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March 19, 2015 12:46 am

How Obama Elected Netanyahu

avatar by George Jochnowitz

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President Barack Obama. Photo: White House.

In February, House Speaker John Boehner said he had invited Pope Francis to address a joint meeting of Congress. The Pope is scheduled to appear on September 24.

This invitation was technically a breach of protocol. Nevertheless, nobody much noticed. There have been no condemnations from the White House, and in all likelihood, President Obama will meet with the Pope when he is in the United States.

The contrast with the reaction to Boehner’s invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu is striking. Vice President Joe Biden did not attend Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, even though the Vice President is also President of the Senate. Eight Senators and 50 House Representatives also did not attend.

All of them might have attended had President Obama agreed to meet, however briefly, with Netanyahu. It would have been the polite thing to do, even though the invitation itself was a breach of protocol. Netanyahu and Obama could have exchanged any new information about Iran’s nuclear plans, even though they probably couldn’t have changed any views.

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Instead, the reaction everywhere was that the breach of protocol was an absolute outrage. One of the factors leading to this view was that Netanyahu was running for re-election, and that he was going to Congress to help get votes for his party. It is indeed possible that one of the reasons Netanyahu accepted the invitation was that he felt it might help him win. I can’t read his mind – or anyone else’s – but I believe that the big issue motivating him was his fear of Iran’s increasing nuclear capabilities.

Israel has every reason to fear Iran’s nuclear ambitions. That is what Netanyahu spoke about in his address to Congress. President Obama should understand – and share – Netanyahu’s fear. In his speech, Netanyahu said, “We appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel.”

Nowhere did Netanyahu say anything that might have offended Obama. Obama, unfortunately, had already been offended, and Netanyahu’s words couldn’t change that. Obama did not offer any conciliatory gesture after the speech. Netanyahu went back to Israel knowing that the President of Israel’s chief ally in the world was rigidly opposed to both Netanyahu and to his desire to control Iran’s attempts at getting the bomb.

Israeli politics are very complicated. It became simpler when President Obama’s rigidity convinced many Israelis that nothing could be gained by working with the United States to bring about a peaceful withdrawal from disputed territories or on Iran. Obama made some Israelis decide that a tough stand was required. The Israelis who decided at the last minute to vote for Netanyahu probably did so because of Obama’s lack of flexibility.

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  • President Obama’s stonewalling Netanyahu may, indeed, have been a factor in increasing Netanyahu’s share of the Israeli vote because the psychological factor — the perception and interpretation of his behavior — is an essential element in politics. Israelis are sick and tired of being what they consider “betrayed” by putative allies. Remember how the Soviet Union was the first to recognize Israel DE JURE and supplied it with weapons in 1948 — and then provoked the 1967 war? Remember how France supported and armed Israel then turned against the country when the Algerian war ended? Remember how every single country except the Dominican Republic refused sanctuary to European Jews facing genocide before and during WWII? Remember how Britain announced the Balfour Declaration and then played divide-and-conquer with Jews and Arabs in Mandatory Palestine and left their forts and arms to Arab forces when they evacuated? Remember their White Paper of 1939 which closed the door to Palestine to Jewish refugees from the Nazis and how the British Navy sunk ships of escapees from Nazi Europe during and after WWII? Remember how the US State Department said on the first day of the 6-day War, and I quote: “We are neutral in thought, word and deed?”

    We must remember that, for Jews, betrayal includes bystanding. I don’t know what’s going on in Netanyahu’s or Obama’s heads but I do know that perceptions count in the diplomatic arena. Elected leaders who give the impression to Jews of being bystanders when Jews feel they’re in danger put themselves automatically in the same category as those nations whose leaders and citizens stood by and let Jews be murdered. Jews have visceral feelings against bystanders. And we lavish praise for rescuers. The Bulgarian, Albanian and Danish governments did not turn over their Jewish citizens to the Germans and must be forever honored for this,as should the Italians army officers who re-routed deportation trains away from Auschwitz and whose citizen including some monasteries and nunneries,hid individual Jews.
    Obama and his advisors need to understand this dynamic and realize that the more pressure they apply on Israel, the more they are perceived as ignoring its concerns, the more likely they are to get a very negative response and achieve a result opposite of what they intend.

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