President Barack Obama and his administration are acting like sore losers a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu solidified a major victory in Israel’s elections on Tuesday, March 17, 2015. Netanyahu’s Likud Party swept ahead winning 30 seats 10 seats more than the last polls predicted, and securing Netanyahu his fourth term as prime minister his third consecutive one. As the official results, determined Netanyahu trounced his opponent Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union, world leaders and Republicans started officially to congratulate Netanyahu on his victory, but as they flooded in there was one glaring absence President Obama and his administration.
Although President Obama did not want Netanyahu to win a fourth term, the Democratic president is stuck with the Israeli leader, who is now more his nemesis than ever. Obama and Congressional Democrats snubbed Netanyahu at his address to a joint session of Congress earlier this month thinking the polls were right and Netanyahu was on his way out. Now Obama will have to live with Netanyahu for the last two years of his term. The Israeli leader has refused a Palestinian state and promising to continue building up the settlements, stunting the president plans to renew peace talks with the new Israeli government. Obama will have Netanyahu on his back as the Iran nuclear deal framework is finalized at the end of the month. Netanyahu’s victory will embolden Congressional Republicans opposing the deal with Iran.
Republicans have been enthusiastic in their congratulations to the Israeli premier. Congressional Republicans and potential presidential candidates shared warm sentiments on Facebook, Twitter, and official statements, filled with specially designed graphics expressing their congratulations. Each seems to be competition as to the best way to congratulate Netanyahu. World leaders also took social media congratulating Netanyahu on his victory, but among Israel’s allies, there was a noticeable void and a sound of silence so loud is was deafening, where was President Obama and his administration’s congratulation to Netanyahu. The news media ran stories about the possible reactions from the American president, then came the questions as to why he would not send any congratulations, and the mockeries on Twitter making fun of Obama the sore loser.
Then when there any congratulatory statements from the Obama administration, it was not to Netanyahu, but to Israel on the democratic process. The first word came from White House Director of Political Strategy Outreach David Simas who spoke to CNN, saying, “We want to congratulate the Israeli people for the democratic process for the election that they just engaged in with all the parties that engaged in that election.” The first major acknowledgement of Netanyahu’s victory was from Secretary of State John Kerry who phoned Netanyahu supposedly to congratulate him. Then when it came to the daily press briefings at the White House and State Department there was no congratulation for their close ally, but only threats. The reception the Obama Administration gives to Iran shows more warmth, it was as if Israel was the US’s mortal enemy.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest spoke to the press aboard Air Force One, where there was only criticism about “divisive rhetoric” during the election. Earnest elaborated, “In the context of the recent election Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated a change in his position, based on those comments the United States will evaluate our approach to the situation.” In the end, Earnest responded to when Obama would officially congratulate Netanyahu, “The president in the coming days will also call Prime Minister Netanyahu.” The last time in 2013 Obama took one week before calling Netanyahu.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki’s comments were no different than Earnest’s. Psaki however, went one step further threatening Netanyahu that US might no longer defend Israel in the United Nations Security Council or International Criminal Court, “We are not going to get ahead of any decisions with regard to what the US would do during any vote at the United Nations Security Council.” The Palestinians want to prosecute Israel on war crimes at the ICC, and they have attempted to have the UN unilaterally “establish” a Palestinian state.
What the administration does not seem to realize is Netanyahu’s comments are not far different than Obama’s own when he criticized the conservative base in 2008. Then candidate Obama said, “it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
The administration singled out two comments and positions the Israeli leader took in the last hours of the campaign first that Netanyahu officially stepped back from his two-solution position, and when asked in an interview “If you are prime minister, there will be no Palestinian state?” Netanyahu responded “Indeed,” and elaborated, “I think anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state and to evacuate territory is giving radical Islam a staging ground against the State of Israel.” Secondly, on Election Day Netanyahu tried to rally his voter base, writing on Facebook, “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out.”
The White House was far less hostile on Tuesday evening, when there was still a chance for Isaac Herzog’s leftist Zionist Union to take power and form a coalition. Then White House Press Secretary Earnest stated that Obama “remains committed to working very closely with the winner of the ongoing elections to cement and further deepen the strong relationship between the United States and Israel, and the president is confident that he can do that with whomever the Israeli people choose.”
Underlying all the public rhetoric was the real reason behind the administration’s tough rhetoric and threats in lieu of congratulations, the White House truly did not believe Netanyahu would win and so decisively. The White House is truly disappointed by the resulted they believed the campaign poll predictions that Netanyahu would lose. The administration waited as long as they could publicly to comment on Netanyahu’s victory. They could not actually congratulate Netanyahu, choosing to attack his comments and positions, and threatening to abandon Israel at the UN if they do not obey.
When the administration did react, the media and political pundits especially on the right have found Obama rude and petty for his snub. Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post noted that Obama even phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin when he won a “fraudulent” election, and “shows more deference to the unelected dictatorships in China, Russia and Iran than he does to our closest Middle East ally.” Obama does not treat his allies properly, his constant fighting and insults to Netanyahu, vetoing the Keystone pipeline, which alienates Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, never mind making out that the Republican Party is worst than all the world dictators combined.
Obama not only hoped Netanyahu would lose, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations is investigating whether State Department grants were used to fund OneVoice’s offshoot V15 Victory 15 in their anti-Netanyahu campaign. Jeremy Bird one of Obama top campaign staffers in his 2008 and 2012 reelection campaign was hired by V15 to reach one million Israeli voters with their message to change the government in the election. Among the conspiracy theories floating around is that Obama put Bird up to his new job, and at the very least was not against it. Bird would not have taken the job if it contradicted Obama’s position, because it would threaten his firm’s future work for the Democratic Party in the 2016 election.
Netanyahu referred to international funds being used in a campaign against him, but he refused to point fingers at Obama. Even in his victory speech Netanyahu referred to the international campaigns to oust him stating, “Against all odds, we achieved this huge victory. Now we should form a strong and stable government that will be able to take care of the security, safety and welfare of each and every citizen of Israel.”
The two leaders have a contentious relationship at best, where leaks from the administration have shown that Obama and his aides and advisors have routinely insulted Netanyahu including calling him a coward, Chickensh*t and the like. Just because the White House cannot make Netanyahu do what Obama wants mostly give half of Israel away for a Palestinian state, and forcing Israel to release terrorists and murders for advancing peace talks with the Palestinians who have routinely terrorized innocent Israeli citizens.
Regardless the role that Obama might have played in attempting get rid of Netanyahu, it is clear that as long as Obama is president, relations between Israel and the US will be strained and full of threats, the only buffer a Republican Party and Congress that adores the Israeli leader. Despite the diplomatic inconveniences, Netanyahu is bound to not care, his biggest political obstacle was not abroad, but at home, where within hours the post mortems on his career turned to declarations of a sweeping victory crushing the opposition, everything else is all in a day’s work.
Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a journalist, librarian, editor, & historian. She writes regularly about news, politics, education, and Judaism for Examiner.com. She is the editor of Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program, where she focused on Medieval and Modern Judaism. Her specializations are the North American Jewish community, US, Canadian & Israeli politics, Jewish history, religion and cultural issues