NO HOLDS BARRED: To Bibi or not to be

Whether Israelis vote for Netanyahu or for Herzog, this election will be a referendum on how Israel sees itself.

March 16, 2015 21:31
Bulletins de vote

Israeli election ballots [File]. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

I thought this title was clever (but feel free to roll your eyes), conveying as it does the belief of some that should Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lose this election, Israel cannot be. Of course no single person is indispensable, as Jewish history has proved repeatedly.

However, what concerns me most about Bibi’s opponents, should they win this election, is their opposition to Jewish communities in the West Bank. Israel can hardly survive another Gaza on its Western border. The only thing that can prevent that happening is a robust Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria. So I regard this as an existential issue.

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Then there’s the issue of the US-Israel relationship.

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Bibi is condemned for being too bellicose, too argumentative, too paranoid and too prickly in his relationship with US President Barack Obama. To all those who believe this, I remind you of the famous saying of baseball great Yogi Berra: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” We who have fought alongside Bibi in the American media in his battle to bring an awareness of the dangers of Iran to the American people and its lawmakers have likewise been accused of fear mongering. But does one take a chance with a government like Iran? The real question is whether Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni will have a better relationship with President Obama than Netanyahu does. No doubt they will. But only if they do not defy the president’s wishes, as Bibi has done. Had Netanyahu kowtowed to the president’s wishes, no doubt they too would have been best buds.

So, if Herzog comes out against the president’s deal with Iran one can imagine the president will be as annoyed with him as he is with Bibi. The same is true if Herzog allows the expansion of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. So capitulation to President Obama’s wishes might be the price a new Israeli prime minister pays to be in the president’s good graces.

This is a curious facet of the president’s relationship with Israel – especially in that it does not pertain to other world leaders. Last week The New York Times reported that President Obama feels close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, or at least he did up until recently.

Now, Erdogan has certainly never listened to much of what the president has wanted. He has not closed the border to Syria. He has not joined in the fight against Islamic State (IS). He has not even allowed Turkish air bases to be used in the campaign against IS. Still, the president has the cordial relationship with Erdogan that he does have with Bibi and which he will presumably not have with Herzog if Herzog does not accede to the president’s demands.

It seems equally curious that Israeli voters will choose a prime minister based on his relationship with President Obama when our president only has about a year and a half left to his presidency. What could President Obama accomplish in that period? Well, he can sign the catastrophic deal with Iran. That would be about the worst of it. As far as getting Israel to sign a final-status treaty with the Palestinians, that seems highly unlikely. Hamas remains an unrepentant terrorist group committed to a genocide of the Jewish people. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas remains an unaccountable dictator, who seems to have lost the mandate of his people now that he’s in the 10th year of a four-year term. So, who exactly is Israel going to sign the treaty with? Also, will the president really convince the American people that a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians is our country’s most important Middle Eastern priority when IS is running around chopping people’s heads off and Syria, Libya and Yemen continue to implode? In the larger scheme, as well, it seems odd that any country would choose a leader based first and foremost on how they get along with the leader of another country.

Shouldn’t the priority be to choose who’s best for your own country? I recognize that many Israelis believe that Israel’s most important security issue is its relationship with the US.

And indeed, my country, the United States, is benevolent, loving and supportive of Israel. But leaning too instinctively on America seems antithetical to one of Zionism’s primary values – that of Jewish independence.

As Netanyahu beautifully argued at the UN, what makes Israel different for Jews is that – for the first time in 2,000 years – Jews are defending themselves. They are not dependent on a prince, pope or president for their protection.

They are not supplicants. On the contrary, they have built a world-class defense establishment, and are the ultimate guarantors of Jewish safety.

And besides, it’s not just the president who determines the relationship between the US and Israel. There is also Congress, which, under this president, is becoming more assertive and vocal, as we’ve seen with the recent letter of 47 senators to the leadership of Iran.

Tuesday’s election is being portrayed as a referendum on Netanyahu. And perhaps it is. But of much greater importance: whether Israelis vote for Netanyahu or for Herzog, this election will be a referendum on how Israel sees itself. The choices are stark. Israel is either a nation whose first consideration must be what will please the American president. Or, Israel is a sovereign nation whose first consideration must be what is good for the Israeli people, even as Israel pays homage to its great friend in the West.

To be or not to be is the ultimate question. And in 2015, that question for Israel is more stark than ever before.

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