What Netanyahu Has Wrought

After Prime Minister Netanyahu’s scorched-earth political victory which featured anti-Arab race-baiting and with his free-market economics driving more Israelis into poverty Israel faces a difficult path into the future, writes Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

For a long time now, American political consultants have benefited from a lucrative sideline, selling their alleged expertise to politicians in Israel. (It was Democratic strategist James Carville who, after working on a campaign for former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, joked that the key to victory in Israel was who won “that all-important Jewish vote.”)

It was no different during this past week’s Israeli election. Benjamin Netanyahu’s winning Likud Party had Republican Vincent Harris, the 26-year-old whiz kid who helped engineer Sen. Ted Cruz’s victory in Texas. Veteran Democrats Paul Begala and Stan Greenberg were working for the Zionist Union coalition of Labor and other political parties, and the anti-Netanyahu group V15 hired President Barack Obama’s campaign field director Jeremy Bird.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

That led to charges by Likud of Obama meddling in Israeli affairs, as opposed to, oh, say, Netanyahu coming here at the behest of Republicans and addressing a joint session of Congress about our no nukes negotiations with Iran. In any case, the accusations were strongly denied by the White House.

What can’t be denied is that Netanyahu has learned some other lessons from American politics that are far uglier and more brutish than polling techniques and media training; deeply cynical lessons in how to use anger, fear and hate to churn your base into a frenzy, while disregarding real, bread-and-butter issues of economic hardship and worst, ramping up prejudice and discrimination against millions you see as less than human.

Historically, he has said whatever needed to be said to advance his blatant careerism. In 1997, at the beginning of his first term as prime minister, Netanyahu declared he was opposed to a separate Palestinian state: “This is the land of our forefathers, and we claim it to the same degree that the other side claims it.”

Then in 2009, Netanyahu spoke at Israel’s conservative Bar-Ilan University and famously stunned the audience by announcing his support of a two-state solution: “In my vision of peace,” he said, “in this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side by side, in amity and mutual respect. Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government. Neither will threaten the security or survival of the other.”

As recently as last October at the White House, he reaffirmed that, “I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples based on mutual recognition and rock-solid security arrangements.”

But as this year’s Israeli election heated up and polls indicated the opposition was catching up and even beating him and his Likud colleagues, Netanyahu gave an interview the day before voting to NRG, a conservative news website, and said, “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack ground to the radical Islam against the state of Israel,” he said.

“This is the actual reality that has formed here in recent years. Anyone who ignores this is sticking his head in the sand.” Asked if that meant no Palestinian state during his watch, he replied, “Indeed.”

Further fanning the flames, on Election Day itself, the Prime Minister sent out a race-baiting, get-out-the-vote Facebook SOS, warning supporters about those one million Palestinians who also are Israeli citizens: “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls.”

The scorched earth tactics used by Netanyahu are reminiscent of the mongering we saw here in the 1960s from the likes of Richard Nixon and Alabama’s George Wallace, stoking panic, dividing to conquer, consigning a whole people to the margin for his own survival.

In his reckless pursuit of one more dance at the center of power, Bibi Netanyahu has wrestled what remains of Israeli democracy into the dirt, and in rejecting the pursuit of peace with the Palestinians perpetuated a nightmare of a doctrine that could best be labeled to reword George Wallace’s infamous rant, “apartheid now, apartheid tomorrow, apartheid forever.

As James Besser, former Washington correspondent for New York’s The Jewish Week, wrote in the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, “The idea of apartheid suggests the intent to make separation and unequal treatment permanent, and in the past it was possible to argue that for all the expansion of settlements, Israel was still looking for ways to end the occupation. No more.”

Of course, now that Netanyahu is in Mission Accomplished mode, in a further display of chutzpah, the Prime Minister is backpedaling yet again, telling Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, “I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable and peaceful two-state solution, but circumstances have to change for that to happen.”

As for that look-out-for-the-Arabs Facebook harangue, “I am not racist,” he claimed. “I am proud to be the prime minister of all Israeli Arabs and Jews alike.” (On Monday, he publicly apologized.)

This is classic Netanyahu on a couple of levels: often saying one thing to overseas media, especially in America, and another for domestic consumption (a habit not uncommon among many Middle East leaders); and as has been established, dissembling and flip-flopping in the name of expediency, couching his words with linguistic loopholes, like a genie offering multiple wishes but each with a catch.

Meanwhile, Peter Beaumont of The Guardian notes, “A hard-hitting EU report on Jerusalem warns that the city has reached a dangerous boiling point of ‘polarization and violence’ not seen since the end of the second intifada in 2005.

“Calling for tougher European sanctions against Israel over its continued settlement construction in the city which it blames for exacerbating recent conflict the leaked document paints a devastating picture of a city more divided than at any time since 1967, when Israeli forces occupied the east of the city.”

As a possible third intifada approaches, other domestic crises, crises much like our own, are also being swept under the carpet. Just three weeks before Election Day, Israel’s state comptroller released a shocking assessment that in the years between 2008-2013, housing prices had soared 55 percent and rental rates had climbed 30 percent while wages increased only a small percentage.

Further, as economist Paul Krugman recently wrote in The New York Times, “According to Luxembourg Income Study data, the share of Israel’s population living on less than half the country’s median income, a widely accepted definition of relative poverty, more than doubled, to 20.5 percent from 10.2 percent, between 1992 and 2010. The share of children in poverty almost quadrupled, to 27.4 percent from 7.8 percent. Both numbers are the worst in the advanced world, by a large margin.”

Despite those numbers, Netanyahu is a free-market advocate, Krugman continued, and has “a Chris Christie-like penchant for living large at taxpayers’ expense, while clumsily pretending otherwise. So Mr. Netanyahu tried to change the subject from internal inequality to external threats,” conjuring danger and dread from international leftist conspiracies, a nuclear Iran and constant existential threats from Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim world.

Is it any wonder the GOP embraces Netanyahu’s policies? Both not only think the market can cure all that ails us, they ignore many real issues by whipping up specters at home and abroad. With both the Republicans and the Likud, we now have a war party in Israel and one in America, the neocons beating the drums once again, this time against Iran. Have we ever had a situation where we’ve allowed a foreign leader to wield so much power over Congress?

“It’s us or them” was the slogan Netanyahu and Likud spread throughout this recent campaign. They said they meant the Labor/Zionist Union opposition but its roots are deeper and more atavistic than that.

“Us or them,” they chant, much like their right wing counterparts in the United States, a core philosophy more suitable to the cave than a rational civilization. Disaster looms.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos.

5 comments for “What Netanyahu Has Wrought

  1. Zachaary Smith
    March 24, 2015 at 13:50

    This violent operation signaled that Israel–which would not last a week in a war against Iran…

    Yours was a very readable post, and on only one point do I disagree. Yes, Iran would easily whip Israel in a conventional war. But it wouldn’t be a conventional war. Israel has what has been called a “Masada Complex”, which is generally understood to mean way too many of the inhabitants there have a suicidal political psychology. Millions of Iranians would be slaughtered by Israeli nuclear weapons, and the crazy little apartheid nation then would dare the world to do anything about it. After all, the Israeli missiles have a long regional reach, and their German-supplied missile submarines can turn up anywhere.

    Israel appears now to be in the sights of very powerful forces.

    I was surprised to see the right-wing Wall Street Journal feature the story about the spying.

    Israel Spied on Iran Nuclear Talks With U.S.

    They’re running out of friends even faster than I’d imagined. Only a handful of American loons still support them. That’s not going to be enough!

    Frankly, I’m far more afraid of that crappy little state than I am any other – anywhere.

    • Anthony Shaker
      March 24, 2015 at 15:47

      Thank you for your comment, Zachaary and to Michael Winship for his informative and timely article. Israel can still do a lot of damage, agreed. But let me illustrate something. If it issues one more veiled reminder to “anti-semitic” Europe about its nuclear arsenal (as its cabinet ministers have several times in the last twelve months and as it contemplated announcing with a “desert demonstration” in the 1967 and 1973 wars) it would be its last.

      So, imagine an unprovoked war against Iran. I doubt if Israel would be allowed the chance to hit back. Only recently, American armed forces in the region were prepared to shoot down Israeli aircraft, had they seriously aimed at reaching Iran.

      All this points to a possibility that has been swimming in my head for at least three years, that Israel’s liquidation by the West may have entered the realm of possibility. Israel plays for keeps. But this is a two-way street and it may well find itself run over by a Big truck, rather than by one of those pretend-armies led by “Arab” nationalist clowns during the Nasser era.

      Iran is the “new management” on the premises, I suppose. Fortunately, it is not the culturally disoriented sesspool of ideologues who are now either mutating into rabid Wahhabis or supporting such elements all over the Middle East. The United States has discovered just how important Iran is compared to the Gulf riffraff and old-story Zionists with nothing by genocide on their minds in Palestine. And what a loss it sstained in 1979 when it banked on the Shah.

      • abbybwood
        March 24, 2015 at 18:25

        Let’s not forget that in 1967 the Johnson administration was crawling with Israeli spies who were in The White House and on the Supreme Court!:


        Just look at the George W. Bush administration with Cheney and all his Neocon friends in PNAC who undoubtedly reported back to Tel Aviv on an “as needed” basis.

        The first thing I would like to see Obama do is to purge his administration of ALL Israeli “dual citizens” and any others who clearly bow to AIPAC the ADL etc.

        And that’s just for starters.

        Of course one slight problem is that as some major Jewish supporters in Chicago have boasted, “Obama is our first Jewish president”.

        And that’s just for starters.

  2. Anthony Shaker
    March 24, 2015 at 10:59

    Israel has been a burden on the United States for a long time: diplomatically since 1967, economically since the Peace Treaty with Egypt and Ronald Reagan, and morally since the 1948 Security Council vote that recognised the Zionists’s unilateral declaration as an independent state.

    Despite American efforts to drill acceptability into a skeptical world on behalf of its Zionist protégé, whose delegations until now have routinely accompanied American diplomats and businesspeople around the world, Israel remains a basketcase on welfare.

    No offense to the millions of Americans living on welfare while Zionist gluttons and agents of mayhem feed on the national wealth. Only, to the political establishment (diplomats, kingmakers, military strategists, intelligence gamers, advisers, the President himself), Netanyahu’s speech was only the last straw. Israel’s assassination of an Iranian general and Lebanese military planners inside Syrian territory was the real trigger.

    This violent operation signaled that Israel–which would not last a week in a war against Iran, given that Lebanon’s resistance movement alone could probably bring it to its knees–was more willing than ever to entangle the United States militarily with Iran. Mossad operatives tried to associate the US through information releases suggesting CIA collaboration in the assassinations.

    This is not the behavior of a friend, even in a band of thieves, where one thief can spill the beans on another and pretty soon all the thieves are at each others’ throats and off to jail.

    If mayhem in the Middle East and elsewhere has provided opportunities for outside meddling in various sovereign states, then Syria has broken US foreign policy. With this conflict, prosecuted mostly on Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s behalf to get at Iran, Israel has turned itself into a mortal threat to the US, a national security risk so great it has drawn attention, we are slowly finding out, to the ringleaders in Washington: the Israel lobby.

    With Chief-of-Staff Denis McDonogh’s address at the J-Street meet, an alternative Zionist advocate of two states, the government has signalled that not only is the Israeli ambassador persona non grata, but so are AIPEC officials as well. He stated that the Israel occupation has lasted 50 years and that “it must end.” Watch the next few voting sessions at the UN.

    This is not all. Just this morning a White House official has accused Israel of spying on the United States during the negotiations with Iran. This alone will be a game-changer. Israel has already denied the accusation, the main point of which however, according to the quotation in the Washington Post of the senior US official, is even more menacing.

    “It is one thing for the US and Israel to spy on each other,” said the official. “It is another thing for Israel to steal US secrets and play them back to US legislators to undermine US diplomacy.” A few weeks ago, the New York Daily flashed the photos of the authors (“Traitors,” it called them) of the famous letter assuring the Iranian government that an American signature would not be worth the paper it is scratched on.

    Such a revelation about Congressional collaboration with a foreign power would spell danger in the best of times for a politician wedded to Israel. Obama took the trouble to warn Democratic senators in private recently that in the future they are expected to vote with the interests of their country in mind, not those of their donors.

    The Neocon cabal in Congress can wrap itself with the American flag all it likes, but if Congressmen continue to obstruct foreign policy and to “negotiate” with a foreign power over the President’s authority, then the clanking of the prison door may not be far away.

    The speed with which all this has happened suggests that it has been in preparation for some time. Is the US government jumping at the first chance to cut itself loose from Israel for sheer survival?

    Clearly we are on the cusp of a major turn in fortunes for this “democratic” Zionist race colony. This does not have the markings of a passing tempest. In any case, the US government does not idly throw accusations around, no matter how foolish or outlandish they may sound. Words can reshuffle the cards and articulate real intentions.

    Israel apears now to be in the sights of very powerful forces. Its espionage tentacles around the world have been watched for decades. The comical thing is that Israeli leaders, without exception, never considered the absolute arrogance of thinking so little of the possibility that anybody besides their tribal god might be watching.

    • bobzz
      March 24, 2015 at 17:05

      Now, now, Anthony. Venezuela is our national threat :)

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