PM Netanyahu speaks at Auschwitz Birkenau 370 (R).
(photo credit: Reuters)
When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu waved copies of the 1944 exchange of
letters between the World Jewish Congress and the Roosevelt State Department and
said the United States rejected Jewish pleas to bomb Auschwitz, he was drawing a
parallel between the Islamists who rule Iran and the Nazis who controlled
Germany seven decades ago.
He wanted to leave no doubt about his
willingness to attack Iranian nuclear facilities because he is convinced that
country is building weapons to carry out its threat to wipe the Jewish state off
the map, and he doesn’t care what anyone says.
By invoking the Holocaust,
however, he was undercutting his own argument that the Iranian threat is not a
Jewish issue but a global threat.
“My friends, 2012 is not 1944,”
Netanyahu told the AIPAC policy conference last month in
“Never again will the Jewish people be powerless.” And indeed
Israel is not powerless; it is a regional nuclear superpower, the only one in
What Netanyahu intentionally left out and should have
said was, “And this is not your grandfather’s America that refused to come to
the aid of the Jews in 1944.”
For more than half a century American
governments of both parties have been increasingly supportive of Israel –
politically, diplomatically, financially and militarily – helping make it safe,
secure and prosperous.
But the message implicit in Netanyahu’s
inappropriate gesture was this: “You can’t trust the United States of
His barely concealed personal antipathy toward the president of
the United States was on display throughout his visit to Washington last month.
He had high (deserved) praise for the United State Congress and for some select
members, and he thanked the president for his speech of support for Israel and
the American government’s help for Israel.
But there was not a single
kind word personally for the man who has hosted him eight times in the Oval
No foreign leader has made as many visits to the White House in
this administration, and none has had such a rocky relationship with the
That was especially apparent nine days later when Britain’s
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron came to the White House. Obama joked
about going to a basketball game together and how there was no need for
interpreters since both spoke English, albeit with some
There was no such banter with Netanyahu, even though he went
to high school and college in the United States and speaks colloquial American;
there is little warmth on either side, and neither seems to have much interest
in warming it up.
I know Netanyahu’s supporters will blame Obama for the
chill in the relationship, and it is at least partially deserved. But it should
not be overlooked that Israel gets over $3.1 billion a year from American
taxpayers plus top-level technology and weapons, intelligence cooperation and
diplomatic backing such as the president’s personal campaign to block the
Palestinians’ bid for United Nations recognition and much more.
shouldn’t be overlooked that Netanyahu seems to have a one-sided view of the
US-Israel alliance: the administration must support all of his policies, while
he feels no need to support US strategic interests.
The Israeli guest
seemed to take pains to avoid uttering even diplomatically praise for his
American host. Perhaps that was political because Netanyahu feared his words
might be used by the Democrats for ads to counter the Republican efforts to make
Israel a wedge issue in this year’s elections by accusing Obama of favoring the
Palestinians over Israel.
That raises another troubling
Netanyahu has a penchant for meddling in American politics dating
back to his days at the Israeli Embassy here 30 years ago. Former US Ambassador
to Israel Martin Indyk said Netanyahu is “much more of a Republican than he is a
Likudnik.” The prime minister himself once told an interviewer, “I speak
Netanyahu sounded like a man anxious to go to war and
unwilling to wait for any American blessing. He has left no doubt he will strike
when he decides and expects the United States to follow his lead and ask no
Amb. Dennis Ross wrote in The Missing Peace, his memoir of the
Clinton years: “In the meeting with President Clinton, Netanyahu was nearly
insufferable, lecturing and telling us how to deal with the Arabs.... After
Netanyahu was gone, President Clinton observed, ‘He thinks he is the superpower
and we are here to do whatever he requires.’ No one on our side disagreed with
There’s little doubt the personal relationship between
Obama and Netanyahu is chilly. More troubling is Netanyahu’s one-sided view of
what the US-Israel alliance entails – and his dangerous penchant for meddling in
American partisan politics, a bad habit that could blow up in Israel’s face.