Memo to Bibi: What Are You Thinking?
09/20/12
Jewish Week Online Columnist
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Having made a private vow to myself to steer clear of politics during this High Holiday season, I write this article with considerable ambivalence.  The deepest truth is that it is not about the American presidential campaign per se, nor is it intended to indicate a preference for one candidate over another, though I won’t pretend not to have one.  The real issue that I want to address has to do with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his obvious decision to insert himself- and Israel- into the American presidential campaign.

Time and time again, Prime Minister Netanyahu has, in a dramatically public way, chastised President Obama and his administration for what he obviously perceives as the President’s inadequate application of pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear program. In print media, at press conferences, and most recently on a series of Sunday morning talk shows here in America, Netanyahu has demanded that America declare publicly what its “red lines” are.  What threshold does Iran have to achieve in order to warrant an American military response?  When does the much-talked-about “window of opportunity” for negotiation and sanctions to work end, and the time for more aggressive action to begin?

Let me, at the outset, make myself as clear as I can.  I have often referred to myself as an “unrepentant Zionist,” and I am.  Were I the Prime Minister of Israel, and I had to carry on my shoulders the responsibility for protecting my country and its citizens from the likes of Ahmadinejad, who threatens regularly to wipe Israel off the map and is engaged in a drive to gain nuclear weapon capability, I, too, would do everything in my power to prevent him from reaching his goal.  If Israel, based on its intelligence reports and security considerations, decides that it has no choice but to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, then my comfort level or lack thereof with that decision is not Israel’s issue, nor should it be.  And if Israel feels that the American government’s assessment of Iran’s intentions and/or progress towards becoming a nuclear power is in error, and is jeopardizing Israel’s security, not for a second would I begrudge Israel the right to make clear to America how I felt, in direct and unmistakable terms.

But I wouldn’t do it in public. And I wouldn’t do it in a way that publicly portrays a sitting president of the United States as less than a true friend to Israel.  And last but certainly not least, I wouldn’t do it in the final weeks of an American presidential election, in a way that makes Israel and its security a wedge issue in the campaign.

Let me suggest a parallel scenario to clarify what I am saying.  Suppose that an American president, in the midst of an Israeli election campaign, were to decide that the sitting Israeli Prime Minister’s policies on negotiations with the Palestinians were an obstacle to the peace process.  In order to advance the possibility of a more left-leaning Prime Minster being elected, said American president goes on Israel’s political talk shows, and publicly implies that the policies of the sitting Prime Minister are impeding the possibility of peace.  He doesn’t endorse the opposition candidate, but he doesn’t have to. The message is clear.

It’s hard for me to imagine that such a series of events wouldn’t provoke a firestorm of protest in Israel, and rightly so.  Can’t you hear Israelis saying  “Who is he to tell us who to elect?”  Only the most naïve among us would believe that American presidents don’t have favorites when it comes to Israeli leaders.  Of course they do.  But political considerations dictate at least a modicum of discretion.  And remember- Israel takes more than three billion dollars in foreign aid from America. Of course America benefits from having Israel as a strategic ally in a very difficult and hostile part of the world. Yes, America needs Israel.  But really- Israel needs America too… badly.

Again- the issue here is not Israel’s right to differ with American policy on how to deal with the Iranian threat.  It has every right in the world. But the implications of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s very public criticisms are clear.  With Governor Romney proclaiming a much harder line on this issue in his campaign, it is hard, if not impossible, especially given the well-known testy relationship between President Obama and Prime Minster Netanyahu, to read his comments as anything other than an endorsement of the Republican candidate. 

Mr. Prime Minister- have you considered the very real possibility that President Obama might win re-election?  I know you think that this election season is when you have leverage over the President in terms of his desire not to alienate his Jewish voter base.  But what kind of leverage do you think you’ll have if the President wins? And how lonely will that feel when and if you do have to attack Iran, and the missiles start flying into both northern and southern Israel?

One last time… the issue is not about Israel’s right to defend itself, or its right to differ with the Obama administration on how best to combat the Iranian nuclear threat.  It is, simply, about how Prime Minster Netanyahu accomplishes this. As an American Jew, and as a proud Zionist, I have serious problems with his strategy

 

Last Update:

10/09/2012 - 03:40

Comments

PM Netanyahu has EVERY right to criticize Pres. Obama for failing to support the USA's valuable ally in the Middle East. Further, should the USA decide to continue to support those whose very actions threaten Israel's being, or should the USA start pulling support from Israel, Israel might (to its credit and benefit) have to start relying in its' BIGGEST ally, G-d and stop kowtowing to the USA and the USA's interests.
It's time for Israel to cut the cord with the USA, and act in ITS' own best interests and stop being the USAs' puppet.
Sorry rabbi Skolnick, but in this case, you're SO wrong, and it's hurting my brothers and sisters in Israel.

It's hurting your brothers and sisters in Israel? Hmmm... I actually have a sister who's lived in Israel for over thirty years, not to mention her large family, my parents who made aliyah and are buried there, and other assorted family members. Please save the "I'm more identified with Israel than you are" for another discussion. And "rabbi" is capitalized... even when you disagree with one.

Right on, Rabbi Skolnik!

I don't recall anyone getting too upset when then President Bill Clinton sent James Carville to Israel to run Ehud Barak's campaign (or did he get Carville from a Google search, or the Tel Aviv Yellow Pages). Clinton also made a strategic visit to Israel to help Barak's election.

Unfortunately, Rabbi Skolnik neglects to mention that the vast majority of Israel's security establishment --- its Mossad and Shin Bet directors and its high level active and retired IDF officers --- have strongly criticized Benjamin Netanyahu's stance on Iran and have also been quite vocal in their objection to his obstruction of peace negotiations. One need only read Israel's newspapers on a daily basis to discover just how constant is their criticism of their own prime minister, a public condemnation that is unprecedented in Israel's history. Furthermore, these same security establishments leaders will tell you that President Obama has done more for Israel's security than recent past American administrations. As Lt. Gen. Dani Haloutz told his audience (me included) at a private reception and public lecture in Elkins Park, PA, (near Philadelphia), coordination between Israel's military and the US military is better than ever. Haloutz emphasized that this has not been true in the past. How many Israeli security establishment leaders have to express their strong objection to Netanyahu's leadership before American Jews will understand what is really going on in Israel? David Remnick in his interview of several of Israel's security establishments leaders, quoted one general as saying "I trust Obama more than I trust Netanyahu." Finally, all these prominent IDF generals, Mossad directors, Shin Bet directors and IDF intelligence officers have emphasized that the primary existential threat to Israel is the demographic threat, i.e., the situation that will result if there is no 2-state solution. Netanyahu's own defense minister and former prime minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, put it bluntly: "“As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel, it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic…. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.” (Ehud Barak, as quoted in The Nation, 1/25/10). Recently, in regard to the demographic issue and the failure to establish 2 states, Barak said "Israel is living on borrowed time" and Israelis are "living in a bubble."

So does Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik, how do you wiggle out of my comment ..... maybe a little more to the left ...

How does Rabbi Skolnik explain Obama's refusal to have a PRIVATE meeting with BB but time to tape with Letterman!!!

Certainly NOT a synagogue I would be proud to be affiliated with.

If this is the Stephen I think it is -- and I'm pretty sure it is, since you used your full name earlier -- I know you personally and know that you blast all over TOWN about how you go to the "correct" shul and how all the others are "not good enough". So much for Ahavat Yisrael. Your beef is less with what Rabbi Skolnik has to say and more to do with your "frummer than thou" attitude problem. GROW UP. You are not Hashem, so it's high time that you stopped acting like you think you are. You are being beyond disrespectful and only hurting yourself in the end with your petty behavior. The Rabbi is entitled to his opinion just as much as you are, and if you don't like what he has to say, back off and go back to reading your borderline Sikrikim news rags. Learn how to be a mensch and not a troll, for YOUR sake if nobody else's.

Well put, Rabbi Skolnik, in every respect, and particularly with regard to public vs. private diplomacy. I would welcome a similar statement from AIPAC telling Bibi publicly to back off and refrain from public interventions in the U.S. presidential campaign. I think that would go far to relieving some of the wrenched-up strain Bibi continues to inject into U.S.-Israel relations.

Bibi spoke beautifully on Meet the Press last Sunday, and is absolutely correct when he says that a red line needs to be drawn.

Yasher koach to the rabbi! HIs words need saying. Too bad we don't hear similar things from AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents, AJC and Federations. Drawing a red line, as Bibi berates Obama for not doing, simply removes the element of surprise from any American attack. Of course our Commander-in-Chief won't do that! How nice of Bibi to demand that Americans fight and die for him and...do it in a way that endangers their lives from the get-go. Israel's security is NOT served by alienating lots of Americans with this meddling. And, of course, Obama has prepositioned necessary forces in the region and is ready to go. Why the heck should he announce when to the enemy?!

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