My newsfeed has been full of posts angrily condemning U.S. President Barack Obama for not yet calling Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his big win. Oddly no one complained that Bibi did not call Obama to thank him for the big boost that the President provided for his campaign…
I understand the complexities of the Israeli electoral system, and I do not want to oversimplify things. I do not vote in Israel, and because of that, I recognize that I am merely an American providing my unsolicited opinion, as one of my Israeli friends often helpfully reminds me… However, as a Democrat and a vocal supporter of Israel, it is difficult to ignore Obama’s (unintended) contribution to the inevitable results of this disappointing election.
I voted for Obama, twice! I like him domestically, but his foreign policy, not so much. Our President’s dealings with Middle East have left much to be desired. He has been complicit in allowing support of Israel to become even more of a partisan issue in his country. The GOP has stepped in where Obama has failed and characters like Marco Rubio have filled a void. As a Democrat, this makes me profoundly uncomfortable. I resent this administration for failing to emphasize often enough the reasons for the long-standing and imperative alliance between Israel and the United States.
So what does this have to do with Bibi?
Israelis do not feel that President Obama understands the severity of the situation with Iran. Israelis believe Iran when it says that it wants to destroy the “Zionist entity”. They notice when Iran holds an International Holocaust Cartoon contest that demonstrates their regime’s seething hatred towards Jews and Israel. For Israel, it stops being harmless rhetoric when IRG members are on its northern border touring with a terrorist group who is quite literally burrowing away underground trying to figure out a way to get into Israel to kill people. Israelis know that no matter how hard the West tries, no matter how much they wish for it, Iran is not anywhere close to being the friend that it was under the Shah.
When you are living with rockets flying overhead, you have been personally affected by a terror attack, you send your children to compulsory army service, and your life is on the line, you care about whether the messianic, apocalyptic regime-next-door is going to acquire a nuclear weapon and take the whole “we want to annihilate you” thing to the next level.
Because of all this, Bibi was able to sell himself as the sole protector, the only one who truly understands the existential threat that Israel faces on multiple fronts. According to a Times of Israel report, Obama left Netanyahu with “the impression that he intends to abandon Israel at the UN.” (https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-mulling-reassessment-of-un-support-for-israel-for-4-months/)
So when and where did things start to go wrong? Where did Obama make his first misstep? I think it was in Cairo, June of 2009. Obama flew to Cairo to give a speech meant to reassure the Arab world regarding the U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to point out what the region has to gain if the Israeli-Palestinian situation stabilizes and a two-state solution is achieved.
Why didn’t he board a plane and give a similar speech in Jerusalem to reassure Israel? Was it not worth reassuring the other side too? Was it not worth explaining to Israel what it would get in return for its continued cooperation in “solving” this ongoing crisis between Israelis and Palestinians? At that point I think that many Israelis began to feel that Obama was more willing to pander to the other side than to answer their questions and concerns. Kerry pushing a Gaza ceasefire agreement that undercut both Israel and Egypt last summer and that favored Hamas, Qatar, and Turkey reinvigorated the concern that the Obama administration simply does not understand the complexity of the situation.
I do not think that Israeli voters went with Likud/Bibi because of their great love for him after all these years. I believe that the Israeli public was ready for a change, and the numbers show it. However the Obama administration’s tone deafness concerning Israel’s security, coupled with the anti-Israel nature of the EU and especially the UN destroyed any chance of a left-wing government. It was the perfect storm, and Bibi ran a fear-mongering campaign that hardly touched on how to improve the socio-economic issues that concern Israelis the most.
Regardless of what I think, Bibi is back. The palpable tension between Netanyahu and Obama will continue to perpetuate the divide between friends. It will benefit Netanyahu, and it will validate his assertions. Those of us who are disappointed can let out a collective sigh, but then we go back to our duty of supporting Israel. Hopefully we are not headed for a disaster.
The outspoken and brilliant Philippe Assouline created a humorous yet highly cynical guide to understanding Israeli politicians at https://www.facebook.com/philassieI/posts/10155397336550171.
Bibi: “Holocaust ISIS ISIS Holocaust Hitler Arafat Iran Iran Iran Iran ISIS is like Iran Holocaust”
Herzog: “I am not Bibi.”
As Phil’s post implies, fear won in the end. Obama and Bibi together ensured that it would be so.
Hat tip to Fred Maroun for editing my work and to Professor David Zuckerman for inspiring me to write this piece