Gosh darn! Smack dab on the eve of a midterm election, US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to almost sort-of say sorry for reported name-calling in high administration places – “chickenshit” comes to mind.
A morsel of humble pie, after all, is prescribed when one’s party suspects its headliners may have offended voters at the close of a crucial campaign.
So, is everything now peachy keen in our world all over again? Maybe, if this were the only memorable outburst and if Obama’s administration were as forgiving as it imperiously decrees Israel must be. Trouble is, though, that there was loads of loathing even before the chickenshit hit the fan.
For example, because of Obama’s and Kerry’s incessant choleric grudge, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon couldn’t get any administration higher-ups to hobnob with him in Washington during his recent visit, except obviously for his Pentagon counterpart, Chuck Hagel – but that couldn’t altogether be helped.
Ya’alon became quasi-persona non grata precisely because Obama and Kerry weren’t in the least receptive to Israeli expressions of regret over substantially lesser transgressions. The unkind welcome was accorded Ya’alon despite repeated apologies on his part for the impertinence of calling it like it is.
Not unintentionally so, the Obama/Kerry vindictiveness was wind in the sails of our very own persistent political backbiters who vehemently, and not unexpectedly, voiced full agreement with the White House and the State Department. Their inference was that Israelis (of the ilk that Israel’s misnamed Center and diminishing Left doggedly dislike) have no right to speak their minds freely, much less to talk back to their presumed American masters.
Anything remotely perceived as defiance or giving lip is not only to be frowned upon but to be unequivocally punished. Hence, contrary to Washington’s sudden spirit of let bygones be bygones, Ya’alon was snubbed and this was shrilly pounced upon by his and Netanyahu’s homegrown political foes as duly earned comeuppance.
We told you so,” was the jolly mantra at the wholesale hullabaloo to which every line-toeing know-it-all contributed his/her two-cent’s worth.
Never the last to recite a de rigueur refrain, Finance Minister Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid rebuked those Israelis who have failed to suitably panic: “There is a crisis with the US and we should treat it as a crisis.” His insightful recommendation is that “we must do everything in the world to get out of the crisis.”
This was indisputably music to Obama’s and Kerry’s ears. The duo must be delighted on two pivotal counts: First, Lapid doesn’t openly specify who’s to blame for what he brands “a crisis,” but he does more than hint that it’s not above-reproach Obama.
Secondly, and just as scandalously, Lapid puts the full onus on Israel to do “everything.” He sets no bounds.
Israel must appease to the hilt. This smacks of precisely the gross obsequiousness that Obama demands of America’s sole dependable ally in the volatile Mideast.
Is Lapid trying to fan the flames of domestic opinion against Netanyahu and Ya’alon? If so, his gambit may backfire spectacularly.
Most Israelis are unlikely to necessarily hold Netanyahu and Ya’alon responsible for the ill-winds that blow from Washington. If opinion polls are any indication, Israelis hardly regard Obama as our bosom bud and that’s despite the authentic affinity Israelis feel for America.
Way before the chickenshit hit the fan, it was obvious to mainstream Israelis that Obama is far from our fan.
Portents of what was in store already emerged during Obama’s 2009 sycophantic outreach to Muslims in Cairo, where he unabashedly drew a slapdash equivalence between the Holocaust and the Palestinian “pain of dislocation,” and between ethnic extermination and settlement construction.
Nowhere did Obama deign to note Jewish history in or rights to this country and foremost to Jerusalem (where the first-ever census in the city, conducted in the early 19th century, already revealed a clear incontrovertible Jewish majority).
Six years into Obama’s presidency, no one can credibly consider this an insignificant oversight. His fierce fury over construction in Jewish neighborhoods beyond Jerusalem’s wholly artificial Green Line (an illegitimate relic of the illegal Jordanian invasion and occupation between 1948 and 1967) was foreshadowed from the outset of his first term.
Obama’s calculated bias was further exposed in two farcical incidents in 2010. Initially, his then-secretary of state’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, was adamant that no Israeli capital exists, leastways not one she could name. Hot on her heels, then-White House spokesman Jay Carney stood discomfited on his podium, equally unable to identify Israel’s capital.
Obama’s undeniable pattern of pandering to Muslims was matched with cynical aforethought by unambiguous antagonism to Israel throughout his first term and, all the more so nowadays, during his second term.
His aversion was unmistakable in the merciless and unprecedented protocol abuse heaped on Netanyahu during his first White House visit, when Obama demonstratively abandoned his guest and strode off “to go have dinner” with his family.
Protocol, after all, is by definition etiquette ceremoniously on display to impart an impression. Lack thereof is just as telling. Much as Israel’s Left exultantly cheered Netanyahu’s humiliation, most Israelis intuitively understood that Obama treats their elected head of government in a manner he wouldn’t dare display toward any other visiting dignitary.
No Israeli seriously assumes that such scorn would be shown the leader of Qatar, for instance, despite the fact that he generously bankrolls al-Qaida, Islamic State, Hamas and many others of the world’s nastiest terrorist syndicates.
Indeed, no villain from the global and regional rogues’ gallery has roused Obama’s “red-hot anger” as much as Netanyahu had. According to The Atlantic, Netanyahu is “the foreign leader who seems to frustrate the White House and the State Department the most.”
An official who preferred anonymity told the magazine: “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit.” There were more pejoratives: “recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous and ‘Aspergery.’” That the above cited slurs are everyday administration parlance is eminently believable, especially as Obama’s first-term excesses were only exacerbated after he appointed Kerry to be his secretary of state.
Recurrently Kerry has cracked the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) whip against Israel. He never condemned the ostracizing of Israel, but he issued semi-veiled threats of more of the same should Israel (and it alone) not obey his diktats. Insubordinates are treated as “chickenshit.”
Kerry rammed through a bizarre negotiations scheme with an inane deadline. The subtext was that Israel must sign on the dotted line as if it has no interests to legitimately protect. Nothing of the like was remotely suggested against the Palestinian Authority.
In response, during an entirely off-the-record one-on- one conversation early this year, Ya’alon referred to Kerry’s continual pressuring shuttles as “messianic” and “obsessive.” After Ya’alon’s words were leaked, State Department spokeswoman and etiquette-guru Jen Psaki denounced them as “offensive and inappropriate.”
But that wasn’t all. Ya’alon’s adjectives were blown up into a major diplomatic confrontation when an unnamed “senior US official” demanded that Netanyahu “put this right by publicly expressing his disagreement with the statements against Secretary Kerry, the negotiations with the Palestinians and Kerry’s commitment to Israel’s security.”
This virtual ultimatum overtly turned the entire episode into a round of arm wrestling in which Washington appeared determined to put down Jerusalem. No such firmness has been evinced by Obama against the international arena’s real miscreants.
Although Ya’alon subsequently “made-nice,” it was intimated that the official rebuff toward him during his latest Washington trip was retaliation for what he dared utter in private. The logic here isn’t that breaches of courtesy are intolerable in international relations, but that Israelis cannot say anything, not even during a tête-à-tête.
It’s counterproductive to allude to Kerry’s innumerable gaffes – there are way too many of them to even list.
But it’s obvious that the Obama administration doesn’t hold itself to the same standards it imposes on Israel (except while electioneering). A cogent case in point is offered by the 2011 incident in which comments Obama didn’t mean to spill out were embarrassingly overheard. These were way less polite than the remarks Ya’alon didn’t aim to publicize.
At the time, Obama chitchatted chummily with French president Nicolas Sarkozy during the G20 summit in Cannes. Both were unaware that the microphone before them hadn’t been switched off.
“I can’t stand him. He’s a liar,” a chagrined Sarkozy blurted in reference to Netanyahu. Sarkozy’s feathers were reportedly ruffled because Netanyahu didn’t credit him with Gilad Schalit’s release.
Pointedly, Obama not only failed to defend Netanyahu, but he actually expressed unreserved agreement with his French interlocutor. “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you,” Obama carped.
Inadvertently, however, Obama’s animus was broadcast live to journalists covering the event.
No hint of an apology ever came from Washington or Paris. Of course, it may be argued that what Obama and Sarkozy yakked about in private wasn’t intended for our ears and accordingly doesn’t count. But so were Ya’alon’s observations uttered in private circumstances and not intended for outside ears. They were also markedly less injurious – certainly less than the newest bullying vulgarities hurled at Netanyahu.
To be sure, it’s always desirable for diplomacy to be conducted in an air of impeccably genteel manners, without unrefined distractions. But, alas, in the real world what’s desirable is rarely likely. The latest loutish epithets from Washington coarsely attest to that.
Had Lapid been a tad more politically sophisticated and a smidge more experienced, he’d have steered clear of expedient preaching and implied gloating.
As any statesman knows, it’s the nature of antipathies that they eventually float up to the surface. More often than not, they’re discreetly glossed over. Netanyahu indeed chose to overlook the badmouthing at Cannes (which isn’t unexpected if the insulted party is comparatively clout-deficient).
A not-so-hidden agenda can be justifiably suspected when unholy fuss is kicked up over private pronouncements.
This is as true for the dubious fuss Obama kicks up as it is for the dubious fuss Lapid kicks up.
Diplomacy isn’t about sensibilities but about interests, and it’s the distinct duty of Israeli leaders to safeguard the most vital existential interests of this country, the chickenshit notwithstanding.
Debunking the Bull, Sarah Honig’s book, was recently published by Gefen.
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