Netanyahu channeling Trump in Israel’s election campaign

A man walks past a Likud election campaign billboard, depicting US President Donald Trump shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem February 4, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 07 February 2019

Netanyahu channeling Trump in Israel’s election campaign

  • The campaign reflects Trump’s popularity in Israel, one of the few countries where an alliance with the bombastic American president is considered a political asset
  • After an icy eight-year relationship with Barack Obama, Netanyahu has gone out of his way to praise Trump at every turn

JERUSALEM: Seeking re-election under a cloud of criminal investigations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks to be channeling his inner Donald Trump in an angry campaign against perceived domestic enemies.
Drawing clear inspiration from Trump, Netanyahu’s Likud party has plastered huge billboards of the two leaders together and launched a Trump-like weekly webcast to counter what it calls the “fake news” industry.
The campaign reflects Trump’s popularity in Israel, one of the few countries where an alliance with the bombastic American president is considered a political asset. But it also risks undermining the traditional bipartisan support for Israel among Americans.
Despite his troubles at home, Trump has earned the appreciation of most Israelis by recognizing Jerusalem as their capital and moving the US Embassy there. Trump has further impressed Israelis by backing out of the international nuclear deal with Iran, re-imposing stiff sanctions on the Islamic Republic and vigorously defending Israel in international forums.
“This administration, not just Trump, has been the friendliest administration to Israel since 1948,” said Michael Oren, a deputy minister and former ambassador to Washington. “Netanyahu is just tapping into these current global trends of people living in a world of uncertainty who want strong, sometimes brutally strong, leaders.”
Netanyahu and Trump enjoy strong personal rapport. Netanyahu also seems to relish the American president’s attitude toward the Middle East, not only on Iran but also his hands-off approach to the Palestinian issue and Israeli settlement construction. After an icy eight-year relationship with Barack Obama, Netanyahu has gone out of his way to praise Trump at every turn.
He also has held his tongue on Trump’s various scandals, even after a neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia, when Trump appeared to defend the actions of white supremacists. On a visit to Washington, Netanyahu even implored critics to stop questioning Trump over the supposed anti-Semitism of some of his supporters.
While Trump’s isolationism, particularly his planned pullout from Syria, may not be good for Israel, his unabashed pro-Israel rhetoric has made him popular domestically, said Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s most influential columnists.
Beyond a confluence of interests, Trump and Netanyahu seem to share a populist streak against their countries’ more liberal establishments — to the delight of their nationalist bases.
Netanyahu has responded to a series of corruption investigations with Trump-like attacks on Israeli media, law-enforcement, judiciary and other “elites” he believes are bent on his removal. He is quick to deride any critic as a “leftist,” and, like Trump, has taken to social media to whip up his base.
“Netanyahu is a person who knows how to learn and imitate others and he’s been doing it in the past two-three years since Trump rose to power,” said Barnea. “He’s been far harsher in his domestic expressions and he knows that you create a political victory by pitting one sector against another.”
Trump, who endorsed Netanyahu in a fawning pre-Israeli election clip in 2013 — even before he got into politics — appears to equally admire the Israeli leader.
On Instagram, Trump shared an image of the giant billboard over the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv featuring the two smiling and shaking hands under the slogan “Netanyahu. In a different league.”
More significantly, he is expected to host Netanyahu in a lavish state visit to Washington shortly before the April 9 election in Israel.
In response to the billboard ads, Valerie O’Brien, spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Israel, clarified that the US was “not involved in Likud’s campaign messages or strategy.”
While beneficial in the short-term, some warn the tight alignment with Trump could have negative long-term implications.
Israel, once a source of solid bipartisan support, has become an increasingly divisive issue among Americans in recent years. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center last year, for instance, found Republicans more sympathetic to Israel than Democrats by a nearly 3-to-1 margin. Some fear an eventual backlash from Democrats.
“The more that Democrats don’t like Trump, the more ... he associates himself with, in this case Netanyahu, gets drawn into that equation,” said Ron Klein, a former congressman who now chairs the Jewish Democratic Council of America. “For those of us who are pro-Israel, that’s unhealthy.”
Netanyahu is not alone in tapping into Trump’s appeal.
Likud backbencher Oren Hazan recently said the highlight of his term was the selfie he took with Trump during a 2017 visit. Even Netanyahu’s top challenger, former military chief Benny Gantz, chose a campaign slogan — “Israel Before Everything” — that many viewed as echoing “America First.”
But only Netanyahu has molded his politics in Trump’s image.
He has long had a rocky relationship with the media and accuses it, along with police and prosecutors, of being part of a “leftist” witch hunt to force him from office. Like Trump, he has also gone after former allies, floating conspiracy theories about an alleged planned putsch by a Likud rival.
The prime minister appears to be modeling his recent launch of “Likud TV” on Trump’s “Real News Update,” a weekly webcast on Facebook hosted by the president’s daughter-in-law to counterbalance what the administration deems a hostile media. Netanyahu’s first clip made dismissive references about police investigations into alleged corruption by the prime minister.
Police have recommended indicting Netanyahu on three corruption cases, and Israel’s attorney general is expected to announce his decision whether to charge him before the elections.
Back in 2009, it was Obama who offered inspiration to Israeli campaigners. An ultra-Orthodox Jewish party translated “yes we can” into its campaign slogan and Netanyahu designed his Web page after Obama’s. But a decade later, Trump is the hot commodity.
“It’s part of the Americanization of our politics. The difference is that Israeli campaigns stole tactics from Obama but still maintained a certain distance from him,” said Barnea. “Trump is considered ‘one of us.’“


Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

Updated 21 November 2019

Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

  • In the Western Sahara, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing
  • "Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” says herder

DAKHLA, Western Sahara: In the Oued Eddahab desert in Western Sahara, Habiboullah Dlimi raises dairy and racing camels just like his ancestors used to — but with a little help from modern technology.
His animals roam free in the desert and are milked as camels always have been, by hand, at dawn and dusk.
When camels “feed on wild plants and walk all day, the milk is much better,” said the 59-year-old herder, rhapsodizing about the benefits of the nutrient-rich drink, known as the “source of life” for nomads.
But Dlimi no longer lives with his flock.
He lives in town with his family. His camels are watched over by hired herders and Dlimi follows GPS coordinates across the desert in a 4X4 vehicle to reach them.
He is reticent when asked about the size of his herd. “That would bring bad luck,” he said.
He prefers to speak of the gentleness and friendliness of the animals he knows like his own children.
“Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” he said.

A camel is silhouetted against the sunset in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


"The desert knows me"
Dlimi comes from a long line of desert dwellers from the Ouled Dlimi tribe.
As tradition dictates, he lists his ancestors going back five generations when introducing himself.
“I know the desert and the desert knows me,” he said.
Like elsewhere, the nomads of Western Sahara are settling, following a shift from rural to urban living.
“Young people prefer to stay in town,” Dlimi said, and herders now mostly come from neighboring Mauritania, whose desert north is traversed by caravans of up to a thousand camels.
Even they “often demand to work in areas covered by (mobile phone) network signal,” he added.
The population of the nearby town of Dakhla has tripled to 100,000 in 20 years, with growth driven by fishing, tourism and greenhouse farming encouraged by Morocco.
In this part of Western Sahara, development projects depend entirely on Rabat.
Morocco has controlled 80 percent of the former Spanish colony since the 1970s and wants to maintain it as an autonomous territory under its sovereignty.
The Polisario Front movement fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991 and wants a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The United Nations has been trying to negotiate a political compromise for decades.
Like many in his tribe, Dlimi has family members on the other side of the Western Sahara Wall separating the Moroccan controlled areas from the Polisario controlled areas.
He favors loyalty to Morocco while others back independence, he said.
Tribal affiliation trumps politics, though.
“Tribes are tribes, it’s a social organization,” he said. “There are very strong links between us.”
To “preserve the past for the future,” Dlimi started a cultural association to conserve traditions from a time when there were no borders and “families followed the herds and the clouds.”

A camel herder guides his flock in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


The irony
While Dlimi loves the desert, he does have one complaint: “The camel dairy industry is valued everywhere in the world except here.”
Camel milk is trendy with health-conscious consumers and the lean meat is excellent, Dlimi claims.
Today though, it is small livestock farming that is the main agricultural focus, in response to what non-nomadic Moroccans tend to eat.
The 266,000 square kilometers (106,400 square miles) of Western Sahara under Moroccan control hosts some 6,000 herders, 105,000 camels, and 560,000 sheep and goats, according to figures from Rabat.
In other arid countries, including Saudi Arabia, intensive farming of camels has taken off.
But, while Moroccan authorities have undertaken several studies into developing Western Sahara’s camel industry, these have not so far been acted upon.
Regardless, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing.
“Some say that Saharans are crazy because when they have money they spend it on four feet,” Dlimi jokes.
For him, 20,000 dirhams ($2,000) spent on a camel is a safe investment.
But it is also a consuming passion.
His Facebook page and WhatsApp messages are filled with talk of camel husbandry techniques, research and racing.
Racing “is a pleasure and it pays,” Dlimi said.
Since the United Arab Emirates funded construction of a camel racing track at Tantan, 900 kilometers (560 miles) to the north, racing animals have appreciated in value and can sell for up to 120,000 dirhams, according to Dlimi.
To train his racing camels, Dlimi chases the young animals across the desert in his 4X4.
The technique has made him an eight-time champion in national competitions, he said.
But camels can be stubborn, Dlimi stressed, telling of how he once sold his best champion for a “very good price,” but the animal refused to race once it had changed hands.