I am sure that when Binyamin Netanyahu gave his recent interviews to US TV
networks CNN and CBS he had Israel’s security at the top of his mind. I also
have no doubt he is sincerely concerned about the possible results of the US
failing to set a red line for the Iranian leaders regarding their nuclear
Nevertheless, what he did is simply “not done.”
It is not
clear whether the non-violent interference by a government in elections being
held in a foreign state can be considered an outright breach of international
law. However, it is generally accepted among democratic states that such
interference is unacceptable, though it is perfectly legitimate for the leaders
of one state to have their preferences regarding the identity of the leaders of
What would Netanyahu say if two months before the elections in
Israel, TV channels 22 and 10 were to hold interviews with a foreign president
or prime minister in which they criticized Israel’s settlement activities in the
West Bank, and its reported plans to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities with
or without American backing, arguing that all this constitutes a threat to human
justice and world peace?
Not only would Netanyahu be furious, but also those of
us who do not support him would feel that the foreign leader had overstepped
himself, though it would be perfectly legitimate for him to express his
misgivings to Netanyahu personally, or in a joint press conference in which
Netanyahu would have the opportunity to reply.
What Netanyahu said in his
interviews about the need for the US to set clear red lines for the Iranian
authorities regarding their nuclear program, he and other members of his
government explained to the US administration on numerous occasions in the
months that preceded the interviews, and their American interlocutors made it
crystal clear that they rejected the Israeli demand.
background, repeating the demand in the US media, when an election campaign is
going on, and the Republican candidate is believed to be more partial to the
Israeli position, cannot be seen as anything but blatant interference against
the acting president of the United States, and in favor of his Republican
Though many US Republicans, including Jewish supporters of the
Republican Party, were undoubtedly pleased with Netanyahu’s interviews,
especially in a week when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was
caught “putting his foot in his mouth” and the opinion polls have been giving
him cause for concern, it should be recalled that close to 50 percent of
Americans and at least 70% of American Jews support Barack Obama, and they view
the interviews as Israeli chutzpah at its worst.
But beyond Netanyahu’s
gaffe, I find it extremely disturbing that the prime minister of Israel appears
to openly support a Republican Party that has taken a sharp turn to the extreme
– almost wacky – Right, which is causing deep concern among many moderate
Republicans and has made parties such as Angela Merkel’s CDU in Germany and
David Cameron’s Tories in the UK seem left-wing in comparison.
extremely uncomfortable with the thought that my prime minister (and he is my
prime minister, even if I did not vote for him) supports a party that objects to
national health insurance, whose leader pooh-poohs the 47% of the US population
that allegedly does not pay federal taxes (which says a lot not just about
Romney, but also about the extreme and unbearable social and economic gaps in
the US), which supports the continued free sale of weapons to everyone despite
several massacres of innocent citizens that it has led to, and which refuses to
take responsibility for the economic crisis of 2008, that took place when George
W. Bush Junior was president, and was aggravated by economic policies that Mitt
Romney openly supports today.
Had Benjamin Nitai (the name Binyamin
Netanyahu assumed when he lived in the US) decided to remain in the US back in
the 1970s, it would have been perfectly OK for him to join the Republican Party
and even run for office (though not for president) within its framework. But he
made other choices, and must accept the consequences of those choices.
is not difficult to guess that irrespective of the result of the US presidential
election, but certainly in the case of an Obama victory which today seems more
than likely, Netanyahu’s gaffe will further distance liberal American Jewry from
Israel, emotionally, culturally and financially.
Israel-US relations are
already in need of some serious repair, and let us just hope that we are not in
a situation of “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty
Dumpty together again.”
The one positive outcome of Netanyahu’s gaffe is
that in the coming elections it will be much easier to try to convince the
Israeli public that it should do what it did in the elections to the 15th
Knesset – namely, decimate the Likud (in the 15th Knesset, after Netanyahu’s
first premiership, it went down to 12 Knesset seats).
still curse the day that he gave his TV interviews in the US, and even more that
he canceled the elections he announced back in April, when he was at the peak of
his popularity, in order to set up a coalition with Kadima.
teaches at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and was a Knesset employee for