I am admittedly a terrible sore loser. I really believed the Israeli electorate was finally tired of Benjamin Netanyahu, that they saw through his political maneuvering and were appalled by his blatant last minute racism and flip flop on Palestinian statehood. I hated the gloating of my friends and relatives who support him and parties to the right of him. I did not take into account just how talented a political actor Bibi is and to what extremes he would go to, to get reelected. Good as Bibi is none of what he pulled off is new, in fact I’m pretty sure that he took some of his strategies straight from the American presidential playbook.
Race baiting? George H. W. Bush used Willie Horton (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_Horton) to scare the bejeezes out of white voters in 1988 on his way to crushing Democrat Michael Dukakis. In 2000 George W Bush did the same to John McCain in South Carolina (http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2004/11/mccain200411) . Flip flopping? Barack Obama did that on gay marriage (originally against), Guantanamo Bay (still open) and NSA eavesdropping (worse record than George W. Bush). George H. W. Bush pledged “no new taxes” and we know what happened there. Transparent political pandering? On January 24th 1992 Bill Clinton returned to Arkansas from campaigning to oversee the execution of a mentally retarded man, Ricky Ray Rector so his opponents wouldn’t consider him soft on crime. Let me repeat that again to let that sink in, he returned home to oversee the execution of a MENTALLY RETARDED MAN! You get the picture; Bibi didn’t do anything different than most other politicians do to win.
The best way I can explain how I feel about Bibi now is by citing a scene from one of the classics of American cinema, “Hot Tub Time Machine.” In the scene Dr. Jeff (Geoff Gustofeson) asks Nick (Craig Robinson) and Adam (John Cusack) if Lou (Rob Corddry) is their friend. Nick answers: “It’s like a friend who’s an a**hole, but he’s our a**hole.” Yup, Bibi is our a**hole. We’re stuck with him and now we have to get behind him because despite his terrible behavior, his transparent backpedaling, a coalition that will have United Torah Judaism and Shas, a continued Ultra Orthodox control over all matters religious, the return of Avigdor Lieberman and likely more of the same stagnant do nothing government as before, Israel will be more under siege now than ever before.
Bibi’s bad judgment and political arrogance should not be reason to punish a whole country but it appears that’s exactly what is going to happen. Bibi’s personal animus to Barack Obama and visa versa should not be reason for the US to abandon Israel at the UN but it sure looks like it might. Bibi’s ill timed and poorly conceived speech to the Joint Session of Congress should not be reason for Obama to allow Western Europe to impose sanctions on Israel that until now the US has pressured them to hold off on, but it might. Bibi’s shallow campaign rhetoric and flip-flopping should not cause the US to now put daylight between these two great allies but it might.
I had hoped for a Herzog/Zionist Union victory but I’m not going to go all J Street on Israel because the people that live there chose otherwise. Obama and Netanyahu are not the first allies and world leaders to dislike each other. Did anyone ever really like De Gaulle or Jacques Chirac for that matter? I expect Bibi will have to eat some crow from Obama, I’ve been expecting it ever since Bibi bitch slapped the president in front of the whole world from the Oval Office on his first official visit to the newly elected Obama. But I do not believe the conspiracy theorists and Obama haters who think the outgoing president will use the next 22 months to somehow throw Israel under the bus as a matter of aminus. No, my concern is less cynical. Like many people who voted for President Obama (in my case just once), I don’t ascribe him bad motives, just poor judgment. I am disappointed in Obama I don’t hate him. I am not worried he will be petty regarding Israel; I’m worried he will be wrong. I’m worried that he will see and use the election as a way of pursuing policies that are contrary to the interests of America and potentially damaging to Israel. President Obama has shown that he sometimes gets the “optics” wrong thereby sending the wrong message to friend and foe alike. I worry that the wrong message from the president will embolden Israel’s enemies. President Obama was wrong about Russia, Libya, Syria, Iraq, ISIS, Iran, Yemen, Egypt and now Israel. It’s not personal it’s his worldview.
I can name two presidents who treated Israel much more poorly than Obama has; Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush – Israel survived and thrived despite them. We diaspora Jews don’t need to hate Obama or love Bibi, we need to stand firm in our support of Israel. We need to be vocal advocates for Israel here with our policy makers and just as vocal with the Israeli leadership about issues important to us. To some of us that means keeping up the pressure on recognizing Reform and Conservative Judaism, easing Ultra Orthodox hegemony on all matters religious, a continuous seeking of a peaceful solution to the Palestinian issue and maintaining a Jewish but always democratic Israel.
I could spend the foreseeable future railing against Netanyahu, the right and Israel’s poor choice, on the other hand I’d rather spend my time convincing Jewish American millenials that Israel is still worth fighting for, that no matter what the politics, the survival and viability of Israel must be a top priority for them. Unfortunately, many of our young kids see Israel and their immediate association is occupation, Bibi and Ted Cruz. That narrative won’t sell them on Israel. So while I move on from post election blues I look forward to be ready to defend Israel when she needs me and to teach the kids that elections happen all the time, we don’t always like the results but we need to move on.