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American and Israeli leaders must elevate political discourse

Kingsley lagat

Dec. 01, 2019

Today, both countries are also grappling with extreme uncertainty. America and Israel are in uncharted territory owing to enormous and widening domestic, political and social divides.
The US and Israel share limitless attributes and similarities, so perhaps it is fitting that both nations are struggling with political challenges of epic proportion as they hurtle toward 2020.
America and Israel have maintained a deep and abiding alliance rooted in shared values, commitment to Western-style democracy, human rights, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and an independent press. Historically speaking, both are nations of immigrants that have risen to the highest tier of global leadership, relying heavily upon their economic and military strength and unique standing as technological innovators.
Today, both countries are also grappling with extreme uncertainty. America and Israel are in uncharted territory owing to enormous and widening domestic, political and social divides, as well as unresolved investigations of alleged wrongdoing by their leaders.
In the face of scrutiny and rabid media coverage, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump have sought to dismiss their respective indictment and possible impeachment with verbatim declarations that they are victims of a “witch hunt” by political opponents and a hostile liberal media.
Whether you love or loathe them, it is hard to deny that Netanyahu and Trump have both reached the pinnacle of leadership, at least in part, by stoking the fears of the electorate and brilliantly using that to their advantage. Both are masters of presenting themselves as champions of the common man, uniquely positioned to guide their nations with strength and confidence through troubled times.
While their styles and backgrounds may be radically different, Israel’s prime minister and America’s president share a form of political genius that enables them to channel and transform the anger of a disgruntled public into their political advantage. Netanyahu and Trump seem to instinctively understand the psychological state of voters in a way that their political rivals simply cannot match.
Indeed, they are clinging to power at the very time distrust of government and negative feelings toward politicians are sky-high in both the Middle East and Middle America.
Within Israel, which may be headed toward an unprecedented third national election in less than one year, a study found more than one-third of the population has little to no trust in the integrity of the elections.
Meanwhile, in the United States, a 2019 Pew Research Center report uncovered that the majority of Americans believe general trust in the government is shrinking, making it harder to solve problems.
It is impossible to deny that the Trump presidency has delivered for Israel in astonishing ways that would have been unthinkable in the past. Trump and his administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US Embassy there, declared the Golan Heights part of Israel, withdrew the US from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal that Israel vehemently opposed, and asserted that Israeli settlements do not violate international law.
Conservative Americans have celebrated Trump’s unapologetic moves to stand with Israel, while the Left has warned of disastrous consequences to come.
However, as Trump and Netanyahu take far-reaching steps to draw Israel and America closer, they should avoid the temptation to employ short-sighted, coarse campaign tactics that will ultimately pull their already striated societies apart.
This includes divisive rhetoric emanating from their sons, surrogates far less constrained but who simultaneously possess significant platforms and the ability to communicate with the masses, in large part due to the pervasiveness of the press and the power of social media. A recent op-ed in The Washington Post highlighted how Donald Trump Jr. and Yair Netanyahu have both employed strident comments far beyond what their fathers could utter aloud, but which resonate with their bases of most ardent supporters.
While rallying the Right in each country may deliver short-term benefits in the form of boosting support during election season, the longer-term consequences could be further polarizing societies where centrists have diminishing clout and the most vocal forces on the Left and Right lurch ever further toward the extremes.
Israel and America are beacons of democracy whose contributions in a range of areas and goodwill toward humanity have elevated them to elite global status. Therefore, it is even more incumbent upon their leaders to avoid the temptation of playing to the lowest common denominators within increasingly fractured societies.
Instead, Netanyahu, Trump and all who aspire to lead Israel and America should resolve themselves to doing better. They should strive to lift up their people by employing respectful political discourse that befits the dignity of their offices and is more in keeping with the admirable character of their remarkable nations.
The writer is founder and CEO of Red Banyan, a global communications firm.
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