The results speak for themselves. Binyamin Netanyahu played his electoral hand well.
The prime minister’s speech before Congress, stage-managed by sometime Republican operative and current ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, successfully refocused Israeli attention on Iran’s nuclear threat and the rest of the “tough neighborhood” where the Jewish State resides. His 11th hour media blitz, promising no two-state solution on his watch and warning of a flood of Arab voters, gave nationalist Israeli voters the push he needed to abandon further-right parties and vote for his Likud.
But as far as U.S.-Israel relations go, the verdict has to be: Not so much.
Bibi and Ron’s Excellent Capitol Hill Adventure not only rubbed salt into longstanding wounds in the Obama Administration but also, for the first time, made opposition to the Israeli government a viable option for mainstream congressional Democrats – to say nothing of the mainstream American Jewish community. The speech itself offered no alternative to negotiations as a means of dealing with the Iranian nuclear program and, if anything, only strengthened the Administration’s resolve to get a deal.
And the Election Day video, widely reported, exposed an ugly side of Jewish Israeli society: hostile to Arab citizens and opposed to the only long-term solution with the Palestinians that does not involve an apartheid-like regime on the West Bank. Netanyahu’s efforts to walk back his comments, including his apology to Israeli Arabs, have been unpersuasive, to say the least.
Yet the price Netanyahu paid for electoral victory may prove to be a good development in U.S.-Israel relations. In recent years, the bipartisan consensus on Israel in Washington has too often served to muffle open discussion. Voices critical of Israeli policy in the Jewish community have been suppressed or marginalized.
Friends should be able to speak openly to friends, and should not fear to tell them when they think they’re wrong. By so publicly telling his American friends that he thinks they’re wrong, Prime Minister Netanyahu has empowered them to return the favor.