President Obama Knows Best; Israeli Voters Know Better
Yesterday the Israeli media reported on remarks made to Israel Radio. According the Jerusalem Post:
A US official close to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry said both men are disturbed over what is being perceived in their inner circle as “Jewish activism in Congress” that they think is being encouraged by the Israeli government, Israel Radio reported on Thursday. The official has informed Israeli government figures that the president and secretary of state are disappointed over repeated attacks made against them by leading members of the Jewish community in the US.
So let’s try to unpack this. According to Obama and Kerry American Jews are following the lead of the Israeli government. There’s something distasteful about that. Is the administration so convinced that it is following the proper course of action regarding Iran and the peace process that no one could object to their approach based on cold rational analysis? Actually, I think that the answer is “yes.” The administration believes that it is correct and no one could object unless he was subject to undue influences. Last year President Obama proclaimed to Jeffrey Goldberg that “Israel doesn’t know what its best interest are.” Kerry, for his part, says that he worries about Israel’s future without a peace deal. Clearly the administration is so concerned with Israel’s well being, so it must be doing the right things and above reproach. They know better than Israelis what is important for them. Except Israelis may not share that assessment. The Times of Israel reports that the merged Likud-Beiteinu party would get 46 seats if elections were held today. (An blog that follows Israeli polling says that the poll is in line with a couple of other recent polls. But it also appears that at least one other recent poll has the combined party at a much lower level.) The Times of Israel explains the surge:
Some of Likud-Beytenu’s gains are due to the relative popularity of Netanyahu himself, the poll indicates. A majority, or 52%, of likely voters agreed with the statement that there is no viable alternative to Netanyahu as prime minister among the current class of Israeli politicians; just 35% disagree. Even on the left, 36% of likely voters agreed with this statement. Likud-Beytenu’s dramatic increase also comes from self-identified right-wing voters, who are abandoning Yesh Atid in the center (down from 19 seats to 13) and Jewish Home on the right in favor of the ruling Knesset faction. Whereas Likud-Beytenu got 39% of right-wing votes in last year’s elections, that support has risen to 50% — even as the number of those voters as a whole has grown. This growth has come notably at the expense of the Jewish Home party, which has seen its share of right-wing votes drop from 18% last year to just 6%.
While there are signs of weakness among undecided voters; those who are more certain seem to be moving towards the ruling coalition. Two other data polls are worth mentioning. Two weeks ago, IMRA reported a poll showing that 73% of Israelis believe that Israel must maintain a presence in the Jordan valley. In November (before the Geneva deal was finalized) a poll found that a majority of Israelis supported Netanyahu’s approach towards Iran. It’s interesting that the two issues on which President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu disagree most sharply are issues on which Netanyahu represents the mainstream Israeli opinion. This is a point lost on Netanyahu’s many critics. He isn’t a right winger or an extremist. It’s also not something new. In advance of Netanyahu’s 2011 trip to the United States, Yossi Klein Halevi wrote Netanyahu the Surprising Uniter:
Mr. Netanyahu’s historic achievement has been to position his Likud Party within the centrist majority that seeks to end the occupation of the Palestinians but is wary of the security consequences. There is no longer any major Israeli party that rejects a West Bank withdrawal on ideological grounds. Instead, the debate is now focused where most Israelis want it to be: on how to ensure that a Palestinian state won’t pose an existential threat to their country.
(The Klein-Halevi column echoed sentiments written by Charles Krauthammer during Netanyahu’s first term as Prime Minister in The Road from Hebron, “With Hebron, Netanyahu managed to bring most of the nationalist camp of Israel to recognize that Oslo is a fact.”) Because the President presumes to know where Israel’s interests lie, he believes that Israel is not suitably grateful to him and that American Jews are not sufficiently loyal. Israeli voters, apparently, think they know better.