In Congress on Tuesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared war on the Obama Administration. It was a transparently political move in Netanyahu’s increasingly desperate and furtive bid to win re-election on March 17, with a joint session of the United States Congress as one of the most elaborate backdrops for a domestic Israeli stump speech ever.
Israelis are not going to fall for it this time.
Deepening the rift with President Obama is part and parcel of Netanyahu’s campaign strategy. After the speech he continued the back-and-forth with the White House, contradicting Obama’s claim that Netanyahu had offered no practical alternatives to the emerging Iran deal. And the longer the debate over his controversial (and immensely damaging) speech continues, the more Bibi profits politically from it.
As any Israeli, I am fully aware of Israel’s security challenges, and am deeply concerned about everything from the Iranian nuclear program to the resilience of the people on the Gaza border town of Sderot. But I am equally concerned about Israel’s deteriorating economic situation. We can only survive as a nation with a sense of national solidarity and by providing equal opportunity for all Israelis.
With his speech to Congress Netanyahu tried to distract us from the socioeconomic nightmare he has presided over. His response to virtually everything has become, “Look here – Iran!” Just last week, the comptroller slammed Netanyahu for overseeing a 55 percent increase in housing prices over just five years. Netanyahu’s response was to post this widely-derided tweet: “When we talk about housing costs, about the cost of living, I don’t for a moment forget life itself. The greatest challenge to our lives right now is the Iranian bid to obtain nuclear weapons.”
It is only natural Netanyahu does not want to talk about the cost of housing. He only wants to talk about Iran, on which there is no daylight between left and right in Israel, because he is seen as “Mr Security.” (Try telling the residents of the Gaza area, who have absorbed thousands of rockets under Netanyahu’s reign, that Bibi is Mr Security!)
Netanyahu does not want to talk about socioeconomic issues because the country is in crisis, and it has happened under his watch. Not only is there a certifiable housing crisis, but the cost of food and electricity has skyrocketed, education costs are exorbitant, and we now have – astoundingly – the highest rate of poverty in the OECD, and rank 30th of 34 OECD countries in terms of income inequality.
Netanyahu wants to distract us from the fact that, in Startup Nation, more and more families cannot provide for their children, let alone save for the future. One in three children suffers from food insecurity, 36% of poor children must work to help support their family, more than half of the elderly poor regularly lack food, and 41% of Israelis testify that they feel financial distress, while another 34% say that they fear falling into financial distress this year.
Israelis have woken up to Netanyahu’s political shell game. We will not be distracted from Netanyahu’s socioeconomic dystopia every time he utters the word, “Iran.” We know exactly how to deal with Iran – hint: not by alienating the world’s only superpower – but we also know that ordinary Israelis are struggling under the weight of Netanyahu’s reign. On March 17, that reign will end.