Quotes of the day

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in the Israeli election will not hamper US efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, the State Department said Wednesday…

“We’ve been long familiar with the views of the prime minister on Iran. We don’t think that his win has impacted the Iran negotiations, or will,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.


In light of Netanyahu’s vow that there would be no Palestinian state during his tenure, the United States will “re-evaluate our approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict said Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday…

En route to an event in Cleveland, Earnest also went out of his way to condemn “divisive rhetoric” from Netanyahu’s Likud Party. While Earnest did not cite the prime minister by name, a post on Netanyahu’s Facebook wall on Election Day warned, according to a translation, “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are going en masse to the polls. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them on buses.”

The message “sought to, frankly, marginalize Arab-Israelis,” Earnest said, adding that it “undermines the values of democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the United States and Israel together.”


“It’s going to be a very bumpy ride through the end of the Obama administration,” said David Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy…

Robert Gibbs, Mr. Obama’s former press secretary, said relations between the president and prime minister could further deteriorate in coming weeks, given that the U.S. and other world powers are aiming to reach a framework deal with Iran by the end of the month.

“This is a relationship between the president and the prime minister that you could actually see getting worse,” Mr. Gibbs said Wednesday on MSNBC.


Many Israelis called it the “gevalt campaign,” using a Yiddish expression for alarm. In the final days of a closely fought election race, Mr. Netanyahu threw all political and diplomatic niceties to the wind…

“More than a gevalt campaign it was a ‘Let’s blow up the world’ campaign,” said Gadi Wolfsfeld, a professor of political communications at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. “It was a scorched-earth policy to stay in power.”

In Washington, lawmakers who were angered by Mr. Netanyahu’s speech to Congress said they would be disappointed if voters in Israel rewarded the prime minister with another term in office…

“As far as I’m concerned, Netanyahu burned his bridges with the American government and a broad swath of the American people,” Mr. Connolly said. “It is to me, frankly, a really sordid approach to diplomacy and friendship and alliance. I hope that behavior is not rewarded today.”


Likud strategist Aron Shaviv got the Israeli Right correct. He sent Netanyahu to give countless interviews – it made him look like he was panicking (and he was), but the public got the message.

Many who considered staying home, or voting for one of the Likud’s satellite parties, hurried to the polling stations to cast ballots for Likud. People who have not voted in years – or at least not for Likud – felt the need to save Israel from the Left, Iran and from a hostile international community.

On Monday, Shaviv revealed a poll that for the first time, less than 50 percent of the public thought Netanyahu would form the next government. Shaviv said at the time that if it gets closer to 40 percent the Likud will win the election.


The now-and-apparently-forever prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ought to be proud of his country’s record of enfranchisement. He should be happy that Arabs vote in large numbers, just as Jews vote in large numbers. But Netanyahu was not happy yesterday when he saw Arabs heading to the polls. He said, in a message distributed on social media and meant for his base, “Right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations.”

It is often said (by me, among others) that Netanyahu would do very well as a Republican candidate for governor or senator in America. In the past, I imagined him doing well in the fiscally conservative, rhetorically responsible, socially tolerant, foreign-policy hawkish wing of the party. What I didn’t fully understand was just how much of Lee Atwater he had in him. Atwater, you’ll remember, was the South Carolina Republican operative who was one of the prime innovators of racial dog-whistling, an approach used by a good number of Republicans to instill fear in white voters…

What is doubly cynical about this is that the Arab vote was not actually Netanyahu’s main concern. Whether the Joint List—the combined Arab party— gained 14 seats in the Knesset, or 16, was not what was worrying Netanyahu. He won this election by consolidating support for his Likud party at the expense of other right-wing parties. Arab voters had nothing to do with that, except as props in his campaign of scaremongering.

As I wrote yesterday, the most consequential of Netanyahu’s last-minute statements concerned his renunciation of support for the two-state solution. This about-face will cause long-lasting, and negative, political and diplomatic repercussions. But his decision to talk about Arab citizens of Israel in the manner in which he did could divide Israeli society in calamitous ways.


He won because he ran as a bigot. This is a sad reality: a great many Jews have come to regard Arabs as the rest of the world traditionally regarded Jews. They have had cause. There have been wars, indiscriminate rockets and brutal terrorist attacks. There has been overpowering anti-Jewish bigotry on the Arab side, plus loathsome genocidal statements from the Iranians and others. But there has been a tragic sense of superiority and destiny on the Israeli side as well…

That history haunted Netanyahu’s rhetoric in the days before the election, when he scared Jews into voting for him because, he said, the Arabs were coming to polls in buses, in droves, fueled by foreign money.

It should be noted that those Arabs represent about 20% of the population of Israel. About 160,000 of them are Christian, and some of them are descendants of the first followers of Jesus. Almost all of them speak Hebrew. Every last one is a citizen—and it has been part of Israel’s democratic conceit that they are equal citizens. The public ratification of Netanyahu’s bigotry put the lie to that.


The hidden upside of this rancid politicking is that Netanyahu did both America and Israel a favor by clarifying in plain words what was already the de facto reality in Israel and the occupied territories. And if America and Israel had any sense at all, they’d seize this opportunity to stop heading down the road to grand apartheid

Netanyahu openly says that there will never be a Palestinian state or an end to the occupation so long as he is prime minister. If that’s not grand apartheid then the words have no meaning. As former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak once said, “If there is one state, it will have to be either binational or undemocratic. … if this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”…

All this has begun to poison Israel’s reputation among Democrats. An open embrace of grand apartheid policy would only accelerate this process, and politically empower the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which will look prescient. If supporting Israel becomes coded as Republican-only policy, it will be the end of the special relationship.


The three-month election process was heart-stopping and melodramatic, like an old “Batman” episode from the 1960s without the camp — including the startling role played by Special Guest Villain Barack Obama doing everything in his power to take down the man he seems to have chosen as his Enemy No. 1.

The president (or his team) shipped close campaign aides to Israel to help Bibi’s opponents, and one State Department-funded group helped coordinate the line of attack.

The strategists going after him figured out that the key to the election was to stimulate what might be called “Bibi exhaustion” in the electorate. Their approach was to remind centrist voters of Bibi’s failure to do anything about the nation’s spiraling cost-of-living crisis, which had helped bring hundreds of thousands of Israelis into the streets in mass protests in 2011.

It worked. A bit. The Zionist Union won something like 24 seats, an improvement for its core Labor Party from 15 seats just two years ago. But the thing is, Israel’s left doesn’t have any answers to the nation’s pressing problems either — and is seen as too ready to capitulate on hard-core defense and security issues.


What set off this new round of ominous Israel concern-trolling was Netanyahu’s assertion that leftist NGOs, billionaires and consultants were making sure that “Arab voters are going to the polls in droves.”

Which was a fact.

The leadership of the Arab front has openly stated that it wanted to pull together any and all factions of Israeli Arabs, including communists and Islamists, for the single political purpose of removing Israel’s prime minister. Arab political forces are free to rally to unseat Netanyahu, free to aspire to dismantle the Jewish State, but if Netanyahu mentions any of this he’s a racist undermining Israel’s formerly pristine democracy. Or so we’re told.

The truth is, that if any left-winger was especially concerned about “democratic ideals” in Israel, he might point out that if the Joint Arab List had its way there would be no democratic ideals in Israel.


There are many reasons that Netanyahu surged toward the end. But they all boil down to one: enough Israeli voters knew that a loss for Netanyahu meant a victory for Obama. And they weren’t going to stand for it. On both occasions when Bibi surged in the polls–just prior to his speech to Congress, and on Election Day–a major theme of campaign rhetoric was the charge that Obama was interfering in the elections. (Those charges have merit, as a Senate committee is about to find out.)

Netanyahu won, in other words, by standing up to Obama. That was not the main purpose of his speech to Congress, and it was not something Netanyahu addressed explicitly. But he didn’t need to. All of his last-minute statements–the warning that foreign governments (in general) were trying to overthrow him, the reversal of his support for a Palestinian state, the alarm that Arab voters were being bused to the polls–were rejections, albeit indirect, of Obama’s policies and interventions…

Netanyahu has fewer hangups about political correctness, as in his 11th-hour warning about high Arab turnout (which, as it happened, never materialized). The warning was not racist, as his opponents charged–not when several members of the Joint Arab List are hostile to the state itself, not when the media spent weeks predicting high Arab turnout would doom the Likud. It was, however, an ugly and divisive warning. Bibi did it because he values winning above artistic impression.


The experts who said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was vulnerable before yesterday’s national election insisted that the vote was a referendum on him. His overwhelming victory shows that it was equally a referendum on U.S. President Barack Obama. Netanyahu gave voters a choice between whom to trust more with their nation’s security. The result was clear…

In 2012 he said he wasn’t bluffing when he pledged he would not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu campaigned on the simple message that Obama was indeed bluffing. The deal Obama’s diplomats are now trying to close would likely leave Iran in possession of thousands of centrifuges and expire in 10 years. Yes, there would be increased monitoring of its nuclear program, but Iran would remain a threshold nuclear state, capable of using its infrastructure to make a bomb when it saw fit.

That’s something neither Netanyahu nor his opposition could accept. The Zionist Union skewered Netanyahu for taking his grievances with Obama public, saying his alienation of Obama was partly to blame for the bad nuclear deal. Netanyahu turned this attack on its head. In his Washington speech this month he warned Congress about Obama’s diplomacy. At home, he accused the opposition of lacking the fortitude to stand up to an American president who was willing to sacrifice Israel’s security for a legacy agreement with Iran.

Netanyahu’s political instincts were correct. In re-electing him, a large plurality of Israelis agreed that Obama is not to be trusted.


The ongoing collapse of Western resolve in the “negotiations” with Iran, which of course signaled its real nature in its reaction to Netanyahu’s win, has worn down and demoralized many in the West who believe President Obama will fundamentally and forever undermine the ability to keep Iran from nuclear weapons and thus entrench the despotic regime in permanent place.  Yesterday’s win for Likud suggests that even fin a country beset with middle class economic woes, national security rises up as the decisive issue when voters understand the basic security of the state is threatened.

That same recognition is growing in the United States, and the appearance of the hawks on both the Republican presidential trail and within the debate over the new GOP budget is a reassuring indication that American voters might follow the lead of those in Israel and approach their next election with a seriousness about the world that has been missing in the past two. In the last few months of the Obama years, Congress should be energetic in combatting the president’s unilateral laying down of the West’s arms and resolve. Tom Cotton and his 46 colleagues sent a letter that may be remembered as the turning point just as Netanyahu’s re-election will be an exclamation point in the renewing of resolve.  Maybe even John Kerry will get a whiff of the new wind blowing and pack his bags in Geneva and announce that sanctions will stay in place unless and until the mullahs genuinely abandon their nuclear ambitions.  We can hope.  And Congress can direct that the U.S. ship arms to our friends in Ukraine and Kurdistan even as it fully funds the rebuilding of the Pentagon’s capacities.