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 program.
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 another.
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.
Against this 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 rival.
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 leftwing in comparison.
I feel 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.
It 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).
Netanyahu might 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.
The writer teaches at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and was a Knesset employee for many years.