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What The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg Gets Wrong about Netanyahu's Impact in America and Israel

Others, as we know, have pointed out that the president’s denunciation of Hamas was two-faced, since he did not actually say that negotiations with them should not take place. Goldberg then writes the following about what he terms was Netanyahu’s “pedantic behavior":

President Obama actually does understand Jewish history: he understands it well enough to know that the permanent occupation of the West Bank would be an historical anomaly;

2) Even if Obama didn't understand Jewish history, it is still off-putting for many Americans to watch their president being lectured by a foreign leader in his own house;

3) The Prime Minister doesn't seem to understand what President Obama is trying to tell him: That Israel cannot maintain the occupation of the West Bank without becoming a pariah state (previous LIkud-bred prime ministers, namely Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, both understood this);

4) The Prime Minister desperately needs President Obama to defend Israel in the United Nations, and even more crucially, to confront Iran's nuclear program, which poses an existential threat to the Jewish state; angering him constantly doesn't seem to be an effective way to marshal the President's support;

5) Based on the mail I've been receiving, and conversations I've been having with Jewish leaders of various ideological persuasions, there is a great worry that Netanyahu, through his behavior even more than his policies, is alienating other of Israel's friends, needlessly.

Yes, he writes, Netanyahu got standing ovations at AIPAC and before Congress. But Goldberg warns that these should not confuse us. AIPAC, he thinks, represents only a minority of American Jews, especially younger ones. (The implication is that J Street, despite its much lower numbers and lesser impact, does represent American Jews -- which is why they are featuring Goldberg’s comments on their website.) But he predicted, as we know incorrectly, “I wouldn't be surprised if there was a slightly more tepid reaction to Netanyahu among many Democrats. Make no mistake: Support for Israel (and for the Netanyahu government in particular) is slowly waning among Democrats.” (my emphasis.)

Since Goldberg wrote those words, more and more defections from the president have taken place among top Democrats. Ed Koch wrote on his weekly blog that he will not vote for Obama in 2012, despite his agreement with the president’s domestic policies. Front page stories in all the major American newspapers led with the news of Democratic endorsement of Netanyahu’s main points, and the wealthy Jewish Democrat and financier of Obama’s 2008 campaign, Haim Saban, announced he would not contribute to the  2012 campaign because of Obama’s views on Israel.

Yet Goldberg claims that Netanyahu, “through his pedantic and pinched behavior, [is]helping to weaken Israel's standing among Democrats.”

Yes, today Goldberg finally acknowledges, quoting author  Ya'acov Lozowick, that “Netanyahu broke substantial new ground in his speech. No Israeli prime minster before Ehud Barak spoke openly about Israel recognizing Palestinian sovereignty.” I assume that by printing Lozowick’s comments, he agrees with him. And Lozowick adds that “the assumption all over Israel's media today is that he enjoys broad support in the Israeli electorate for his positions.”

So why, then, is it so surprising that Netanyahu should also not find broad support from Americans and Democrats as well? Could it be that Goldberg, because of his hostility to the Likud, judged Netanyahu’s effect on his trip here prematurely?

One answer comes from Dana Milbank in The Washington Post. He tells the story of how he took his Israeli au pair with him to hear Netanyahu both at AIPAC and before Congress. The 21 year old Inna Graziel, he writes, is “a moderate who was suspicious of the uncompromising Netanyahu,” yet, upon hearing the prime minister speak, his words “turned her into a supporter.” Milbank, a liberal who does not like Netanyahu or Likud, complains that “I saw through her eyes how badly Obama bungled his Middle East speech. He unwittingly strengthened Israeli hawks such as Netanyahu and made the already remote prospect of peace that much more distant.”

So unlike Goldberg, Milbank sees that Obama’s speech and  arguments were counter-productive, and made even moderates into fervent Netanyhau supporters. Like Goldberg, the au pair Graziel opposes settlements, and considers herself a backer of Livni and Kadima. That is, until now. After hearing Obama’s comments on the 1967 borders, she “was stunned. ‘Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank, the 1967 lines? It’s crazy,” she said. “It’s impossible.’ Holding her thumb and forefinger an inch apart, she added, ‘They’ll be this close to Tel Aviv.’ The phrase about ‘agreed swaps’ changed nothing. To Inna’s ears, Obama had issued an existential threat to Israel, and it put her in an unfamiliar place: in lockstep with Bibi. When he told Obama in the Oval Office that the 1967 lines were ‘indefensible,’ Inna celebrated. ‘Now, he’s our guy,’ she said. ‘He’s the voice of Israel.’”

Precisely: The very Oval Office comments made by Netanyahu that so upset Jeffrey Goldberg won applause from the kind of moderate Israeli whose politics Goldberg approves of, and changed her into a Netanyahu supporter. What made her change was, Milbank says, “Netanyahu’s firm rejection of Obama’s frightening proposal. ‘It’s a big thing to say 'no' to the president of the United States,’  she said. If there were an election now, she said, ‘I would vote for Bibi.’”

So a final question for Jeffrey Goldberg. Have you, like the young Ms. Graziel, reconsidered your own earlier assessments? Don’t you think that you should? We await your response.