Almost immediately after Benjamin Netanyahu’s dramatic electoral victory, Barack Obama and his administration announced that they were going to reconsider U.S. policy towards Israel. If Israel was going to withdraw its support for a two-state solution, American would find ways to bring it about without them. This new policy might cause the U.S. to “reevaluate” its position on Palestinian statehood at the United Nations, perhaps dropping its opposition to the UN recognizing Palestine as a nation, as well as not opposing Israel being brought before the International Court at The Hague for committing war crimes in the recent Gaza war.
These threatened measures are in response to Netanyahu’s strength and Obama’s inability to bring about his defeat. Now, Netanyahu will most likely have the ability to put together a coalition resulting in a new Israeli government of the center/right with himself as the prime minister. That must really irk Obama. It also puts Netanyahu in a stronger position to oppose a weak deal with Iran. In order to weaken and neutralize him, it makes sense to paint him as a right-wing extremist with whom there can be no accommodation.
For that task, the compliant defenders of Obama in the press must paint a portrait of Netanyahu in the darkest of colors. To these writers of the mainstream liberal press, anything is fair game when it comes to demonizing Bibi. They suffer from what I call Bibi Derangement Syndrome (BDS).
First, they inevitably begin their argument by claiming that before the election he had cynically switched his position on the two-state solution from pro to con and that he had definitively stated that there would be no two-state solution and Palestinian state while he was prime minister. In doing this he had repudiated his 2009 speech in which he publicly stated that he favored two states living peacefully side-by-side.
In fact, Netanyahu had not changed his position nor repudiated his earlier statement. In 2009 he said at Bar-Ilan University that “in my vision of peace, there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbor’s security and existence.” The key is the last part of his statement, noting “mutual respect” and neither threatening each other, which is mandatory for any such treaty.
He sought to clarify his position after the election in a much-discussed interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, telling her:
I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state today, and evacuate areas, is giving radical Islam an area from which to attack the State of Israel. This is the true reality that has been created in past years. Those that ignore it are burying their heads in the sand. The left does this, buries its head in the sand, time and again.
Here, in his very first sentence, Netanyahu does not say he is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state, but that today conditions in Palestinian society and the Middle East make it impossible to achieve and foolhardy to attempt. Netanyahu made it quite clear, as The Times of Israel reported, that he had not changed his policy or retracted his 2009 position at all. What has changed, he told Mitchell, “is the reality.” The PA united with Hamas, refuses to recognize the Jewish state, and insists on the right of return; hence, a “sustainable, two-state solution” is not on the horizon no matter how many offers Israel makes and land it is willing to hand over.
Despite Netanyahu’s clarification of his position, and his assurances in an interview with Fox News that he would continue to cooperate with the United States, the official U.S. position has not changed. Instead, White House press spokesman Josh Earnest harped back to the prime minister’s pre-election statements, and told the assembled media that “words matter” and that the administration would not back down on the charge that Netanyahu used “divisive rhetoric” and opposed a two-state solution.
As bad as the White House’s distortion of Netanyahu’s actual position is, the avalanche of editorials and op-eds demonizing him is even worse. Today, the New York Times featured a story that is actually an anti-Israel editorial masked as a news report. It emphasizes that young American Jews are turning away from Israel, because of what has taken place during Netanyahu’s time in office. The story ignores why so many Israelis voted again for Bibi, and the security concerns that are, in fact, shared by his election opponent, Isaac Herzog, and his center-left Zionist Union Party. You would not know from the story that Herzog agrees, as does the Israeli public, with Netanyahu’s tough position on Iran.
The story even cites what is perhaps one of the most egregious columns, that by J Street’s favorite journalist, Peter Beinart. In his latest column for Israel’s leftist paper Haaretz, Beinart proclaimed in a fit of moral self-righteousness that the arguments for supporting Israel have “been discredited.” This self-proclaimed “supporter” of Israel writes that “for almost half a century, Israel has wielded brutal, undemocratic, unjust power over millions of human beings in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” Adopting the Palestinian narrative that the failure to come to an agreement on a two-state solution is all Israel’s fault, Beinart neglects to mention what happened when Israel withdrew from Gaza, expelled the settlers and handed it over to the Palestinians. In return they got Hamas and rockets. What is Beinart’s prescription for progress? Pressure on Israel, “backing Palestinian bids at the United Nations,” boycotting products made in the settlements, denying visas to Israelis of whom he disapproves, and “to punish-yes, punish-the Israeli government for rejecting” Obama’s peace plans. “The peace process is over,” he writes, “and the pressure process must begin.”
Other columnists have joined in and even gone further. Since it is obvious from the vote that the Israeli people stand with Netanyahu in his security concerns, columnists like William Saletan in Slate argue in effect that Israel has to produce another people who will vote differently. The problem, then, is not with Bibi, but with Israel itself; his article is subtitled “We No Longer Have a Netanyahu problem. We have an Israel Problem.” So if you don’t like the results of democratic elections in the one democracy in the Middle East, U.S. policy should be that of opposition to Israel and collective punishment. And that means that Israel has to pay a price for how its people voted. No more enabling of Israel, Saletan argues. Instead, Israel must be forced to accept a two-year timetable to make peace, which means a withdrawal of Israel’s security forces from the West Bank. That such a move might in fact lead to Israel’s destruction is not anything Saletan concerns himself with. Either Israel must move to recognition of a Palestinian state, he says, or it must “stand alone.”
The truth is that none of these opponents of Israel treat the Jewish state fairly, or even seriously analyze the reasons for Netanyahu’s decisive victory. As the astute conservative writer Peter Berkowitz points out, he is not the “chest-thumping ideologue” the left makes him out to be. Netanyahu, he predicts, will move to cooperate with centrists like the new center/right Kulanu party formed by Moshe Kahlon, whom he might even appoint to a position in the government.
In the end, it comes down to securing a deal with Iran, which Obama seems so desperate to achieve. What the president and his acolytes in the press do not let the public know is that even the Israeli opposition did not support endangering Israel’s security by adopting a nuclear agreement with Iran no matter what the cost.
So now that Netanyahu is even stronger and can make more trouble, the Obama administration finds it necessary to demonize him, which is leading to attacks on the entire state of Israel and its people. It is indeed time for the media, the Obama administration, and the paternalistic “supporters” of Israel to end their Bibi Derangement Syndrome.