For the first time in history, an Israeli prime minister took sides in an American election. The right wing, saber rattling prime minister of Israel, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, broke tradition and openly endorsed Mitt Romney for president.
Before November 6, Bibi, and everyone else, assumed he would coast to victory in the upcoming January 22 elections. But, thanks to his backing loser Mitt Romney, overnight, he has become a loser in the eyes of the Israeli people. The general feeling among Israelis is that he intervened where he shouldn’t have and, by doing so, foolishly endangered U.S. Israeli relations.
It’s no secret that, during his first term, Obama and Netanyahu had a chilly relationship. That Netanyahu meddled in the election and backed Romney doesn’t bode well for their future relationship. Larry Derfner writing on November 7 at liberal Israeli web magazine +972:
If Romney had won, people here would be hailing Bibi right now as a genius, a prophet. But Obama won, which makes Bibi, in Israeli eyes, a screw-up of historic magnitude. He went and tracked mud on the Oval Office carpet right in front of the president’s eyes. The president couldn’t say anything during the campaign because of American domestic politics, but the campaign’s over and now Israelis are wondering when and how this newly liberated president is going to take revenge on them for their prime minister’s spectacular arrogance. Conclusion: The only way to get America back on our side is to get rid of Bibi. That, I believe, is the mood in Israel on this fine morning.
Another first: Republican Party brought Israeli politics into election
In another post, Derfner points out that Netanyahu was not the only one who broke new ground. For the first time, the Republican Party brought Israeli right-wing politics into a U.S. election:
This was the first U.S. presidential election in which one of the two parties took the Israeli right-wing line, attacking the other party for endangering Israel’s existence, and calling on American Jews (as well as Christians) to vote for it and donate money to it at least partly on that basis. This wasn’t a marginal, low-key theme, either; in heavily Jewish states, especially the swing state of Florida, the message was as bombastic as can be. Roughly 6.5 million American Jews had this message drummed into their skulls by the Republicans (who took their inspiration and much of their phrasing from the leader of world Jewish nationalism, Bibi Netanyahu): that voting for Obama meant “throwing Israel under the bus.” This was the first time Israel became a left/right issue in a presidential campaign, and the right flogged it with absolutely all their might.
Why did Netanyahu insert himself into the U.S. elections? Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, owner of the influential Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, and a stalwart backer of Netanyahu, enlisted Netanyahu’s help in supporting Romney. Although Adelson spent $100 million trying to get Romney elected, his efforts failed, and failed spectacularly with the Jewish community. Result? 70% of American Jews voted for Obama.
Thanks to his arrogance and poor judgment in openly backing Romney, Netanyahu faces the upcoming Israeli elections weakened. The newly emboldened center-left political parties of Israel, those dedicated to peace in the Middle East, are scrambling to decide whom to run against him.
Moderate Ehud Olmert, prime minister of Israel 2006 to 2009, who resigned from his party after being charged with corruption, has in recent days been addressing the American Jewish community promising to play a strong role in the upcoming elections and hinting a return to public life. Derfner writes:
The politicians making this case [that they could beat Netanyahu] are Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni. Separately or together, in Kadima or in a new party, they have the potential to knock over Netanyahu in January, form a center-left coalition government, and resume the negotiations they started with Abbas in 2007, when Olmert was prime minister and Livni foreign minister, then left off at the end of 2008 when they launched Operation Cast Lead.
Because of that war and the long siege of Gaza that preceded it (which continued under Netanyahu), I have no love for Olmert or Livni. My natural inclination is to vote for Meretz [Zionist social democratic political party]. But regardless of which left-wing party one votes for, it is absolutely necessary that Olmert and/or Livni enter this election, because there must be a major party running on a peace platform, and only they can fill the bill.
Who lost besides Netanyahu and Romney?
. . . this election was a tremendous blow to the American Jewish right, which has just been getting stronger and more extreme in step with Israel and the Republicans. It’s a blow to AIPAC and the rest of the Israel lobby. It’s a blow, of course, to Netanyahu, particularly because of his unprecedented support for one of the candidates, who happened to lose. It’s a blow to the whole Israeli right.
And they’re all connected – the Republicans, the American Jewish right, the Israel lobby, Netanyahu, Likud-Beiteinu, the settlers, the rest of the Israeli right. Jewish nationalism, all of it, from the inner core to the outer shell, just experienced an earthquake, and there’s a lot of broken stuff lying around.
Larry Derfner’s commentary underscores the fact that the presidential elections in the United States have profound consequences at home and around the world. One can only hope that America’s turn to the left will continue to weaken right-wing forces in the United States, and give Israel encouragement to elect a a more peaceful, progressive government on January 22.