Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) delivers a speech next to his wife Sara as he reacts to exit poll figures in Israel’s parliamentary elections late on March 17, 2015 in the city of Tel Aviv. (Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
I was on Ed Schultz’s show on MSNBC on Tuesday afternoon analyzing the Israeli election. At that point exit polls were showing it was a dead heat between Bibi and Isaac Herzog. The three other commentators, which included famed Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, were pontificating as to why Bibi didn’t run away with the election. Various reasons were given. Economic failure. Bibi’s too bellicose. He ruined the relationship with Obama.
Three hours later we all heard the truth. Bibi had crushed Mr. Herzog. The pre-election and the exit polling were hopelessly wrong. Netanyahu had scored a devastating victory.
What would the pundits say now? Why did Bibi win?
The reasons are many, but the principal reason seems obvious. Israelis were not prepared to cache a leader of international standing who has stood up to indescribable pressures to keep Israel safe.
Like any people, Israelis care about paying the rent and the price of bread. And Netanyahu admitted he did not do enough on the economic issues and promised to do more. But unlike other nations, Israelis face the daily question of whether they will be live to eat that bread.
With genocidal Hamas to the West, Hezbollah to the North, and Iran to the East, how could security issues not have been the primary issue?
For all the talk about how hated Bibi has made Israel, it was just as hated under Rabin, Peres, and Olmert. I know because I was hosting Prime Ministers of Israel at Oxford at the time and saw the huge demonstrations against them.
BDS started in 2005 under Ariel Sharon who gave back all of Gaza. Israel is not hated because of its security policies. It’s hated because the world has a 2000-year problem with the Jews. It’s nothing new.
And for all the talk of Bibi ruining the relationship with Obama, there were a great many Israelis that told pollsters they were voting for him precisely because he stood up to the American president. Not because they want to humiliate our President. Israelis love America and feel deep gratitude to a great friend and benefactor. But they want to know that Israel is a sovereign nation. And their elected leader does not have to cow-tow to a President about to sign a deal that puts Israel in grave, mortal danger.
But the biggest loser in the Israeli election is not Herzog or Tzipi Livni. It’s actually someone who lives thousands of miles from the Jewish state, President Obama himself. Our president had some of his leading, former campaign experts helping Herzog’s campaign. He shunned the Prime Minister during his recent Congressional address and would not even meet with him. He has not disguised his hostility to the Israeli leader and was probably praying for, and expecting, his defeat.
What does Obama do now?
It would be easy to say he should just ignore Bibi and treat him as an inconsequential nuisance. The problem, however, is that Netanyahu is extremely popular among Republican lawmakers who happen to control the House and Senate. No doubt both bodies will continue to hammer President Obama for the catastrophic deal he’s about to sign with Iran. And one of the main reasons they will do so is because they believe in Bibi’s expertise in the area.
Israelis have mixed feelings about President Obama. On the one had they’re well aware that the President has increased military and intelligence cooperation between the two nations. They also know that the President has shown support for Israel at the UN and has opposed Palestinian’s unilateral declaration of statehood.
But for all that, they’re confused. Of all the world leaders to whom President Obama has chosen to show unremitting hostility, why is it their guy?
Bibi’s not perfect. But he doesn’t throw people in jail and let fighters pass through his border to join ISIS the way President Erdogan of Turkey does.
And Bibi may have gotten in Obama’s face in the Congressional speech. He felt he had no choice, given the high stakes. But he doesn’t throw Nobel Peace Prize winners, and their spouses in jail, like the President of China.
Bibi may not listen to all that President Obama asks of him. But he doesn’t have hit men taking out political opponents on the streets of his capital like Vladimir Putin.
It can be a little confusing as to why Obama, so famously cerebral and unruffled, has allowed the Israeli leader to get under his skin.
My own belief is that it’s simple. President Obama is desperate for some foreign policy victories. There’s a year-and-a-half left to his Presidency and the world is on fire. From Iran to Boko Haram to ISIS to Putin to Hezbollah to Al Qaida and Hamas, bad guys are running amok under this president.
The only ally he can truly expert pressure on for a deal that would give him the lasting foreign policy legacy he needs and craves is Israel. And in the past Israeli Prime Ministers have proven so utterly malleable. American Presidents have squeezed them like lemons.
But Bibi refuses to be squeezed. He wont play ball. He wont withdraw from Judea and Samaria and allow “Hamastan” on his eastern border the way it is in Gaza. He won’t shut up about America’s capitulation to the Iranian mullahs that would leave them with a military-grade nuclear program.
The damned guy just won’t bend.
And our President finds his intransigence utterly frustrating.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the Founder of This World: The Values Network, the world’s leading organization defending Israel in the media. He is the author ofJudaism for Everyoneand 30 other books, including his most recent,Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.