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August 17, 2015 6:36 am

More Liberal Support for Netanyahu – Sort Of

avatar by Benyamin Korn

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: GPO.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: GPO.

The latest liberal voice to oppose the Iran deal is Leon Wieseltier, the New Republic’s longtime literary editor, who now writes for The Atlantic. In coming out against the deal, Wieseltier joins the ranks of those whom President Obama accuses of making “common cause” with the mullahs of Iran.

“The Iranians never made a strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons,” Wieseltier told reporters this week. The Iranian nuclear threat will not disappear so long as the “criminal theocratic regime” rules Iran, he said. The deal will strengthen the ayatollahs rather than weaken them, Wiseltier noted, and “the longer this regime stays in power, the more dangerous the region is.”

Wieseltier’s opposition to the Iran agreement is significant. It further sets back the Obama Administration’s attempt to demonize and discredit the deal’s critics.

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The claim that “only Prime Minister Netanyahu” opposes it crumbled when the leader of the Israeli left, Labor Party (Zionist Union) chairman Isaac Herzog, announced his opposition to the deal.

Likewise the claim that “only Republicans” oppose it has taken severe hits in recent days, with the announcement by Sen. Charles Schumer and other prominent liberal Democrats that they, too, oppose it.

One additional comment by Wieseltier deserves some further discussion, however. “I can’t stand Bibi,” Wieseltier emphasized in his remarks. “But he’s right about the Iran deal.”

On the one hand, it’s understandable why Wieseltier took that shot at Netanyahu. He wanted to remind the public that opposition to the deal is broad-based and goes far beyond the Israeli right. That’s an important point.

But Wieseltier’s choice of words was distasteful. It reminds one of that ugly little “open mic” exchange between President Obama and then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011 abut how much they “can’t stand” Netanyahu. The implication is that there is something about Netanyahu that makes it impossible for others to get along with him.

Remember, this is the same Netanyahu who offered to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state; froze Israeli construction in the Judea-Samaria (West Bank) territories for nearly a year; and released numerous imprisoned terrorists. He has bent over backwards, time and again, in response to international pressure and liberal critics such as Wieseltier.

That being the case, this is an appropriate time to recall one of Wieseltier’s first and fiercest attacks on Netanyahu – an attack that subsequently proved to be completely unjustified.

Writing in the New York Times on November 20, 1988, Wieseltier accused Netanyahu of engaging in “the diabolization of the PLO.” That newly made-up word was meant to say that Netanyahu (who was then Israel’s deputy foreign minister) had been falsely making Yasir Arafat seem more diabolical than he really was.

At the time Wieseltier was writing, the PLO had just issued yet another vague statement about UN Resolution 242. That statement was proof that the PLO was heading in “a direction of moderation,” Wieseltier insisted. “The murmurs of reason with which Yasir Arafat used to tease reporters and columnists have now been made a part, if not the whole, of Palestinian policy.”

Besides, Wieseltier added, “Israel has killed more innocent victims in its reprisals for Palestinian acts of terror than Palestinians have killed in acts of terror” – an argument that could have been used to prove that the Nazis were more moderate than the Allies, given the respective body counts in the World War II.

Behind the scenes, Wieseltier’s line of thinking had already been embraced by senior advisers to Secretary of State George Shultz. In the waning days of the Reagan administration–just before George H.W. Bush became president–those advisers (Daniel Kurtzer, Dennis Ross, Aaron Miller) succeeded in bringing about U.S. recognition of the PLO. Fifteen months later, Arafat’s continued involvement in terrorism was so obvious even to Bush Sr. – no great friend of Israel – that he cut off all relations with Arafat.

It wasn’t Netanyahu who was falsely making Arafat out to be diabolical. The PLO leader truly was diabolical, a fact that every reasonable person today recognizes. If Leon Wieseltier continues to feel that he “can’t stand” Netanyahu, that is his right; but perhaps the time has come to acknowledge that on other occasions beside Iran, Netanyahu’s assessment of the Palestinians has been far more accurate than that of Wieseltier and his camp.

Mr. Korn, former executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent and the Miami Jewish Tribune, is chairman of the Philadelphia Religious Zionists.

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