It’s time to end the charade. Israeli campaigns are famous for the merger of two parties to run as a unified slate. Enough working in the shadows. The Republican party and the Likud party belong together. I propose the name RepubLIkud.
You might say, “But wait a minute. They are in different countries and run in different elections.” No matter. The parties have been working together for a long time in a subliminal way. Just think how much more effective they would be if they could operate out in the open? From recent events it certainly seems like they need each other.
There was a time when American Jews were solidly Democratic and Jews did not feel comfortable in the Republican Party with it’s isolationist foreign policy and strong sense of Conservative Protestant values. There was a time when the Labor Party in Israel dominated the Israeli/Yishuv political scene. My how times have changed. Now, the Republican party’s foreign policy is strongly influenced by a neoconservative wing which argues for strong support for Israel as the only reliable ally in the MIddle East. There was a time when Arab oil was much more important to the party establishment then Israel. The Conservative Protestant values that used to make Jews feel uncomfortable have now evolved into an evangelical lovefest with Israel and the Jews. This component of the Republican party is in many respects more hardline in its attitudes towards Israel’s enemies then the hard right in Israel.
Hyper-partisanship rules the governments today in Washington and Jerusalem. Republicans with a firm grip on power in Congress do everything in their power to stymie President Obama. In the US Constitutional system foreign policy is the domain of the Executive Branch but that has not stopped Congressional Republicans from doing what they can to upset Obama’s policies. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a key partner in this drive.
Here is where the merger of the two parties works so efficiently. Whether it is the nuclear disarmament negotiations with Iran, or the peace talks with the Palestinians the RepubLikud party has the same goals. One must fight Obama in every way possible. Think of how more efficient their fundraising would be with a merger. Sheldon Adelson would have less checks to write out. Operatives such as Ron Dermer and Dan Senor can move more freely between their positions with the Republican and with Likud parties.
Both of these parties have to deal with their more radical wings. For the Republicans the Tea Party and for the Likud the right wing Settler Movements. The merging of the two parties will greatly “appease” (radicals love this word) these people as nothing makes them happier than sticking it to Obama.
The real issue with this merger is not whether it is good for the political parties but rather whether it is good for the two countries. I would argue that it’s not. It would be nice for the leaders of these parties to forget their selfish interests and see what they are doing to a very important alliance – not the Republican – Likud alliance but the American – Israel one.
The Office of the President is an office worthy of the highest respect. One may not like the man occupying the office but that should not diminish the respect for it. Republicans today are failing in that regard. Republicans have every right to express their opposition to the negotiations with Iran but when it comes to sending a letter to Iran telling them that any agreement they sign with the President may not be binding it is another matter. Right before an election in Israel is not the time for Republicans through their control of Congress to take acts favoring one candidate over another or to use another country to try and embarrass the President.
Obama and the Democrats have much to learn also. Their reaction to the Netanyahu speech was way overboard and served to raise the profile of and importance of the speech in a way that was counterproductive. Instead of trying to boycott and pontificate against it they should have just let it play out. They might not like Netanyahu, but the office of the Prime Minister of Israel deserves respect also. Elections have consequences. Democrals lost the Congress and when that happens, the Speaker, no matter how wrong he might be, has the power to invite whoever he wants to address a joint session of Congress. This was not a time for many of the Democrats and the President to behave as they did.
Prime Minister Netanyahu may have won his election but he did not win the war. He may have a mandate to govern and he might even have a broader coalition in the Knesset but his job in making Israel a safer place to live is immensely more difficult. For this he has only himself to blame. He has to realize that words have consequences and walking them back so soon after pronouncing them makes himself look like a fool without any credibility.
As a politician, Netanyahu knows that there is a way to phrase what you want to say in a way that provokes and a way that is diplomatic. We all know how during the campaign he said that there will not be a Palestinian state while he is Prime Minister. He said it in such blunt language that now that he is trying to walk those words back, nobody believes him and he has lost all credibility. Suppose he said it like this, “In 2009 when I spoke at Bar Ilan University and I said that I would seek a peace agreement that would lead to the formation of a Palestinian State the world was a much different place. That was before the rise of ISIS, the civil war in Syria and unrest in other parts of the Arab World. It is very clear that today, that if Israel were to withdraw from lands to form that Palestinian state, those lands would soon be taken over by radical Islamists, primed to attack our civilian population. I, as Prime Minister could never allow that. As a result, although ideally we still seek that peace agreement with a two state solution, we cannot in good conscience withdraw from those lands while the situation is so unclear.”
Would he have had to walk that back? Couldn’t he have avoided looking like a fool?
Also, his remarks about Arabs voting on election day were atrocious. Suppose he said it like this instead. “Israel is a democracy and our voting system is under attack. Foreign NGO’s and outside agitators are interfering with our sovereign elections by trying to get one segment of our population to vote in higher numbers than others. No other country would allow that interference in their own electoral process. I call on all Israelis of all persuasions to come out and vote in high numbers and not let outsiders interfere with our elections.”
Everybody would have known what he was talking about. His supporters would have heard the dog whistle and run to vote but he could have looked like a statesman. Now he looks like a racist. How does that help Israel?
RepubLikudes seem to be very good at agitating and running campaigns. Governing is another story. It’s time for parties in the US and in Israel to think beyond the election cycle. Its time for them to work to unite and not divide their respective countries.