There is no question that the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next Israeli government is a disaster for Israel and the world. Israel is a state that was formed in 1948 by the United Nations in response to worldwide public opinion. It is a state whose legitimacy was questionable from the first because of the failure to found Palestinian state at the same time. While Israel has now had a long history of its own, the truth is that its only friendly neighbors are dictators and that it is increasingly a pariah state. Its racist internal policies as well as the occupation are essentially unique holdovers from an earlier, colonial epoch and will not survive. Given that context one has to ask what were the Israelis thinking when they cast a vote for Netanyahu?

Netanyahu’s last-minute condemnation of a Palestinian state, and his attack on Israeli Arab voting, encourages one answer: the Israelis are racists; they fear and hate Palestinians and voted for a racist demagogue. Undoubtedly there is some truth to this, but probably not that much. There is something more to be said.

Netanyahu won by making this an election not about Palestine but about Obama. He defied Obama by coming to Congress and condemning Obama and the Iran negotiations. His message to the Israeli people was: you cannot trust America because you cannot trust Obama. He is a weak man who will not stand up for principle. A vote for Netanyahu is a vote for Israel standing up for itself. Herzog and the Opposition also made this an election about Obama and the US. Their message was that Netanyahu was hurting Israel by hurting its relation with America and, above all, with the American president. In voting for Netanyahu the Israeli people were making a judgment about Obama’s leadership. They were saying that he was too weak to rely on; that Israel had to rely on itself.

Of course, Netanyahu did not explicitly say that Obama is too weak for Israel to trust him. Rather, he conveyed this message subliminally by enacting it — by coming to Congress and delivering the message he did. In doing that Netanyahu relied on the Republicans who have basically treated Obama as a kind of ineffective child from the beginning of his Presidency. They did that because, like Netanyahu, they are bullies, and they found that they could get away with it. Race played a role but far less of one than is usually claimed. The fact is that race has worked for Obama far more than it has worked against him. The main reason the Republicans and Netanyahu did what they did is they have not had to pay a price for their bullying. Indeed they have largely shaped the agenda of the Obama Presidency, including the limitations of its domestic achievements, and its striking continuities with the Bush foreign policy. So too, Netanyahu will not have to pay a price. Obama will continue America’s disastrous Middle Eastern policies, and even if we do get an Iran treaty it will never be the really drastic shift in US Mideast policy that Obama called for in 2008, when he ran against Clinton — a candidacy that still casts a long shadow over a deeply disappointing Presidency.

7 thoughts on “The Israeli Disaster

  1. Eli, I agree with you that the fact that Netanyahu is going to form the next government in Israel is a disaster for Israel and its neighbors and the rest of the world. But oh my, really, it’s Obama’s fault?

    Your ability to blame Obama for just about all that goes wrong in the world is really impressive, but this time you are stretching your favorite point. Israeli Jews made this choice. Netanyahu’s last minute racist appeals and public opposition to a two state solution I believe are much more important than you suggest. But its complicated. I am trying to organize a public discussion of these complications. Its important to raise and address these and not always blame our president, or for that matter to declare that Israelis are racists.

    1. Most of these comments are completely compatible with my post. I presented the obama factor as something extra. I did not claim it was the only factor.
      More generally, I know that raising Obama’s responsibility or influence in various world affairs is a no-no during his presidency. After all, his basic point is to tell the world how difficult things are and how we should not expect too much. Nonetheless, it is ridiculous not to see that Netanyahu’s visit to Congress was a key political move, at one with his election day remarks against the 2 state solution and against Arabs. Herzog’s basic argument was that Netanyahu was destroying the Israeli relation with the US. Above all, the American President sets the global mood, and this is true even when the mood is one of depression.

      1. Eli’s post was pretty funny, even if it had nothing to do with reality. Had the election really been about obama and the democratic party”‘s increasing disenchantment with israel, the voters i.e. and not the politicians mainly, netanyahu would have done less well. Herzog was unfortunately an ineffectve candidate on ths issue as all the rest. Obamas response after the election was by the way exactly right, though we cannot assume that hewill dare to do anything. Let us wait with predictions here.

        I meanwhile fully agree with Omri’s reply to Ben Yehuda’s post https://publicseminar.org/2015/03/the-cultural-basis-of-the-netanyahu-victory/#.VRB5eWaNXjA.

        Let us not however miss the main item, namely the joint list and its leadership. This was the most interesting aspect of the election, and a small ray of light in it. The Palestnians finally have a democratic actor, the one they will need in the obvious one state outcome. Will it stay together? Will it have Jewish partners now that Meretz is so weakened? We cannot tell.

        1. As usual, Arato soils public discussion with ad hominem insults. As for Jeff: I never said Zionism leads to racism. Finally, as for the usual attempts to avoid the question of the relation of Obama to the election see this article from tonight’s Times, which shows how central Netanyahu’s carefully engineered relation to Obama is. Frankly, the Goldfarb/Arato duet is a little tiring by now. Rebukes From White House Risk Buoying Netanyahu

          By JODI RUDORENMARCH 24, 2015

          1. What exactly was ad hominem? I did not even say that you know nothing about israeli politics, which is true, but ad hominem.

            And also that your fixation on obama is ridiculous. That too is ad hominem, i admit.

            But what was ad hominem in the original reply?

            Learn, learn, learn. V.I. Lenin. Than talk.

  2. I agree with Jeffrey. It really isn’t always all about the USA. Gideon Levy, for one, doesn’t mention Obama once in his despairing post-election column in Haaretz. Instead, he writes that “Netanyahu deserves the Israeli people and they deserve him. The results are indicative of the direction the country is headed: A significant proportion of Israelis has finally grown detached from reality. This is
    the result of years’ worth of brainwashing and incitement.”

  3. “In voting for Netanyahu the Israeli people were making a judgment about Obama’s leadership.” You can’t really be serious, can you? Do you honestly think Israelis base their voting decisions on their opinion of the American President? If so, you are making an inexcusable mistake.

    Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Israeli politics ought to understand that Netanyahu’s victory is barely even a vote for Likud, let alone for his blatant racism or US foreign policy. Likud won a mere plurality of the popular vote; most Israelis voted for other parties: http://www.vox.com/2015/3/18/8244003/israel-election-results

    It’s crucial to keep in mind that a substantial sector of the Israeli Right consists of Russian immigrants and the ultra-Orthodox. The former import their own brand of racism and nationalism with them; they don’t acquire it upon arrival from the local culture. The latter do adhere to the myth of the Promised Land, but their vote hinges substantially on various domestic policy preferences—that is, perks and exemptions for religious practice.

    The parliamentary system gives these groups disproportionate influence. So the notion that Bibi’s rhetoric finds widespread popular support is fallacious. The notion that the US plays a decisive role is entirely untenable.

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