattles-off Bibi’s arguably positive traits. And, in so doing, he cites several comparisons to Bibi’s best friend among international figures, none other than Donald Trump. In his interview, Caspit alluded to the latter’s policies as seeming an awful lot like a de facto extension of the Likud Party.

A fair characterization would be a portrait of a snake oil salesman driven by ambition and obsessed with influencing others to produce very narrow, often divisive victories.

But the final takeaway? A fair characterization would be a portrait of a snake oil salesman driven by ambition and obsessed with influencing others to produce very narrow, often divisive victories. It is a portrait of a man who uses charm and charisma while he relentlessly advances exclusionary ideology and foments rage — all in the name of scoring “wins” as expressions of power, and gratifies his ego by championing winning for victory’s sake — no matter the cost.

Just to clarify — we’re talking about Bibi, not Trump.

Of course, a book about any figure who is so controversial in so many ways hardly produces consensus.

A romp through reviews of the book is fun, revealing, and a bit like testing the acoustics at one of those echo canyons. Before seeing what anyone else says, it’s worth indulging you first with a little background.

Bibi gained and retained power with clever and cynical effectiveness. He has been Israel’s prime minister longer than anyone in history, though getting only 25% of the popular vote. He’s had a knack for conniving and wheeling and dealing to build ruling coalitions that necessarily include a myriad of interests. Interests that will, to get something they want, kowtow to his Likud Party. But anything he engineers? It’s always to keep himself in charge — even while he is currently, and seemingly always, on the verge of multiple indictments for corruption.

Israeli Arabs think about as much of Bibi as DACA kids think of Trump. But street demonstrations against Netanyahu aren’t conducted by Palestinians, who would disappear into apartheid Israel’s gulag if they took part. Those carrying the protest signs — most popularly proclaiming “Crime Minister!” as a wordplay — are those who can vote, as Jewish citizens of Israel.

So, with that in mind, how have reviewers treated Caspit’s book?

Kirkus Reviews calls it, “A highly readable portrait of an enigmatic politician,” mildly endorsing the book by saying, “As a translation from the Hebrew, this account of Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu’s career is nicely fluent.”

Their review goes on to call it, “A biography of the steely Israeli prime minister that underscores his relentless, seemingly emotionless competitive drive.”

But that view has serious challengers.

A “Publishers Weekly” review, picked-up by Amazon, characterizes the book as having “Shallow psychological diggings.”

That analysis cautions, “The authors, who have written about former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and current Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, take the reader on a superficial tour of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s life.”

The same review continues, “They focus on his influences: the extreme right-wing leanings of his family, the importance of America (where he twice lived for lengthy periods of time) and the death of his older brother in the 1976 Israeli rescue of hostages at the Entebbe airport.”

If you were just surprised to learn that Bibi’s brother is a dead war hero, that has been part of his appeal to Israeli voters.

But that same review offers us more. Sometimes a point intended as criticism by a reviewer can make you see things the opposite of their conclusion. Like here:

“Caspit and Kfir show how Netanyahu’s powerful ambition and strong work ethic helped propel him from a political attaché at the Israeli Embassy and a frequent guest on ABC’s ‘Nightline’ in 1982 into the prime minister’s office in 1996. To their credit, they mention his role in the inflammatory rhetoric that culminated in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, but otherwise there’s little analysis.”

Really? “Little analysis?” The very statement seems to acknowledge a lot of ground is covered. You can read that review, and one from “Booklist,” both on Amazon

Finally, given our theme here, there’s a gem of a statement from Gilbert Taylor in his above-cited “Booklist” review:

“In passages this book wanders about like a fan magazine, explaining Bibi’s gustatory habits in one moment, extolling his political determination in another, and elsewhere trashing his wife as a tasteless parvenu.”

That quote, employing the phrase, “gustatory habits,” gives us a fresh characterization for the Trumpian Tweetstorm, eh? (You’re welcome.) But it’s a two-edged sword. The full sentence could be an indictment of the nonstop daily harangue by America’s corporate mainstream media in its “coverage” of “news” about Trump — blather that is all too often about trashing someone rather than the substance of the administration’s policy.

Thus, comparing two ego-driven politicians with passages deriving from a book about one of them? It becomes an omnibus of thought, making you wonder if life is imitating art imitating life. Or if history really does work in parallels. Or if cable news scriptwriters get their inspirations from a book about another controversial and ruthlessly opportunistic figure — albeit one without self-inflicted hoof-in-mouth disease. And when you think about that malady here, you realize it’s become rampant on our shores, a contagious infestation of pandemic proportions amongst the relentlessly tribal American political scene.

Hmm. Multiple prototypes available.

And it’s worth a side trip to consider the implications. Stop here unless you’re ready for that.

Okay, grab the VR glasses, because what Big Media portrays as flat, thin-skinned and transparent is probably a multidimensional phenomenon hiding within a facade. It’s reminiscent of the old classic campaign commercial that flipped a flat cutout face of a vilified office-holder on one side, juxtaposed on the other side with the face of the candidate their guy had to beat. Just flip it, over and over. Keep it two-dimensional and simple. Any comparison must be narrowly focused to achieve only one intended purpose.

Both Bibi and Trump have mastered the soundbyte that sucks all the oxygen out of the news cycle. And it isn’t like either of them is afraid of the media being more than a yapping pack of hounds, all following the same scent trail.

“No need to confuse anyone with too much information.” Probably the slogan on the wall at Fox News and MSNBC these days.

So you weren’t aware of those “Crime Minister” protest signs? Not on American TV. Would’ve been too confusing. Too diluting. Too much risk of alienating the Jewish vote — which, because it’s a factor they weigh, is, alone, an expression of media arrogance. It doesn’t stop there. Just supply the bread and circuses to your own arena, where you can vilify (or defend when it’s indefensible) your own pariah, and keep your own military-industrial-cybersecurity and big pharma sponsors happy, and ignore the pesky news of the rest of the world.

Maybe that’s the biggest similarity between the nervously exploitive Goppers of Trumpian America and the crafty apartheid apologists of Bibi’s balancing-act in Likud-ruled Israel.

Weapons sales could be harmed if Americans questioned too much. Ad buys would decrease. Same thing for Israelis in their country.

Worst of all, with daily sheepdip indoctrinations and polarized conclusions — when no analysis for veracity is undertaken before evidence is presented? When real journalism is on life support? The model for handling Bibi and Trump becomes the mold for casting more of the same.

If Bibi is the model for Trump, who will come along as the model that replicates Trump?

Two enigmatic politicians with rabidly loyal followers who buy their image of non-nonsense strength, and others ready to take the street in fear they’ll open their mouths again.

None of which bodes well for much of what we will, and won’t, see and hear as time lurches on.

Larry Wines