It’s a distant memory now, but once upon a time when the Obama presidency was new and full of vim and vigor, the president and his then-chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel (who had pulled the same stunt successfully in the Clinton administration), fancied that they’d push Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the wall, forcing concessions or, if not doing that (and all the better in their minds), helping to collapse Netanyahu's government.
It hasn’t much worked out that way. Indeed the administration completely failed to appreciate how the experience of Lebanon and Gaza and the ensuing violence against the Jewish states — despite Israeli withdrawals and concessions — had transformed Israeli domestic politics (i.e., killed the lefty peace movement). This was among the many miscalculations that flowed when you have a president whose view of the Middle East is shaped by the likes of Rashid Khalidi and the Ivy League left.
Fast forward to the present. Obama’s party lost control of the House, and he’s underwater in popularity, facing the very real possibility he’ll be booted by the voters. Netanyahu, however, is riding high.
He’s vanquished his rival, Tzipi Livni, the former head of the Kadima Party, and is looking at early elections. Early September seems likely. He’s widely expected to enhance his standing and wind up with more options for forming a broad-based coalition government, including, perhaps, an offshoot of Kadima.
In sum, Netanyahu is politically secure and popular in Israel. President Obama in the United States? Not so much.
So in saunters Jodi Rudoren, the newbie Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times (think of the newspaper as the White House press operation’s super PAC). (You’ll recall she got in hot water before even starting the job by falling under the spell of Israel antagonists, revealing her own scant knowledge of the country she’d be covering and her political proclivities.) She breathlessly reported that a former intelligence chief had lost confidence in Netanyahu. “Yuval Diskin, who retired last year as the director of Shin Bet, the Israeli equivalent of the F.B.I., said at a public forum on Friday night that he had ‘no faith’ in the ability of the current leadership to handle the Iranian nuclear threat.” Oh my!
Those who’ve been paying even minimal attention to Israeli politics for the past decade or so had a good chuckle over that one. You see, there is a cottage industry of ex-intelligence types who flock to the left once leaving office. (The left pays better and has better cocktail parties than the right in Israel, as it does in the United States). Think former attorney general Ramsey Clark.
Ruthie Blum, a journalist who’s been living in Israel for decades, debunked the Times report, swiftly and completely:
There is nothing new about Israeli generals and spy chiefs suddenly sounding like pacifist Peace Now-niks the minute they retire from their positions. Nor is it novel for hysteria to ensue when this happens. After all, if counter-terrorism specialists with inside info are telling us the score, we have to believe that they know what they’re talking about, right?
They are unemployed guys, ones who couldn’t talk about their work beforehand, looking for their next gig. This usually means politics. And in the Israeli political system, they can be catapulted into realistic slots on party lists if they play their cards right. Nobody provides better capital for left-wing parties than former military or security honchos. Proof of this lies in the huge amount of publicity Diskin has been receiving for his remarks.
The lesson from all this? The American left, whether in journalism or at the White House, find it hard to fathom that Netanyahu is popular at home and that the Israeli public has had quite enough, thank you, of Palestinian terrorism, “peace process” blather and metaphoric kicks in the rear end by Obama. The Israeli public is with Netanyahu on the moribund “peace process” and Iran. It’s the New York Times and Obama who aren’t.
It will be rich irony, indeed, if Netanyahu is in power in 2013 and Obama is not. But, alas, the Times (both on the “news” and editorial side) will continue down the road of Israel-bashing, making the newspaper a congenial home for the Jewish state’s most ferocious critics. There’s a market for that stuff on New York’s Upper West Side. And the cocktail parties are to die for.