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Opinion

Trump, Netanyahu and the renaissance of Soviet apparatchiks

Leftists do not believe in equality before the law.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a press conference announcing the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan on Jan. 28, 2020, in the East Room of the White House. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a press conference announcing the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan on Jan. 28, 2020, in the East Room of the White House. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead.
Caroline Glick
Caroline B. Glick is the senior contributing editor of Jewish News Syndicate and host of the “Caroline Glick Show” on JNS. She is also the diplomatic commentator for Israel’s Channel 14, as well as a columnist for Newsweek. Glick is the senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington and a lecturer at Israel’s College of Statesmanship.

During the Cold War, when Soviet émigrés tried to tell Westerners what it was like living under Soviet communism, their explanations usually began with a discussion of the media.

They would say something like, “You Westerners read the newspaper to find out what’s happening. In the Soviet Union, you read the newspaper to find out what you are supposed to say and what you mustn’t say; who you must hate and who you must adore. You read the papers to find out what the Kremlin wants you to think about what it claims to be doing.”

From the media, their description of life in the Soviet Union would move on to law enforcement because if you didn’t take the proper cues from the newspapers, you were liable to become a law-enforcement target.

“When you see a policeman, here in the West, you feel safe,” they would say. “In the Soviet Union, there is no law, only the interest of the regime. Police are there to protect the regime from its ‘enemies.’ And its enemies are whoever thinks the wrong thoughts and says the wrong thing.”

Westerners who heard these tales shook their heads in a combination of disbelief and smug relief. What a terrible place, and, thank God, we would never face such terror in our lands.

When the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, we believed Francis Fukuyama, who declared that history had ended, that liberal democracy would reign forever and that mankind’s evolution had ended with “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

It wasn’t by chance that émigrés invariably contrasted the media and justice systems in the West and in the USSR to explain the difference between life on the respective sides of the Iron Curtain. Freedom of speech and the rule of law are the greatest guards against tyranny. Destroy the media and destroy the rule of law, and you transform free societies into totalitarian tyrannies.

Thirty years later, we can only grimace at our triumphalist self-confidence. This week in the United States and Israel, we saw how low both our media and justice systems have fallen.

In Israel, two events spoke to the political corruption of both the justice system and the media. First, on Monday and Tuesday, opposition leader Yair Lapid testified at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal trial. Lapid was a prosecution witness in the state’s case that Netanyahu breached the public’s trust by supporting a position on tax reform advocated by his longtime friend, Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Lapid served as Finance Minister under Netanyahu during the relevant period. But during Lapid’s testimony, the full corruption of the case came into stark relief. Lapid’s testimony exposed that on the one hand, Netanyahu did not do anything on Milchan’s behalf. On two separate occasions, in passing, Netanyahu mentioned a proposal to extend a tax break to returning expatriates that Milchan would stand to benefit Lapid. On both occasions, Netanyahu did not express support for any specific action.

Lapid, on the other hand, worked actively to promote Milchan’s proposed tax break. While Netanyahu is accused of breaching the public trust because of two offhand noncommittal remarks, Lapid tried to push Milchan’s request. This, despite the fact that Lapid was Milchan’s former employee, and so was required to sign a conflict-of-interest declaration about Milchan and recuse himself from dealing with his request in any way.

During Lapid’s testimony, it came out that in contravention of the law, Lapid never signed such a declaration. So, on the face of things, if anyone should have been indicted, it was Lapid, not Netanyahu. Yet Lapid was never even questioned about his interventions and Netanyahu was indicted for his non-interventions. And Lapid led the high-tech lynch mob castigating Netanyahu as a crook.

The second revelation came from former top leftist political strategist Eldad Yaniv. In 2017, Yaniv led a public protest campaign outside then-Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s home demanding that he open a criminal probe against Netanyahu.

On Monday evening, Yaniv said that he began his campaign at the urging of top police investigators who told him fantastic tales of Netanyahu’s corruption and avarice. Mandelblit, they insisted, was acting as Netanyahu’s Praetorian Guard. Yaniv said other leftist political strategists, along with hand-picked reporters, were similarly briefed. Their campaign worked. Mandelblit caved and ordered the investigations. 

The left’s current effort to block legal reform looks remarkably similar to the lawfare campaign it ran against Netanyahu, now unraveling at his trial. The current attorney general, Gali Baharav Miara, stands at the helm of the campaign along with the Supreme Court justices. Their partners are the media; a coalition of leftist politicians in and out of the office; and political strategists.

In both cases, the rule of law has fallen victim to the rule of politicized lawyers. The media have tasked themselves not with reporting the news but with shaping people’s understanding of events in a manner that strengthens their political and ideological camp against their political and ideological opponents.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Jan. 21, 2016. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO.

The United States is on the same trajectory. This week’s indictment of former president and current Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump is the product of a politicized justice system. The charges being brought against Trump describe actions seemingly identical to those carried out by numerous other former presidents and senior government officials. But whereas Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and others were treated with deference, Trump is being castigated as a traitor and a threat to national security.

In the United States as in Israel, the growing sense among citizens is that those responsible for protecting the rule of law by meting out equal treatment to all citizens are working as political operatives. They criminalize those whose politics they oppose and give immunity from scrutiny to those whose politics they share.

The media, for their part, are full partners in the campaign against the left’s political enemies. Yaniv’s revelation, which was later backed by journalist Ayala Hason, who attested that she received similar briefings, shows the central role that the media plays in the abuse of the criminal justice system by politicized government lawyers and police investigators.

Netanyahu would never have been indicted without the media’s campaign against him. The Russia collusion hoax, which was concocted by the Democratic Party in collaboration with the FBI and Justice Department, would never have gone anywhere without media mobilization.

The media’s preference for political propaganda over truth paralyzed Trump’s presidency for more than two years and enabled his impeachment. His indictment this week could never have come to pass without the media’s full-throated support for law-enforcement decisions to be based on political and ideological considerations.

On Sunday, Fox News “Media Buzz” host Howard Kurtz repeatedly harangued and chided commentator and author Mollie Hemingway for her insistence on pointing out the double standard in law enforcement regarding Democrats and Republicans, and the threat it poses to freedom in America.

To Kurtz’s consternation, Hemingway explained, “You have all these people on the left talking about ‘rule of law.’ Rule of law means one rule that everybody is held by. Nobody thinks we have one rule of law that everyone is held by. We think we have one rule of law for allies of the regime and another law for people that make life difficult for the regime. … This is something that we associate with the Soviet Union, with Third World countries. One of the things that makes us good is we do not imprison our political opponents.

“The very fact that they were investigating [Trump] is the example that there is not one rule of law that everyone is governed by. … A lot of people are worried about how it may destroy the country, and that level of seriousness needs to be relayed in the media conversation, and unfortunately, the media are so anti-Trump, they cannot do that.”

Netanyahu’s supporters have expressed great anger and frustration at the prime minister and his colleagues on the political right for their failure to date to restore the rule of law through legal reform, or to either privatize state media that receive automatic public funding and are politically driven or support alternative media outlets with the same largesse.

But the real criticism has to be directed at the left. The same people falsely claiming to be fighting for “democracy” by seeking to overthrow the democratically elected Netanyahu government and block its ability to govern through demonization, media-instigated panic and mob violence, hate democracy. They know they are the minority of Israel’s citizens and under their “Democracy” banners they demand unlimited power for anti-democratic institutions of government—the state prosecution, the Supreme Court and the senior government officials in every government ministry who think it ought to be illegal for elected ministers to oppose their policy preferences.

Opposition leaders have a personal interest in maintaining these institutions’ power. Consider Stateliness Party leader Benny Gantz. Gantz dedicated his party to blocking the government from asserting its command power over the IDF General Staff or limiting in any way the powers of the Supreme Court and the state prosecution.

Gantz’s company, the Fifth Dimension, was suspected of corrupt business practices and security breaches for, among other things, its alleged effort to sell spyware to Qatar—an enemy state—allegedly without receiving export licenses from the Defense Ministry. The investigation of the Fifth Dimension was buried by the Competition Authority and never subjected to police scrutiny.

The Democrats and Israeli leftists who have been demonizing Trump as a traitor and Netanyahu as a crook since 2016 are happy with the media’s corruption. They see no flaw in the behavior of their criminal justice and legal systems. Neither sector believes that maintaining the rule of law is the responsibility of the legal system nor believes that providing accurate reporting on current events is the job of the media.

Russia never became a liberal democracy. It moved from a totalitarian Communist regime to an authoritarian kleptocracy under Boris Yeltsin to a neo-czarist dictatorship under Vladimir Putin. As for the Free World, its liberal patriots morphed into progressive post-nationalist authoritarians smitten by political correctness and convinced that all ideological foes deserve to be canceled and criminalized. In other words, they became Soviet apparatchiks.

Whether or not Netanyahu and his colleagues in Israel—and Trump and his colleagues in America—succeed in their efforts to restore the rule of law and end the news commissars’ chokehold on information, as long as the progressives continue down their current path, we will remain in perpetual danger of giving the Soviet Union an ultimate victory over the Free World.

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