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Bibi’s Big Win

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, July 15, 2018. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Benjamin Netanyahu gets a big win in Israel, leaving some egg on the face of a famous bass guitarist and skateboarder who insisted that he didn’t represent “the true will of the Israeli people”; the Pentagon awards about $1 billion in contracts for additional border fencing; and some notes about a comedian eager to stand up to Vladimir Putin and the less-dramatic forms of modern espionage.

A Big Win for Bibi

In Israel, the multiparty parliamentary elections were close, but it appears that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set for a record fifth term. Likud and its allied right-of-center parties will have 65 seats in the new parliament, and the left-of-center parties are projected to have 55 seats. The good news for Likud’s top rival, the new Blue and White party of former general Benny Gantz, is that they won as many seats as Likud did; the bad news is their allied parties won fewer seats than Likud’s allies.

Netanyahu’s big win occurred in the face of corruption charges.

Netanyahu gained four seats compared to his outgoing coalition government, according to a spreadsheet published by the Central Elections Committee of parties that won enough votes to enter the next parliament.

“It is a night of colossal victory,” the 69-year-old Netanyahu told cheering supporters in a late-night speech at Likud headquarters after Tuesday’s vote.

“He’s a magician,” the crowd chanted as fireworks flared and Netanyahu kissed his wife Sara.

Presuming Netanyahu stays in office, he will become his country’s longest-serving prime minister in July — in office longer than the country’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion.

You may recall a famous skateboarder and bass guitarist declaring earlier this week, “I don’t think that Benjamin Netanyahu represents the true will of the Israeli people.”

Back on March 2, Natan Sachs, the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, wrote, “Just a year or two ago, it seemed difficult to imagine how Netanyahu’s grip on power would end. Now the question seems to be less whether he’ll be forced from office, and more when.” (For what it’s worth, Netanyahu is not out of the woods on the corruption charges.)

You hear quite a few left-of-center Jewish commentators lamenting how closely Netanyahu has tied himself to Trump, and the perception — or perhaps reality — that support for Israel is now a partisan issue. But the American GOP and Likud have always been a little closer, and the Democratic party and the old Israeli Labor party used to use the same messaging and political consultants, as this 1999 article in the Baltimore Sun shows:

“In the last 10 years, Israel is going through a very speedy process of Americanization,” said Yoram Peri, a Hebrew University communications professor who tracks the changing nature of Israeli politics. “It began in 1992. It increased dramatically in 1996 when Netanyahu introduced new methods.”

In the past, Labor didn’t grasp the influence of “media-centered or television-centered politics,” said Peri. “Now they understand it.” The ads of Netanyahu’s chief opponent, Labor leader Barak, focus on the 57-year-old retired general’s vast experience in the military, including his days in an elite commando unit. Barak has hired two American political consultants, the wily James Carville and pollster Stanley Greenberg, both of whom worked for President Clinton.

It is not surprising that right-of-center parties in allied countries would see the world in a similar way.

Even by the standards of campaign rhetoric, that famous skateboarder and bass guitarist named Beto O’Rourke went pretty far earlier this week when he called Netanyahu “racist” and declared that he didn’t represent the will of the Israeli people. Inherent in O’Rourke’s statement was a gamble that Netanyahu wouldn’t be reelected, or that he will end up stepping down because of the corruption accusations. Netanyahu’s a pretty unpopular figure in U.S. Democratic circles, and always has been. A better, more rational Democratic party would ask why a man they detest keeps getting reelected and could become the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history, and maybe reevaluate their policies and worldview regarding Israel. If Netanyahu really is such a bully, provocateur, and an obstinate obstacle to peace . . .  why don’t Israeli voters see him that way? But my suspicion is that, as Newsweek’s recent cover and ludicrously sympathetic article make clear, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar really is changing the debate around Israel, and many American Democrats will conclude that a country that keeps reelecting Netanyahu isn’t worth supporting.

You can vastly overstate the parallels between American politics and Israeli politics. But there is clearly a disconnect in vision that separates the editorial board of the New York Times, the foreign-policy thinkers in Washington think tanks, former Obama administration officials and the rest of the left-of-center intelligentsia on one side and Israeli voters on the other side. To the former, Netanyahu is self-evidently the problem; to the latter, he’s the solution, or at least part of the problem — which is more or less how those groups see Donald Trump.

Fifty-Seven Miles of New Border Fencing, on Its Way

The wall is being built . . .  partially.

A $789 million contract was awarded to the Texas-based company SLSCO Ltd. for the construction of border wall in Santa Teresa, N.M., which is located in the El Paso sector of the border.

A second $187 million contract was awarded to the Montana-based Barnard Construction Company for work in Yuma, Ariz.

Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, told CNN that the El Paso sector contract would include the construction of “30-foot bollard fencing and a five-foot anti-climb plate,” and that the Yuma Sector project will feature “18-foot bollard fencing and a five-foot anti-climb plate.”

A spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers told CNN last month that the plan was to install 46 miles at El Paso and eleven miles of fencing at Yuma. CNN has reported that DHS had asked the Pentagon for assistance replacing existing vehicle barriers with pedestrian fencing, as well as light installation in El Paso and Yuma.

I think the argument for building about 300 additional miles of higher border fencing is clear and extremely compelling. I also think it’s insufficient as an immigration policy; we need some version of a more widely used and more regularly enforced E-verify system, and we need a way to track people who enter the country legally on temporary visas and then never return.

I also believe that there are some people in this country who are outright xenophobic and who are attracted to this issue because they simply hate people who come from cultures different from theirs. I think illegal immigration is a serious problem, but it has also turned into a universal scapegoat in the minds of some Americans. We generate plenty of violent criminals, gang members, drug dealers, and drunk drivers among native-born U.S. citizens.

Sometimes Americans have a hard time finding work because illegal immigrants are working in the jobs they used to do. But sometimes Americans have a hard time finding work because they’re lousy workers, have no valuable skills, poor work habits, or other problems that interfere with their performance. Sure, illegal immigrants have entered America’s poorer communities and exacerbated social problems like homelessness, poverty, crime, and strained community services such as schools and hospitals. But those poorer communities had plenty of serious social problems before the illegal immigrants arrived. If you snapped your fingers and all of the illegal immigrants magically returned to their countries of origin, a lot of those problems would still be there.

The national debate about what to do about illegal immigration is full of anger, accusations and counter-accusations, and furious demonization of the opposing side. I believe that if you make the border more secure in a way that Americans can see, you will let a little air out of the anger balloon. Immigration restrictionists will see that one of their demands has been met. The country will be able to distinguish between the well-meaning busboy with no criminal record beyond entering the country illegally and the MS-13 member and conclude that different circumstances warrant different responses.

The national discussion about crime and criminal-justice reform is a good example of how the conversation changes once the facts on the ground change. I think it’s good that many states and now the federal government are enacting anti-recidivism programs, job training, addiction-treatment programs, lighter drug sentencing, and other proposals designed to ensure that a lawbreaker’s first encounter with the criminal-justice system is his last. Many states are seeing seriously encouraging results so far. But you wouldn’t see those kinds of ideas enacted if crime rates were still as high as they were in the 1980s. Back then, voters wanted lawmakers to crack down hard on crime, abolish parole, mandatory minimum sentencing, building additional prisons, “three strikes and you’re out,” and so on. You couldn’t have the discussion about whether society would be better served with rehabilitation programs until people felt safe.

Those who want a path to legalization need to understand that Americans will always be wary, if not vehemently opposed, until the border is secure and they do not feel inundated by mass migration that is out of control. As a noted immigration restrictionist said, “If you open the borders, my God, there’s a lot of poverty in this world, and you’re going to have people from all over the world. And I don’t think that’s something that we can do at this point. Can’t do it.”

That noted immigration restrictionist was . . .  Bernie Sanders.

ADDENDUM: In case you missed it yesterday, if your country had Russian military forces on its front door, I wouldn’t want to entrust the government to a comedian. This is like contemplating electing Pat Paulsen in the late 1930s.

Secondly, if even I know to be wary about somebody else’s thumb drive, the Secret Service ought to know it, too.

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