The White House temper tantrum about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decisive re-election win isn’t quite over. Though the president finally forced himself to call to congratulate the prime minister, the conversation appears to have been more of a lecture from the president about peace process and the supposed threat to Israeli democracy. In doing so, Obama, who discussed the call with the Huffington Post, is attempting to set the tone for U.S.-Israel relations until he leaves office. His threats about abandoning Israel at the United Nations and exerting brutal pressure on it to make concessions to the Palestinians are going to be presented as an attempt to save Israel from itself and in so doing preserve its democracy. That’s a clever tactic meant to disarm his critics, but the president’s assumptions about Israeli society are not only incorrect, they are a diversionary tactic meant to distract us from Obama’s real foreign policy priority these days: détente with Iran. Far from defending Israeli democracy, his goal is to overturn its verdict.
The president’s concerns about Netanyahu’s pre-election vow about not allowing the creation of a Palestinian state on his watch are presentable as a reasonable defense of what even most Israelis think is the ideal solution to their country’s conflict with the Arab world. But the reason why a clear majority of Israelis supported Netanyahu and parties likely to back him was that few of them outside of the far left believe there is any reasonable hope for a two-state solution in the foreseeable future. They weren’t convinced of the danger of further territorial concessions by Netanyahu’s rhetoric but by the actions of the Palestinians and the culture of hatred for Israel and Jews that pervades their society.
The president treats the repeated rejections of Israeli offers of statehood by the Palestinians and the support for terrorism even by the supposedly moderate leaders of the Palestinian Authority as irrelevant. Israelis do not. Nor are they interested in replicating what happened in Gaza after Israel’s 2005 withdrawal — which now constitutes an independent Palestinian state in all but name and a massive base for terrorism — in the more strategic West Bank. That’s an opinion shared even by many of those who supported Netanyahu’s opponents. Until a sea change in Palestinian politics that will allow its leaders to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn occurs, Israelis will reject two states in practice rather than in principle and no amount of White House bullying will change that.
But Obama’s concerns for Israeli democracy have more resonance than his promotion of a peace process that everyone knows is dead in the water. Netanyahu’s foolish remarks about wanting his base to turn out to balance the votes of Israeli Arabs is being used to present him as not only a racist but a threat to his country’s survival. But the huffing and puffing, especially from liberal Jews, many of whom, like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who generally only trot out their religious credentials to bash Israel, tells us less about Israel than about the ignorance about the Jewish state that prevails among much of the American chattering classes that are following the president’s lead.
Whatever one may think about Netanyahu and his overheated campaign rhetoric, his comments about Arab votes simply reflected the reality of a democratic system that remains under assault from both within and without. No one in the government attempted to obstruct the efforts of Israeli Arabs to vote. Nor were their votes stolen. The rights of those Arab voters who backed the Joint Arab List that won 13 seats last week (many Arabs vote for mainstream Israeli parties, some of whom including the Likud have Arab Knesset members) were not violated. If they are marginalized, as some claim, it is not because Netanyahu and his voters are racist but because they support the Palestinian war on the Jewish state. The goals of those elected on that list have somehow not penetrated to the consciousness of many Americans that are so concerned about them. The list is an alliance of three parties, one Communist, one Islamist and radical Arab nationalist, that differ on just about everything but not the destruction of Israel. That is something they all support. The Islamists and the nationalists also support terrorism against the state they are elected to serve in the Knesset. Is it any wonder that Israelis worry about the rise of such a list or that Netanyahu would urge them not to let it determine the outcome of the elections by themselves turning out in big numbers as they did?
What Obama and other critics of Netanyahu want is not to preserve Israel’s democratic system that is not under attack from the Likud but to punish the voters for choosing a party and a candidate that contradicts their ignorant assumptions about the Middle East. Israel’s leftists can’t seem to persuade voters to back them but they have convinced some Americans that the right of the majority of Israelis to determine their nation’s fate should be superseded by a U.S. president that has little affection for them.
More to the point, the more Obama and his liberal cheering section in the press pour on the opprobrium on Netanyahu, the less attention we’re paying to the Iran talks that are reportedly moving toward a conclusion in Switzerland. Almost by default, Netanyahu has become the most articulate opponent of the administration’s embrace of détente with an Iranian regime that even Obama concedes continues to spew anti-Semitism and threats about Israel’s destruction. Selling an Iran deal that, at best, grants the Islamist regime the status of threshold nuclear power now seems to require Netanyahu’s delegitimization rather more than desultory efforts to justify an indefensible surrender of U.S. principles and Obama’s campaign promise. Those who play along with this ruse out of a misguided belief that Israeli democracy is in danger are helping the president isolate the Jewish state, not defending it.