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The Incoherence of Netanyahu’s Most Strident Critics

Near the end of his new autobiography, David Axelrod sheds some light on President Obama’s distaste for democracy. “Obama has limited patience or understanding for officeholders whose concerns are more parochial–which would include most of Congress and many world leaders,” Axelrod writes, in noting Obama’s preference for supercilious vanity projects. Yet while Axelrod paints with a broad brush, he gives two examples, and they are telling. He writes: “Whether it’s John Boehner or Bibi Netanyahu, few practiced politicians appreciate being lectured on where their political self-interest lies.” This passage is an important preamble to the current dustup between the two administrations.

One of the regular critiques from the administration and its spokesmen in the media of tomorrow’s speech by Netanyahu is that Bibi just wants to use the speech as a prop in his own reelection campaign. As Axelrod’s book demonstrates, catering to voters and representing their interests in the government is borderline incomprehensible to Obama. His disdain for other world leaders who follow the wishes of their employers–the taxpayers–instead of doing what Obama wants is especially strange, considering its undisguised imperialist overtones.

And Netanyahu, of late, has found himself the world leader who values democratic elections far too much for Obama’s taste. When Netanyahu pressed ahead with giving the speech to a joint session of Congress, the Obama administration said they’d hit back, and suggested one way of doing so would be for them to bash Bibi through the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, as they often do when they want to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Israel. They did so; here is how Goldberg delivers the talking point:

It would be reassuring—sort of—to believe that Benjamin Netanyahu decided to set the U.S.-Israel relationship on fire mainly because he fears that President Obama is selling out Israel. But Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on March 3—a speech arranged without Obama’s knowledge by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and by Obama’s chief Republican rival, House Speaker John Boehner—is motivated by another powerful fear: the fear of unemployment. The message Bibi is preparing to deliver on Tuesday (a “statesmanlike message,” according to an official close to him) has as its actual target not Congress but, instead, Israeli voters who need reminding, in Netanyahu’s view, that he is the only leader strong enough to face down both the genocidal regime in Tehran and the Israel-loathing regime in Washington.

You can set aside the obviously false characterization of Netanyahu’s culpability. According to Goldberg–and the administration–Netanyahu’s “main” concern is not Israel’s perceived existential threats or a bad Iran deal or President Obama’s repeated insistence on selling out Israel (sometimes during wartime).

Now, obviously Netanyahu cares about reelection. He’s a politician in a democracy, and is acting as one, not as a tyrant or a religious cult figure. His decision to accept the speech without the president’s support was also clearly a mistake. He compounded that mistake by not backing out or rescheduling when he had ample opportunity to do so. And his mistake has already had tangible effects: the speech has almost certainly destroyed the possibility of the very veto-proof sanctions he hoped to inspire, at least for now.

But sufferers of Bibi Derangement Syndrome don’t see “mistakes”; they see arson. They violate the cardinal rule of democratic politics in a free society: Don’t attribute to malice what can be more easily explained by incompetence.

And the Obama-Axelrod-Goldberg line is strange for another reason: the belief that Bibi doesn’t take the long view but instead focuses on near-term electoral fortunes is pretty much the opposite of what the administration’s critique of him had previously been. In May 2011, the consensus was that Netanyahu was practically obsessed with incorporating the grand sweep of history into his dialogue with Obama. “Like many of you, I watched the Prime Minister of Israel publicly lecture the President of the United States on Jewish history with a mixture of shock, amusement and bewilderment,” Goldberg wrote in a post titled “Netanyahu Continues to Needlessly Alienate.”

(It was a common framing. ABC News: “In Oval Office, Bibi Offers History Lessons to Obama.” Chicago Sun-Times: “Obama gets Netanyahu Israeli history lecture.”)

Netanyahu has also come in for criticism for saying “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs… preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state.” And the press has taken a couple swings at him for referencing Ben-Gurion’s declaration of the establishment of Israel against the wishes of the State Department and other governmental agencies in his speeches, as he did this morning at AIPAC.

Also in his speech this morning, the prime minister returned to the long view of Jewish history:

For 2,000 years, my people, the Jewish people, were stateless, defenseless, voiceless. We were utterly powerless against our enemies who swore to destroy us. We suffered relentless persecution and horrific attacks. We could never speak in our own behalf, and we could not defend ourselves. Well, no more. No more. The days when the Jewish people are passive in the face of threats to annihilate us–those days are over.

It’s no surprise the recitation of history makes Obama uncomfortable. As we’ve seen, the president’s ignorance of history is comprehensive, but he is especially unknowledgeable on Israeli and Jewish history. It doesn’t seem to interest him, and it shows.

So it’s always been a bit rich for the president who thinks history started with his own presidential election to accuse others of not thinking about the big picture. What Obama means by this is actually that these other politicians and world leaders aren’t thinking enough about Obama’s legacy, which he’d like them to prioritize over the needs and wants of their citizens, Israel being no exception.

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4 Responses to “The Incoherence of Netanyahu’s Most Strident Critics”


    The article is the usual great and subtle output we expect from Mr. Mandel, despite my differences with some of his assertions.

    President Obama has arranged, intentionally and despite past practice of the US in dealing with its allies–keeping them close (that darned long-view again)–, for a cage match between Iran and Israel to decide whether throwing in with the mullahs is really the world-beater for alliances that the old-fashioned US-Israeli cooperation apparently is not anymore. Charles Krauthammer once observed (paraphrased) that Israel’s job was to do what it had to to keep the US’ nose from getting out of joint or getting embroiled in situations where too much of a defense of Israel was a detriment to its, the US’, own interests. All of that goes out the window, when Israel’s interest, namely surviving, is directly at odds with an emboldened, US-subsidized fanatical tyranny that has Israel encircled in a cordon of jeopardy on all sides, save the South.

    To traduce Netanyahu for objecting to the death match with a country we should have nothing to do with except on the most onerous terms for them, is in exact apposition with evil and betrayal and cannot be countenanced as in our interests, not just because we have been shielded from the terms of the Iranian deal, but because the Iranians have no track record of keeping a deal.

    Whatever conclave of media [Goldberg is the embodiment of the worst of this ilk for trading his insider status with the Obama White House for scoops and propounding falsehoods], academics and Leftists that agreed for the rest of us that all we had to do was wait out the first black President’s two terms to undo whatever supposed sins were to be healed by his election, without benefit of impeachment or a strong-willed Congress to countermand his policy choices, we have been consigned to an audience role in keeping our Republic alive and true. The Founders never imagined that someone who could act so counter to the interests of the United States would sit in the President’s chair, nor that the rest of us would act so meekly in accepting the consequences of that poor choice.

    By now, you all know that only two world leaders will have addressed a Joint Session of Congress 3 times, after Netanyahu’s speech tomorrow… Churchill and Netanyahu.
    How apposite is that?


    ” The president’s ignorance of history is comprehensive ” Yes indeed it is . I would edit the sentence in one regard and substitute ‘ Obama’ for ‘president ‘: we ought not besmirch the office itself because of the manifest and manifold failings of the current officeholder .


    If Jeffrey Goldberg remains on his path he will soon become a member of the club of the Chicken-S…t.
    Slowly but surely, Thomas Friedman is on his way out. Too much NYT kool-aid.

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