If there’s one person in Israel who is celebrating Barack Obama’s victory today it is Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich. This is not merely because the former journalist, who entered politics to express her overt partisanship at a Knesset podium rather than over the airwaves, shares Obama’s socialist agenda and foreign policy. More importantly, the re-election of the American incumbent has presented her with a golden opportunity to galvanize the Israeli Left and “Center” (a euphemism for the softer Left) against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Now that the U.S. drama is finally over, Israel will move into high gear toward its own elections, to be held on Jan. 22. And though Yachimovich made a point Wednesday morning of stating that Israel has no business “interfering” in the political process of the United States, she and other oppositionists will be ruthless in exploiting it for the purpose of defeating Netanyahu and his joint list with Israel Beytenu’s Avigdor Lieberman.
What they will assert is that Netanyahu has antagonized the U.S. president and therefore he is not fit to run this country. Rather than placing the blame for deteriorating U.S.-Israel relations where it belongs — squarely on the shoulders of the current American administration — they will accuse Netanyahu of having the “chutzpa” to demand the imposition of “red lines” on the Iranian regime and its nuclear program.
In addition, they will increase the volume on what they have been shouting from the rooftops for the past four years: that “Israel couldn’t have a better friend in the White House than Obama.”
They conveniently omit Obama’s stated goals for his presidency: to show the Muslim world and the rest of the international community that the United States is not superior to any other country, but rather one among many nations, each of which is exceptional in its own way. Though most politicians rarely live up to their promises, Obama has certainly lived up to that one. In fact, he has sad that he is proud to “lead from behind.”
This makes what Channel 2’s Arad Nir’s response to Tuesday’s outcome particularly laughable: “Israel must now seek to align itself with the White House,” he said. “After all, America is the world’s greatest superpower.”
Yair Lapid, who just left the media world to head a new political party, also rushed to reassure his potential supporters that Obama is totally pro-Israel, pointing to his veto at the U.N. of a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood and to his financial and military cooperation with the Jewish state. He made no mention of the role of Congress where standing by Israel is concerned.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu, who announced that he “will continue to work with President Obama to protect the security interests of Israeli citizens,” is scheduled to meet with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro to arrange a congratulatory call to Obama. It is interesting that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas simply picked up the phone and dialed the White House himself.
This should not be cause to oust Netanyahu, however. On the contrary, when there is a less-than-friendly commander-in-chief occupying the Oval Office, it is more crucial than ever to have a leader in Jerusalem who safeguards Israel’s security interests with an iron fist. American Jews, a majority of whom voted for Obama, may have told themselves otherwise. But this is because they won’t let anything get in the way of their allegiance to the Democratic Party, not because of ill will toward Israel. Indeed, if they really believed that Obama’s posture on the Islamic Republic was enhancing its ability to produce nuclear bombs with which to threaten Israel’s existence, it is unlikely that they would support him. Indeed, it is Obama’s treatment of Israel on the one hand and kowtowing to the radical Islamist world on the other that led to fewer Jews voting for him this time than they did four years ago. It is for this reason, as well, that a majority of Americans living in Israel cast their absentee ballots for Mitt Romney.
Let us not forget what Obama was caught whispering to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in March this year. Appealing to Medvedev to convey a message to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin: “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him [Putin] to give me space … This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”
It is precisely this “flexibility” that Netanyahu must be fearing right now.
In his victory speech in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Obama told a jubilant crowd that “the best is yet to come.”
Israelis should be even more concerned than Americans about the significance of that statement.
Ruthie Blum is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring,’" available on Amazon and in bookstores in Europe and North America — and now on sale at Pomeranz Bookseller in Jerusalem.