Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stunning election victory surprised the nation and shocked the media “experts” who were already writing his obituaries. Gideon Levy of Haaretz even remarked that the only solution for Israel now “was to replace the people.”
All the odds were stacked against Netanyahu. The prevailing “time for a change” mood which gained traction from the “anyone but Bibi” campaign was manifested in an unprecedentedly ferocious and vulgar media promotion of personal character assassination. Netanyahu was attacked for neglecting the economy, failing to reduce the widening gap between rich and poor and stemming the escalating rise in house prices. He was blamed for the deterioration of relations with the Obama administration and even castigated for his triumphant address to Congress discussing the Iranian nuclear threat.
But despite polls indicating that Likud was trailing the Zionist Union, Netanyahu achieved the greatest political achievement of his career — a landslide victory providing him with a powerful mandate to lead the nation and become the longest-serving Israeli prime minister.
Most pundits believe that this was primarily achieved during the closing week of the election when he personally campaigned with more intensity than during his entire term of office. Brutally, and in some cases even resorting to divisive terminology, he succeeded in drawing the attention of the electorate to the critical security threats facing Israel. He convinced them of the need for a strong leader to confront the barbarians at our gates and one who could resist the pressures of the Obama administration to make further unilateral concessions to the Palestinians which would undermine security and lead to increased terror.
The majority of Israelis demonstrated that despite reservations about Netanyahu’s policies and personality, their choice was to elect a strong and experienced leader. Presumably that is why Likud gained so many votes at the last moment.
Prior to the election, U.S. President Barack Obama had already signaled his malicious intent by appointing Robert Malley, known for his hostility to Israel, as White House coordinator for the Middle East, and designated White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough as keynote speaker at the anti-Israeli J Street Conference. Still smarting over Netanyahu’s address to Congress and having failed to bring about his downfall, Obama was clearly devastated by his spectacular electoral victory.
But having regard to the fact that the electorate in the only democratic country in the region had extended a clear vote of confidence in Netanyahu, it is anticipated that Israel’s long-standing ally — which purports to support democracy — would accept the will of the people in good faith.
Besides, an analysis of the votes indicates Netanyahu’s victory was anything but a lurch to the far right. It was a vindication of the center right with the most radical party failing to meet the threshold, and the other two more conservative parties being reduced from 25 to 13 seats.
Nevertheless, the administration effectively declared war against Netanyahu. Obama grasped two remarks expressed by Netanyahu, somewhat out of context at the height of the election fever, to justify a veiled threat that the U.S. would “reassess” relations with Israel, hinting that the U.S. would punish Israel by failing to exercise its veto to protect Israel at the U.N. Security Council.
Netanyahu was condemned as a racist because, in an effort to jolt his supporters to vote, he drew attention to the massive effort funded from overseas to transport Arab voters to vote for the Joint Arab List, which includes supporters of Hamas and terrorism. It was a clumsy statement and a blunder but he hastily clarified his remark, noting that he used similar arguments about the Left in his efforts to encourage a maximum turnout of Likud voters. He stressed that he was proud that Arabs enjoyed equal voting rights to Jews, but that he was no less entitled to be critical of their political party than any other opposing party.
For the administration to transform this into a major racist incident and a basis for reassessing the bilateral relationship becomes even more ludicrous when noting that it consistently ignores the obscene incitement and vicious hatred generated at all levels by the Palestinian Authority, including Abbas’ call for ethnic cleansing by declaring that he would not contemplate allowing a single Jew to remain in a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu was also quoted as stating that no Palestinian state would emerge under his government. Yet, he made it abundantly clear that he remains opposed to annexation and that like the majority of Israelis, he remains committed in the long term to separating Israel from the Palestinians, thus enabling them to have a state. But this is impossible under current circumstances while Israel is surrounded by jihadists pledged to its destruction and creating a new terrorist entity, extending the carnage rampant in the region.
The fact is that Israel remains a democratic oasis of stability in a region in which barbarism is at an all-time high and where hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions displaced. There is not a single sane Israeli politician who could today possibly contemplate endorsing statehood for a criminal Palestinian society based on a culture of death that glorifies mass murders and extolls terrorism. Furthermore, it is acknowledged that were it not for the Israel Defense Forces, Hamas would already have wrested control from the corrupt and duplicitous Palestinian Authority whose leader’s term expired five years ago.
Most Israelis expect Netanyahu to firmly resist pressures to make further territorial concessions and are outraged that Obama makes these demands after Abbas and his predecessor Arafat had both rejected offers to cede over 95% of the former Jordanian occupied territories. Moreover, Abbas is adamant that even if Palestine achieved statehood, that would not presuppose an end to conflict and he would refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and not compromise on the right of return of Arab refugees.
The U.S. approach becomes even more obscene when Obama, who has no hesitation in publicly displaying his loathing of Netanyahu, virtually grovels to terrorist Iran, allies himself with Qatar, a major funder of Hamas and other terrorist groups, develops close personal relations with Recep Erdogan, the dictatorial anti-Semitic Turkish leader, embraces the Muslim Brotherhood, and most recently suggested that the U.S. would need to cooperate with Assad, the Syrian butcher recently reported for again employing chemical weapons against his own people.
Obama’s chilling threats of distancing the United States from Israel at the United Nations, possibly endorsing a Palestinian state based on the indefensible 1949 armistice lines, would amount to an outright betrayal of an ally — effectively throwing Israel to the wolves.
Netanyahu needs the support of the nation to resist these pressures and one would hope after the election, the opposition parties will set aside rivalries and act in the national interest by displaying unity in the face of global pressures threatening Israel’s security.
We are blessed with the support of the majority of the American people and, despite the controversy surrounding Netanyahu’s extraordinary address, he does enjoy the support of the majority of Congress, including most Democrats.
Some Jewish groups, such as the organizational leaders of the Conservative and Reform rabbinical movements and other bodies that had condemned Netanyahu for addressing Congress, have echoed the administration’s criticisms. The more radical anti-Israeli Jewish groups are even calling on Obama to “punish” the Jewish state and for Jews to demonstrate against Israel.
On the positive side, many committed Jewish leaders are now speaking up. For the first time, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee urged Obama to reach out to Israel and strongly criticized the White House for rebuffing Netanyahu’s reaffirmation of his support for a two-state solution when Israel’s security will not be endangered. The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations made a similar statement. Abe Foxman, national director the Anti-Defamation League, described the anti-Israeli reactions as “an intemperate, inappropriate overreaction” to “election overzealousness” and described the administration’s response as “unbecoming.”
There is no doubt that Netanyahu will do his utmost to try to repair the relationship. But if Obama continues to be vindictive and remains obsessed with forcing America’s only loyal and democratic ally in the region to retreat to indefensible borders, we will need to stand firm. Hopefully, Congress and friends of Israel will use their influence to convince Obama that such a course of action would have catastrophic global implications and trigger powerful protests among his own people.
Isi Leibler may be contacted at [email protected]
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom