Benjamin Netanyahu is at war. Violence, blood, gore and death appear on the screen. The prime minister is argumentative. We are told he has a fatalistic view of the world.
After a six minute tease, the cynical set up is complete. Under a shot of the prime minister’s glaring eyes, the title of last week’s PBS Frontline documentary, Netanyahu at War, appears word by word. Netanyahu. At. War. With the word “war” in red. Oooh, war. “An epic story of Israel, America and the life of Benjamin Netanyahu.”
An epic hit piece on the prime minister is more like it.
As the documentary, interspersed with interviews of ambassadors, advisors and others, moves forward, one can easily see that Netanyahu is made responsible for much that has gone wrong between him and everyone else. The prime minister is the villain of the story and not just the subject.
Those who had intimate knowledge of Netanyahu, such as close advisors, might be believed about what the prime minister could be thinking. But what about those officials, advisors and experts never close to Netanyahu, who make mere conjectures, some very obvious, with their opinions presented as facts?
Aaron David Miller, an author and Middle East expert, says Netanyahu sees a hostile world. Big shock. Who doesn’t? David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker says Netanyahu’s brother Yoni’s death during the raid on the Entebbe Airport to rescue hostages changed him. I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. Would you? But how does Remnick know? Leftist Peter Bienart, well-known author, political commentator and Netanyahu antagonist makes his views known.
Biases are not noted. Whatever said by whomever is presented as gospel. I don’t object to anyone being used in a documentary, but explain who they are and what they believe, so viewers can make a fact-based, not an opinion-based, judgement. And by the way, the subject of the documentary, Benjamin Netanyahu, was not interviewed.
One Frontline source is Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator. He is made to appear objective, even wistful. Erekat has indeed been involved with Israeli/Palestinian diplomacy for a long time, but Mr. Erekat is not the rational, seemingly reasonable person Frontline makes him out to be. Quite the opposite. He has a reputation for inflammatory rhetoric and incitement claiming Israel has practiced apartheid and genocide, and committed a massacre of hundreds that never happened.
Former United States ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, claims that when he sat next to Netanyahu at Yitzchak Rabin’s funeral, Netanyahu said, “Look at this. He’s a hero now, but if he not been assassinated, I would have beaten him in the election and then he would gone into history as a failed politician.” How callous!
It was quickly denied by Netanyahu’s office, and pictures and video of the funeral showed Indyk was nowhere near Netanyahu. Indyk then changed his story and claimed it was said elsewhere at that time. How convenient.
The program paints President Obama as a man with a “Jewish soul,” so close to the Jewish people, with so many Jewish influences. Please. He did have Jewish influences for sure. Left-wing and very far-left Jews. Believe it or not, there are actually Jews of other political persuasions.
And can anyone forget Obama’s very close and very long association with Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor for so many years? When Obama was embarrassed by the nasty statements Wright had made over the years about Jews, Israel and America, Obama only then cut his ties with the bigot. No mention of this in the piece, of course.
The documentary explains how the Obama administration decided on a hardline strategy, putting “daylight” between Israel and America – winning friends in the Arab world by distancing itself from the Jewish State. So shortly after he is elected, Obama makes a point to be interviewed first by Arab media and he travels to the Middle East visiting Muslim countries, but not Israel. In a speech in Cairo, Egypt, Obama chastises Israel about settlements, catching the Israelis by surprise.
George Mitchell, Obama’s peace talks negotiator and David Axelrod, Obama’s senior advisor, both admit it was a mistake for Obama not to visit Israel – only minutes away from his destinations – especially after the Cairo speech. Once Obama’s strategy becomes clear to Israelis and to Jewish Americans, and his popularity in Israel drops into the basement, the clueless president feels hurt.
Axelrod quotes Obama as saying, “I think I’m the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat in this office… It hurts to be depicted as hostile to the community. It bothers me.” What arrogance.
Obama associates with some left-wing American Jews who Israelis know have no feeling or inkling as to what it is like to live on the front line of terror in the most hostile part of the world, and he is hurt that Israelis and many Jewish Americans don’t appreciate the insensitive words and actions by “the closest thing to a Jew” that has ever been President of the United States. Right.
The documentary then skips a couple years to the Arab Spring. But wait. Why wasn’t Netanyahu’s agreement to freeze new construction settlement activity for ten months to try and restart the peace process not mentioned? This was very hard for Israel and the prime minister and a very big deal.
Could it be anything positive the Israeli prime minister did would not fit the biased narrative? Or could it be Frontline didn’t want to mention Palestinian leadership refusal to make any positive moves during that freeze, even spurning negotiations nearly that whole time? Never mind the subject of the piece, Palestinian leadership inaction and obstinacy is never mentioned after Yasser Arafat’s refusal to agree to concessions by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
When Obama gives a speech about the Arab Spring in 2011, he without warning to Israel, mentions that the 1967 borders be used as a peace process starting point. This had never been publicly mentioned before. By this time, the White House knows very well that they are dealing with an Israeli government not positively responsive to the “daylight” approach, yet the president and his people don’t understand why Netanyahu wasn’t happy by what was said. Ignorance and arrogance.
When Netanyahu visits the White House in May of 2011 and there is that famous press meeting where he lectures Obama, Axelrod says the prime minister came “to inflame the relationship.” Really? That was why he came? He knows that? I am not defending what Netanyahu did, but perhaps he came to express his opposition to what Obama had done. Perhaps he was expressing his anger at yet another “daylight” ambush. In fact, maybe Obama was inflaming things.
The Israeli Prime Minister indeed as mentioned, risked a lot by speaking to a joint session of Congress to lobby against the deal. There is an old Jewish saying, “A drowning man will grab even the edge of a sword to survive.” Say what you will about how the speech came about and whether it was appropriate or not; Netanyahu felt he and his people were drowning. Obama, John Kerry and others can never comprehend what only Jews do. That our history is like no other people’s history.
Israeli left-wing leader Yitzchak Herzog called the agreement with Iran a “horrible deal, one that will go down as a tragedy of the ages,” even as he criticized Netanyahu for not doing “everything possible” to stop the deal. This was left out of the documentary.
What Obama never wanted to understand was that while most American Jews were left of center and had political leanings comfortable with his, the vast majority of Israelis, including the Israeli center and even the left, were vehemently against the deal. In this matter, Netanyahu spoke for the vast majority of Israelis.
Obama knew this, but for political reasons at home, he makes the Iran deal a battle between him and the Israeli prime minister when it was a battle between him and the Israeli people, and of course many others around the world. This dishonesty was not mentioned in the piece.
Near the end of the program, the narrator identifies AIPAC as the American Israeli Political Action Committee. PBS even got this well-known and easily verifiable identification wrong, no matter how it may be perceived. AIPAC stands for The American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Journalistic sloppiness.
Benjamin Netanyahu lectured Barack Obama about the tortured history of the Jews in that tense meeting mentioned above. None of it mattered. The words did not penetrate the mind of the man more worried about legacy than any existential threat to a people who suffered the Holocaust.
Isn’t it possible Netanyahu understands what sadly, even some American Jews don’t? That the Jewish people’s tortured history makes things different? Isn’t it possible that the Israeli prime minister says what he says and does what he does, not because he is a calculating, evil obstructionist, but because he truly wants to do what is best for the people he leads, the people for which he is responsible, the people that chose him?
Frontline was an affront. To truth and to fairness.