Bibi’s win this Tuesday in the Israeli election is poised to become the Israeli equivalent of the Chicago Tribune’s infamous 1948 headline, “Dewey Defeat’s Truman.”
“Exit poll gaps leave pollsters in Israel scratching their head,” reads an article in the Jerusalem Post. The Times of Israel article on the statistical mishap was even more blunt: “Botched TV exit polls earn vote of no confidence.” The fact is, no one—perhaps not even Bibi—expected Likud to win, much less win so decisively over the Zionist Union.
While Secretary of State Kerry called to congratulate Bibi on the win, the President took his time. Earlier in the week, White House spokesman Josh Earnest—sometimes, you really can’t make these names up—denied (earnestly) that the President wasn’t ‘dragging his feet’ in political parlance; instead, earnest Earnest argued that The President was following protocol, waiting until Bibi was formally tasked with forming a coalition.
Obama called today; but the delay made him seem less Presidential. He seemed to be a participant in the Israeli election fracas—and not above it. In short, Obama appeared as if he had lost the election and was unwilling to concede defeat.
The only piece missing from the “Dewey Beats Truman” like upset was a picture capturing a grinning Bibi holding up a paper, “Obama Beats Bibi.”
No doubt, Obama was disappointed. Indeed, Herzog’s victory would have been Obama’s victory, just as Ehud Barak’s victory over (ironically) Bibi in 1999 was considered Clinton’s victory. Then, according to Caroline Glick, in her book The Israeli Solution, “The American contribution to Barak’s election was so enormous that Israelis widely recognized that Barak [again, you can’t make these names up] owed his office to the Clinton administration.”
The same might have been said about Obama’s administration. Their contribution was not small. In fact, it went beyond Clinton’s involvement, so much further, in fact, it’s uncertain if the Obama administration broke the law by not merely sending political operatives (like Clinton) but actually funded Bibi’s opposition through State Department taxpayer grants ($350,000 worth). A bipartisan Senate Permanent Subcommittee is looking into the matter.
So Herzog’s defeat is Obama’s defeat.
The question is, given the similar circumstances, why did Obama fail where Clinton succeeded? Every poll indicated Bibi was behind. I believe they were correct; the exist polls are another matter. This was Obama’s election to lose—and he did. How—Obama must be asking himself—did this happen?
The different outcome between then (Clinton’s successful effort) and now (Obama’s failed intervention) is telling; the comparison supports the argument that Israelis voted for Bibi because they concluded that Obama couldn’t be trusted on fundamental issues of security and that Herzog couldn’t be trusted to stand up to Obama.
Israeli’s never doubted Clinton’s fundamental support for their state.
Barak—the Israeli Barak—won, and he won against Bibi.
In comparison, Israeli’s reasonably doubt Obama’s fundamental support for their state.
A February poll conducted by Stephan Miller for The Times of Israel found that 72% do not trust Obama to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The same poll revealed that Obama continues to have an overall low (and worsening) favorability rating in Israel—59% of voters viewing him unfavorably as opposed to 50% in the same poll last year. Even among the 33% of Israeli voters who do view Obama favorably, they do not trust him with their most pressing security matter: 45% said they trusted him on Iran and 47% said they did not.
Herzog lost, and he lost against Bibi despite an electorate that had clearly tired of him.
Security matters are always paramount in any Israeli election. They trump the economy for self-evident reasons—what good is the price of bread or a roof over your head, when the enemy is at the gate?
Making matters worse, even neglecting the Iranian nuclear issue, Obama likely eroded any credibility he might have maintained with those 45% of voters whose trusted him back in February, when, just a week before the election, he removed Iran and Hezbollah from the terrorist threat list.
One cannot help but wonder if the erosion of that 45% significantly contributed to Bibi’s unanticipated victory. Hopefully, an Iranian confrontation is not inevitable. Unfortunately, war with Hezbollah is inevitable.
To paraphrase James Carville, the mastermind behind Clinton’s first Presidential election, “It’s security, stupid.” When you’re a little state, surrounded by enemies dedicated to your destruction and one on the verge of obtaining the means to that end, politics can be that simple.