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 - 04:40

Comments

I share your concerns about Israel becoming a wedge issue in this election season. However, there is historical context here. Bibi takes "never again" seriously. I think he has an obligation to scream from the mountaintops to the President, the media, the UN, to anyone who will listen and be willing to stop this serious threat soon.The IAEA has been inspecting for years, the worlds powers have been negotiating and sanctioning for years, yet the centrifuges are spinning and every day we are one day closer to a nuclear Iran. History has shown us that the world can stand by and do nothing, we've seen it before.

I absolutely agree with Rabbi Skolnik. Mr. Natanyahu's attitude is close to the one of a "capo" of the mafia, trying to blackmail President Obama: "You need the Jewish American vote; do what I say". I'm a Jew and a Zionist and I'll cast my vote for the President's reelection".

I thank my colleague for a piece well written. Pandering for the American Jewish vote is a time-honored tradition among politicians; the practice disgusts me, whether it comes via an Israeli Prime Minister or those ‘Jewish advisors’ who align themselves with a candidate specifically for that purpose.

In fact, just last evening Governor Romney hosted a ‘town hall’ style conference call for Rabbis all across the country, and in my humble opinion, the Jewish Americans for Romney Coalition did a disservice to their candidate. Throughout the call the Jewish organizers were rushing, and the whole 12 minute call seemed quite pro-forma. The conference call service said that we could ask questions, but when two named Rabbis tossed up soft-ball questions (they did not ask names of participants, and there was no way that when I pushed 3 to ask a question that they knew who I was.), the whole call seemed contrived and insincere.

It was not a disappointing experience; it was precisely what I had expected: an attempt to get my vote through policy proposals already known and promulgated long before. Though it was nice to think that Romney cared enough to want to speak to us. But the pandering to us, and the presentation of his Iran policy (which, by the way, was not much different from President Obama’s) as a wedge issue, was certainly insulting.

Dear Rabbi,
You appear ignorant of prior American interference in Israeli elections. Note that there was no firestorm of Israeli protest against it.
In my opinion, Netanyahu has been masterful in raising the Iran issue to the point of making many uncomfortable. That is his job.
Bruce

Norm, I guess you've never been called something like "JAP" or an "obnoxious New York Jew" who should "make aliyah and help build a nation or stop pretending to care for Israel" for daring to have an opinion about Israeli politics, *by* an Israeli, have you? Because I have multiple times. And every time, it was like I'd been stung on the lip by a yellow jacket. There are a LOT of Israelis who don't care at all about what American Jews have to say. Hate to break it to you and make you uncomfortable, but hey, maybe that's MY job.

We should also note that making suppoort for Israel a partisan issue is bad for Israel in the long run, not only during the next four years.

Ummm...you do know that Clinton did a LOT worse than imply who he thought the Israelis should elect in the Barak/Netanyahu election of 1999, right?

Firestorm, huh?

Leverage? If G-d forbid, Mr. Obama is reelected and Israel needs the US for this Iran issue, it will be the total responsibility of all of you who voted Mr. Obama back into office to get Israel the support she needs. Period.

I am not Jewish, but have supported Israel over the years. And been saddened by its determination to extend settlements that make a two-state solution more difficult.

My take on the political consequences of the Israeli Prime Minister's intrusion into our Presidential election to favor his political agenda and aid Romney, his friend's, presidential ambitions--is that Americans will and should be less willing to put our soldiers lives a risk in a war that Israel starts.

Sorry, but when you try to overtly screw with American interests, you open yourself for payback.

USAF/prof-retired

Are you for real? ISRAEL just wants to SURVIVE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ISRAEL does NOT want war!!!! Use common sense !!!

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