What was missing with Mr. Trump, however, was the curb on Mr. Netanyahu that Mr. Clinton and Barack Obama had each applied, Mr. Shavit said: “The fact that he’d had a Democratic president was like his external superego.”
“The moment Trump was elected, it unleashed a far more aggressive, vulgar and manipulative Netanyahu than we had seen before,” he added.
It was the “license” Mr. Netanyahu felt with Mr. Trump, Mr. Shavit suggested, that allowed him to attack the police chief and attorney general, both political allies until they pursued corruption charges against him; to abandon an agreement, enormously important to religiously liberal American Jews, to enhance non-Orthodox Jewish prayer at the Western Wall; and, most recently, to broker an alliance with a racist anti-Arab party, Otzma Yehudit, or Jewish Power, whose ideology has been compared to Nazism.
These moves have further eroded his support among liberal American Jews who have felt squeezed between their support for Israel and their animus toward Mr. Netanyahu.
“Democrats have to convey that they’re pro-Israel but anti-Netanyahu,” said Batya Ungar-Garson, a Brooklyn-based columnist for The Forward. “It seems tricky, but his criminal case and his coalition with Otzma have made that so much easier for them. He’s given them a totally fair target.”
If Mr. Trump’s generosity toward Mr. Netanyahu’s Israel has been purposeful, it could be seen at least partly as a drawn-out but determined effort to butter him up to make it more difficult for him to say no to the Trump peace plan. The fear all along among right-wing Israelis has been that Mr. Trump would draw down some of the good will he has banked with Mr. Netanyahu, possibly by demanding such hard-to-swallow concessions as statehood for Palestine with a part of Jerusalem carved out for its capital.
Yet Mr. Netanyahu now trails Mr. Gantz, whose appeals for right-of-center support are widely believed to mask a willingness to compromise for peace if the Palestinians show a readiness to do the same.