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March 18, 2015 3:42 pm

Israel is the True Target of Netanyahu’s Critics

avatar by Ben Cohen /

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. There is no world leader more hated by bien-pensant liberals in America and Europe than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Whereas once the bile was directed at former U.S. president George W. Bush—for invading Iraq and Afghanistan, for identifying radical Islam in both its Shi’a and Sunni variations as an existential threat, and for backing Israel—it’s now largely focused on Netanyahu, an alleged “racist” and “war criminal” who just happens to have won a resounding vote of confidence from the Israeli electorate on March 17.

Two New York Times editorials speak to my point rather elegantly. The first, published on March 13, asked whether Turkey could still be considered a reliable North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally—concluding, based on the Ankara government’s stance towards international crises from the Islamic State insurgency to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that it can’t. But while the substance of the editorial was basically correct, notable was the lack of any ad hominem attack on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Increasingly authoritarian” was the best the New York Times could manage when it came to describing this boorish thug, who rejoices in conspiracy theories, baits his country’s declining Jewish population even as he assures them that they are safe, and imprisons journalists with the devil-may-care attitude only a dictator can enjoy.

Contrast that with the morning-after New York Times editorial on an Israeli election that saw Netanyahu defy polling predictions by winning a clear mandate to govern. (Netanyahu’s Likud party garnered 30 Knesset seats to the Zionist Union’s 24 seats.) “Racist,” “desperate,” “craven,” and “aggressive” are just a selection of the adjectives used to describe Israel’s prime minister. We are told that Netanyahu “expected to win an easy victory and then ended up fighting for his political life,” when the exact reverse was true. The paper then bemoaned Netanyahu’s “demagogy,” claiming that he “further incites the rage that has torn his country apart.” To slam an Israeli leader for incitement when so many of Israel’s neighbors turn to the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” anti-Semitic forgery when they want insights into Israeli behavior is laughable, frankly.

Why does Netanyahu attract so much loathing when some of the world’s worst tyrants and murderers live within an hour’s flying time from Tel Aviv? The generous answer is that Netanyahu is “one of us” who has gone woefully astray; a leader who uses democracy in order to undermine it. After all, the Syrian and Iranian regimes never claimed that they shared American values, whereas we are assured all the time that Israel does. Yet, in the post-Bush era, Netanyahu has bucked the isolationist trend that has washed through America and Europe by talking about “existential threats,” building in eastern Jerusalem, and bombing Gaza. The critics say that Israel’s allies should keep their troops and resources out of the Middle East, lamenting that Netanyahu wants to drag them into the mud even further.

As I said, that’s the generous answer, and it’s not necessarily the most convincing one. Liberals in America and around the world may think that the Middle East’s problems with Israel all come down to Netanyahu, but that’s not how it’s seen in the region itself.

“For us there is no difference between the Zionist regime’s political parties. They are all aggressors in nature,” said a representative of Iran’s foreign ministry when asked for a reaction to an election in a country that the Islamist regime wants to see wiped off the map. Hamas, Iran’s Palestinian ally, faithfully echoed that line, insisting that all of Israel’s political parties are united in their desire to deny the Palestinians their rights.

So, too, did the Palestinian Authority (PA)—the same PA that would be, according to the Obama administration and the Europeans, a genuine partner for peace if only Netanyahu could get over his “stubbornness.” For the PA, it is all Israelis whole who are to blame, because they elected a leader who campaigned on the basis of “racism, settlements, and apartheid,” asserted chief PA negotiator Saeb Erakat. The same point was made by senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Yasser Abed Rabbo, who told the AFP news agency that Israel “chose the path of racism, occupation and settlement building, and did not choose the path of negotiations and partnership between us.”

Whatever else they may be, these are honest words—far more honest than the claim of Israel’s left-wing daily newspapers, Haaretz, that Israelis “went to bed hoping for change, and woke up with King Bibi again,” as if the voters had nothing to do with Netanyahu’s triumph!

Had Zionist Union succeeded in forming a center-left government in Israel, I am certain that what I call the “Venezuela effect” would have come into play pretty quickly. This is a reference to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who persists in calling the U.S. an imperialist aggressor despite President Barack Obama’s climb-downs on such pressing matters—you and I might call them “existential threats”—as Syria, Iran, and Russia. Had Isaac Herzog become prime minister, he would have soon found himself being talked about in similar terms, even if he had been willing to be more flexible than Netanyahu on the issue of a Palestinian state. This is because the Palestinian negotiating strategy has always been to make demands it already knows Israel won’t grant, in order to then demonize Israel as a rogue state that was never committed to peace in the first place. Bush or Obama, Netanyahu or Herzog—there will always be those who say that these ostensible rivals are much more similar than we appreciate.

While this strategy has signally failed to pay any tangible dividends for the Palestinians themselves, it has won Palestinian leaders the lion’s share of international sympathy. Their goal now is to try and weaken Israel’s leaders, most of all Netanyahu, with a unilateralist campaign that is grounded on the imperative of putting Israel on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

If we get to that point—and it’s a big if—we’ll be told by the New York Times that it’s Netanyahu in the dock. Wrong. It is the State of Israel that will be on trial. And that is just a taste of what lies are in store for the coming months.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of The Tower, writes a weekly column for His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).

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  • Mervyn

    Hoe about the genocide Nato is perputuating against the Russian Speaking Ukrainians.The leaders of the EU are also war criminals
    who should be tried at the Hague for these crimes.


  • richard sherwin

    when hasnt the state of israel,politically morally socially economically militarily and ideologically –let alone by pagan terms religiously– been in the NYT’s ‘dock’ — let alone the kangaroo courts of the UN, Europe, Islam, and Ha-aretz’s faux-elitism and very selective liberalisms?

    the israeli public knows this, and knows even when/if they dislike Netanyahu for any or all of the above –allies, that whoever they voted for the kangaroo courts will only increase in furor till the state of israel is defamed, mutilated, and destroyed. the western and moslem worlds are still hunting down jews thru the media (and in Europe in the streets, again) because their primary cultural instinct is to become judenrein — free of jews and for that matter free of the Gd the jews brought them to. or dragged them to. or deceived them to.

    so… what’s new? at least Netanyahu says what we all know experientially as highly probable: a nuclear iran means death to lots if not most of us, sooner than later, and that when it happens the wide liberal world will blame us for it. like Pilate their hands souls and minds are pure. and empty.

  • Mike

    It’s a lot simpler than Ben Cohen makes it.

    The real issue all along is that Israel provides evidence that the deeply-held beliefs of people on the Left are simply wrong. Beliefs aren’t usually falsifiable, but that is exactly what has happened to the Left because of Israel.

    Hostility toward Netanyahu began when he was finance minister and freed the country from its socialist roots. The result was Israel became the “Start Up Nation” which demonstrated the advantage of free markets, something socialists cannot tolerate.

    Likewise, Netanyahu’s persistence in identifying the evil intentions of Iran run afoul of the Left’s beliefs in multi-culturalism, which claim that no culture, other the Jews, can be evil, and all such non-Jewish cultures are equally admirable.

    Yet Iran is experimenting with the pieces necessary to conduct an electromagnet pulse attack on the West, which could kill nearly 300 million Americans. Obama cannot act against that, and in defense of the people who elected him, without endorsing Netanyahu’s perception of the evils of the Islamic Revolution.

    Papers like The Times cannot deal honestly with the news because reality invalidates their beliefs.

    It is time for Americans and other peoples in the West to wake up and realize that the problem comes from the likes of Obama and his minions, not Netanyahu.

  • steven L

    Europe is fundamentally antisemitic and this antisemitism has already spread to the US socialists! If the country continues on the socialist path, it will become like Europe. No Values, no Ethics no Moral, no reason or ideal to fight for. That is what relativism is about. A process of self-destruction.

  • art

    The US and EU conveniently refuse to remember that the PA refused to make peace with Rabin,peres,barak,sarrid,beilin ramon, livni,olmert over 20+ yrs. the PA got billions$, a CIA trained army of 60,000 plus several times more reserves, control of most of the “west bank” release of murderers etc. What “peace” did Israel get? Did the pa observe its obligations under Oslo, Wye etc? NO. The conditions in the Mideast today are NOT what they were in 1993. Just 6 yrs ago Obama/Hillary told Israel to surrender the Golan because Assad was a partner for peace and could be trusted. Remember if Obama/Hillary/Kerry are wrong they will eventually go on in politics, University administration, think tanks , foundations and make millions while Israel suffers from their bad advice

  • Praise GOD for a real leader, to stand against violence and 13th century mindset. The prayers of righteous people overcome vile actions of truly evil people.

  • manley kiefer

    with all the negative aspects reported by the NY times against Netanyahu, his “character flaws” as described the Times may indeed turn out to be beneficial for Israel and its survival. I am relieved at Likud and Netanyahu’s resounding victory. Whether his countrymen love him or not, they’ve voted their confidence in him and party for Israel’s future.

  • Dov

    The time has come for Jews to drop subscriptions of the NY Times, like I finally did a few weeks ago. I am just one small person, but lets make it massive.

  • Herb Glatter

    Excellent analysis and conclusion Ben. One possible scenario: President Obama announces a resolution to the Arab Israeli issue. Israel refuses, preferring not to commit national suicide. Obama withdraws support in international fora, suspends military aid, does not renew prior agreement to supply Israel with oil if necessary and along with the EU imposes sanctions against Israel. Now truly alone, Israel attacks the nuclear facilities of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

  • Richard

    Maybe not just the State of Israel but Jews in general will be on trial. The comments on liberal websites reveal an animosity I do not see on the street. However, I feel that Jews may become a target of animosity, even to some extent in the U.S. The Huffington Post just spent several days excoriating Netanyahu. I generally consider myself to be a liberal and I do not particularly like Netanyahu, but comments on sites like the Huffington Post make me wonder if antisemitic undercurrents are stronger than I had thought. I hope Netanyahu manages to get along with President Obama and does not further align himself with the republican right wing. Be nice Mr. Netanyahu. And you too Mr. Obama.

  • spktruth200

    No one believes the election was fair and square…who were the Interational Observers….Hamas had a International Observer there election was fair..Israel has just caused itself to become a pariah and the world will isolate them all. Your on your own now.

  • Joseh Milthon

    Avisa á todos os Governantes Mundiais que tem Ciumes do PM Netanyahu.