Was Menachem Begin the Donald Trump of Israel?

The meltdown among American elites over Trump's win echoes hysteria among Israeli elites when Likud came to power in 1977.

By Jonathan Leaf Published on February 11, 2017

George Orwell ‘s 1984 and Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here have returned to the bestseller lists, as readers prepare for totalitarian rule in America. Many liberals are filled with fear, and some grieve as though a close relative has died.

Lena Dunham, star of the HBO TV show, Girls, has returned with a slimmer figure. She told Howard Stern why on his radio show:

Donald Trump became president and I stopped being able to eat food. Everyone’s been asking like, ‘What have you been doing?’ And I’m like, ‘Try soul-crushing pain and devastation and hopelessness and you, too, will lose weight.’

Filled with despair, some liberals have convinced themselves that Donald Trump’s election is likely to lead to the end of American democracy.

This is odd.

After all, Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neal Gorsuch, is a strict Constitutionalist. That choice is consistent with the seriousness Trump has shown in his first days in office about keeping his campaign promises, and foremost among these is appointing judges who want to hold back the government’s power and reach.

Nobody Panicked When Obama Abused His Power

Ironically, the recent administration which showed the least regard for the Constitution and the principle of limited government was that of Barack Obama. It was Obama, after all, who proposed a health care law that appeared to be a first step towards nationalization of medicine. Moreover, set within that plan were regulations, later overturned by the courts, which required religious organizations to provide their employees with free abortifacients. Even convents were to be compelled to give their novices stocks of drugs for killing fetuses.

The Obama administration further showed its disregard for the Constitution in its unwillingness to act against IRS agents who had targeted grassroots conservative organizations.

In addition, under Obama there was a broad expansion of domestic wiretapping, a wholesale growth of the national security state and increased use of targeted killings of foreigners — and even Americans abroad — who were suspected of involvement with terror cells.

Why, then, are liberals behaving so hysterically now?

All the “Best People” Think He’s a Thug


Photo by Milner Moshe, Wikimedia

Perhaps a clue can be found in the Israel of 1977. In that year, Menachem Begin‘s conservative Likud party defeated Israel’s Labor party, making Begin the country’s prime minister. The response of most Israeli intellectuals was much like that of liberals in the United States today: a national media and upper-class meltdown.

Left-wing and center-left parties had dominated Israeli politics since the country’s founding in 1948. Although its management of the country’s economy was often ineffectual, the leftist “Alignment” had the backing of the nation’s powerful labor unions and nearly all of its leading intellectuals. Its popularity was particularly great among secular Jews and among European-descended Jews, the “Ashkenazim.” These groups also comprised most of the leaders of the country’s military.

Your Voters are Deplorable, with Tacky Accents

When it was declared on television in May 1977 that Begin’s Likud party had won the election, the announcer promptly termed it a “revolution,” and it is still often referred to in Israel as The Revolution (HaMahapakh). Intellectuals were shocked and repelled. This was embodied during a campaign event that proved pivotal to the election’s outcome. During a major Labor Party rally, a comedian named Dudu Topaz mocked Begin’s supporters for their accents. Since many were refugees expelled from North African countries like Morocco, they spoke with an accent that caused them to be called “chach chach.” The term referred to their difficulty pronouncing the Hebrew letter “ch.” It was a put-down meant to suggest that they were low-class and uneducated.

Begin responded by arranging a counter-rally just before the country went to the polls. Weakened by a recent heart attack, Begin arose before his followers as best he could and pointedly noted that Jews were one people, no matter if they were from Europe or the Middle East, poor or rich, and that they had to stand together as one in a world filled with enemies. The “chach chach” cheered him wildly and then went to vote. It was these working-class and less educated voters who decided the election for Begin. They liked his unabashed nationalism and his undoubted religious faith.

It was a shock to the Westernized, mostly agnostic intellectuals who had run the country for almost thirty years. They found Begin’s win almost incredible, and they regarded the man with open contempt. This hostility was so great that the country’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, had reportedly refused to even speak Begin’s name.

With Begin’s election in 1977, it was easy for intellectuals to persuade themselves that they had been defeated in the election by a mad right-winger backed by uncouth people who took all their ideas from the Bible.

A Mad Right-Winger has Seized Control of Our Country!

Begin was mocked for his belief in free-market economics, and he was accused of being a terrorist. The basis of the charge of terrorism was a bombing that men loyal to Begin had carried out against the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946. Begin’s agents had called the hotel to warn all inside to leave the building before the bomb was to go off, and they had planned the attack at the request of men loyal to Begin’s rival, Ben-Gurion. Nonetheless, the attack led to 91 deaths, and blame had long been pinned on Begin for the lives lost.

Thus, with Begin’s election in 1977, it was easy for intellectuals to persuade themselves that they had been defeated in the election by a mad right-winger backed by uncouth people who took all their ideas from the Bible. Surely, they declared, Israel’s economy would be ruined, and war with Israel’s neighbors was likely.

What actually happened, however, was that Begin led Israel towards a formal peace treaty with Egypt, and, with lower taxes and  less regulation, the nation started on its trek to its current status: a rich nation, that is among the world leaders in technology.

What’s Really at Stake: Loss of Status

In retrospect, it’s apparent that what the “smart” Israelis were really suffering from was a loss of social standing. They had always been the ones in charge. They were both literally and figuratively the authorities. Then, quite abruptly, they had been tossed aside and ignored by the little people. But those Bible-thumpers turned out to be the wise ones.

Is something similar happening in the U.S. forty years later? Time will tell.

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