By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
We were told that Israel’s prime minister tried to interfere in the US presidential elections last year by siding with Mitt Romney against the victorious Barack Obama. The latter has now returned the compliment by seemingly interfering in the Israeli elections.
That’s the received and probably correct interpretation of the comments by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, said to have close ties to the White House. He quoted or paraphrased President Obama saying that “Netanyahu is leading Israel down a path toward near-total isolation by advancing settlement plans.”
Israel’s peaceniks would agree, but they’ve no reason to rejoice. Though Netanyahu is ideologically committed to Jews living in all of the Land of Israel and thus by inference playing fast and loose with the peace process, it’s possible that the building plans in Jerusalem and elsewhere he announced recently attempted to save Israel from a much more radical program proposed by his most serious political rival, Naftali Bennett, the leader of Habayit Hayehudi, which has become the de facto settler party.
It’s, therefore, possible that the prime minister’s action was a kind of pre-emptive strike against much more radical steps that might come in the wake of next Tuesday’s election. If that’s the case, Obama’s alleged characterization of Netanyahu as a “political coward” who is “unwilling to spend political capital to advance the cause of compromise” may have been correct, yet too hasty, even unwarranted.
It’s probably also tactically wrong, because the whiff of outside interference, even from theUnited States, and the negative description of Netanyahu may persuade some of the undecided to vote for him. Therefore, Obama’s verdict may turn out to strengthen Netanyahu’s hand and weaken his centre-left opposition.
The editorial in today’s Ha’aretz, no doubt unintentionally, prompts a similar conclusion. It asks its readers to take the US president’s warning to heart. The call isn’t likely to influence those who’ll vote for Netanyahu, because few of them read Ha’aretz as it represents and reflects the Ashkenazi urban elites whose time as a force in Israel’s body politic has long passed.
One of its few remnants is Tzipi Livni. She was quick to try to make something of Obama’s strictures by warning voters of the consequences of a Netanyahu victory. Presenting herself as a seasoned politician who knows how to deal with world leaders for the benefit of Israel, she implied that her party, Hatnu’ah, can save the country from the wrath of Obama. But hers and the other centrist parties aren’t likely to get enough mandates to displace Netanyahu.
Nothing of the above should be read as a contention that President Obama’s alleged views are inaccurate. They are not. My argument is that they’re counterproductive in the current political climate in Israel. Instead of taking note of the strictures byIsrael’s most important and most powerful ally, the right-wing politicians may use them for their short-term party political advantage by appealing to the false and unrealistic patriotism of a lot of ordinary Israelis.
The view expressed here is a comment on the present mood in Israel. For I fear that the path along which the politicians of the majority parties are leading us is perilous. The fact that they’ll have been democratically elected is cold comfort.