March 30, 2015

Israel’s 2015 Election: Gone but Not Forgotten

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by Useful Group

The Israeli election is, thankfully, over.

For a majority of Israelis, the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister was happy news.

And although I couldn’t vote – I’m an American sojourner in Jerusalem — I thought Bibi’s success at the polls was excellent news too. His unyielding opposition to Iran’s nuclear weapons agenda mirrors the concern of many – whether politically left, right or center.

Like my friends and neighbors, I went to sleep on election night as the ballots were being counted, assuming that the score was tied between Netanyahu’s Likud party and the Zionist Union (Labor) party, led by Isaac Herzog.

We woke up to a breathtaking victory for Bibi.

But that wasn’t the only good news. The very fact that the election was finally over felt like a breath of fresh air.

Or so it seemed at the time.

Truthfully, the 2015 election process in Israel amounted to the most stunning display of mud-slinging, rumor-mongering and skewed polls I’ve ever seen.

Not to mention unseemly American interference. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

First of all, a brief tutorial: Israelis don’t actually vote for a Prime Ministerial candidate, they vote for a party. And the party system, which determines the constituency of the Knesset – the Israeli parliament – is mind-boggling.

Journalist Lori Lowenthal Marcus did a heroic job of trying to explain this convoluted process in the Jewish Press:

Israeli voters choose parties, not individual candidates, which, among other things, means their national representation is ideological, not geographic, and the vote is proportional, meaning the 120 Knesset seats are divvied up in proportion to each party’s percentage of the total vote. There is a minimum threshold for a party to meet before it can sit in the Knesset. That minimum is currently set at 3.25 percent of the total votes cast, which translates into four seats.

To give you an idea of how complex the process is, no less than 26 parties started out in hopes of having representation in the Knesset. Only 10 succeeded.

That battle was bad enough. But, sad to say, the most notable and contentious contest was not between Israel’s myriad political parties.

The really divisive conflict the 2015 elections was the enormous effort on the part of President Barack Obama to unseat Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

Obama’s distaste for Israel is nothing new. In 2008, I spoke to some young Palestinian activists in Ramallah, weeks before the first Obama election. They told me on no uncertain terms, “He’s always been our guy – even before he was a Senator. We know we can always count on him.”

Indeed, a recent speech by Senator Marco Rubio provided a detailed chronology of Obama’s adversarial actions against Israel. The Florida Republican accused President Barack Obama of “making a historic mistake” in his treatment of Israel. “If America does not stand with Israel, who would we stand with?” Rubio said.

Alongside Rubio’s carefully researched litany of snubs, it was reported a couple of months before Israel’s election that the Obama administration was putting together a media-savvy team of election experts to organize an anti-Bibi demolition squad.

Just days after the Obama White House accused House Speaker John Boehner of ‘breaking protocol’ by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, a team of up to five Obama campaign operatives has reportedly arrived in Israel to lead a campaign to defeat the Israeli Prime Minister in upcoming national elections scheduled for March 17.

The anti-Netanyahu, left wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports a group called “One Voice,” reportedly funded by American donors, is paying for the Obama campaign team. That group is reportedly being led by Obama’s 2012 field director Jeremy Bird.

To make matters worse, according a Senate investigation, it also appears that the US State Department poured American tax dollars into the anti-Bibi coffers. Just days before the Israeli election, Fox News reported, “A powerful U.S. Senate investigatory committee has launched a bipartisan probe into an American nonprofit’s funding of efforts to oust Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the Obama administration’s State Department gave the nonprofit taxpayer-funded grants, a source with knowledge of the panel’s activities told”

The “One Voice” team’s tactics included personal attacks on the Prime Minister’s family, including such niceties as accusing Bibi’s wife Sara of pocketing refunds for plastic bottles – dubbed “Bottlegate” – a faux-scandal that Israel’s leftist news sites breathlessly reported day after day. And that was far from the only one.

The Israeli election was further complicated by an ugly uproar between Speaker of the House John Boehner and the Obama White House over whether it was appropriate for Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress before the election. Bibi agreed to do so, despite Obama’s disapproval.

Various versions of the messy tale have been told, denied and contradicted. The bottom line: President Barack Obama was sorely offended.

In the event, Netanyahu’s speech focused almost entirely on the ongoing (and never ending) nuclear negotiations. It was an impassioned plea for Congress to refuse any agreement that does not clearly prevent Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon.

Netanyahu’s appearance in the Capitol was more than a call to awareness. The crowd’s multiple standing ovations were a resounding affirmation of Bibi’s presence, as well as a confirmation of his message.

For me, it was a moving reminder of American good-heartedness, Israeli common sense, and faithful support for a long-time ally.

For Obama, it was an infuriating display of arrogance. It was an assault on his hoped-for legacy of rehabilitating Iran as an acceptable international partner. And his rage spilled over in red-hot waves of political agitation, both before and after the election.

David Bernstein reported in the Washington Post,

On March 6, less than two weeks before the election, a major Israeli newspaper published a document showing that Netanyahu’s envoy had agreed on his behalf to an American-proposed framework that offered substantial Israeli concessions that Netanyahu publicly opposed. Let’s put on our thinking caps. Where would this leak have come from? The most logical suspect is the American State Department.

So here’s the dynamic: Netanyahu, while talking tough publicly about terms for an Israeli-Palestinian deal, was much more accommodating privately during actual negotiations. Just before Israeli elections, the U.S. government likely leaks evidence of his flexibility to harm Netanyahu.

As a result, Netanyahu starts to lose right-wing voters to smaller parties, and the left-leaning major opposition party takes a lead in the polls, putting Netanyahu’s leadership in question, just as the U.S. wanted.

With that in mind, in the final hours of the election, Netanyahu made two statements that were quite a windfall for the propagandists in the US.

First, he telephoned members of Likud and told them that Arabs were heading for the polls “in droves” and that Likud’s constituency should make sure they cast their ballots.

Second, he said that in today’s climate there would be no “two state solution” to the Palestinian issue.

The Obama administration pounced on these two statements full force. The first was declared sheer racism. The second, a full frontal assault on the sacrosanct Two-State Solution.

In fact, The Economist – not a huge fan of Israel – even seemed taken aback by the heated response.

No sooner had Binyamin Netanyahu won the Israeli election, on March 17th, than Barack Obama told him he would “reassess” relations with the Jewish state. Mr Netanyahu, says the president, has all but destroyed his credibility and the chances for peace with Palestinians, and he has eroded Israel’s democracy. These are strong words coming from Israel’s best friend.

Much has been written since the election, including some clever satire (see Lee Smith’s epic rant in the Weekly Standard). But in his usual cut-to-the chase analysis, Charles Krauthammer summed up the situation concisely. As far as I’m concerned, he deserves the last word.

“Look,” he said,

… it is clear that Obama loathes Netanyahu more than any other world leader meaning more than the Ayatollah in Iran or Putin in Russia. And he did everything he could to unseat him but he failed. I think the message here is this was an election between Bibi and Obama. That was on the ballot because Obama was essentially saying if you want to reconcile with the United States, if you want your ally behind you you are going to have to get rid of Bibi. … But the regard with which Israelis hold Obama and the fear they have of the dealing with Iran is such that Bibi won. That’s the message. … And that is what I think Obama is having trouble swallowing.

On that note, it’s fair to say that the Israeli election is, as the saying goes, gone but not forgotten.

Netanyahu is still the Prime Minister of Israel. And Obama is still fuming.

What on earth will it take to change the subject?