President Obama should have known better than to intervene in Israeli politics so close to Election Day. It will backfire. Award winning journalist Jeffery Goldberg quoted President Obama as saying "Israel doesn’t know what its best interests are," while criticizing Netanyahu’s geopolitical policies and speculating that if Israel continues such policies it will find itself internationally isolated. Such patronizing is counter-productive. In fact, Israelis resent external efforts to influence their internal politics and act accordingly.
On the eve of the 1996 elections, a very popular Bill Clinton vigorously campaigned for Shimon Peres against a younger Benjamin Netanyahu. Clinton figured Peres' "New Middle East" fantasy was feasible and within reach. He made every possible presidential commitment to promote Peres. Netanyahu campaigned for a responsible, steady and secure peace process. Some Israelis respected Clinton’s commitment but most voted for Netanyahu. Political pundits have said that the president’s intervention was one of the factors that put Netanyahu over the hump in the closest election in Israel’s history.
President Obama's criticism of Netanyahu is a little bewildering in light of the fact Obama himself says he is aware of the severe threats posed to Israel by the tyrants and terrorists to its north and south, and the ayatollahs with nuclear aspirations to its east. Obama is also aware of Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas' weakness as a viable, committed partner.
Obama is not Clinton. He is not as popular in America or in Israel. In fact, Obama is the only president to secure a second term with a smaller percentage of the vote than in his first election. Compared to 2008, Obama's share of the vote was down in every state except Hawaii and Mississippi. The president got about 7.8 million fewer votes from White Americans, 1.6 million fewer from African-Americans and 10% less from American Jews. From an Israeli perspective, polls suggested about 75% preferred Romney.
Therefore, since Obama ostensibly wants to weaken Netanyahu, the statements attributed to the president may be even more counter-productive than those made by Clinton and could help Netanyahu win by a landslide next week.
Ambivalent voters that may have preferred parties to the left or the right of Likud will now have a reason to bolster Netanyahu. Israel unites when faced by external threats and unjust criticism of its leaders. If the Likud gets 40 mandates next week, one of Netanyahu’s first thank you calls should be made to President Obama.
The writer is a lecturer at the Lauder School of Government at IDC and a PhD. candidate at Haifa University