Over the weekend, my inbox was flooded with questions from American friends: Is he really planning on going? Yes, I replied. In spite of all the horrible reactions here? Yes, I replied, in spite of that. And in spite of the fact that he knows his trip is the biggest gift the Iranian nuclear program could get? In spite of that, I replied. Unbelievable, they concluded.
The Americans – in the White House, in the political system, in the media – have spoken. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
found himself in the situation of that poor man who ate the stinking fish and got beaten up, but was still not banished from the city.
It's a classical dilemma: If he gives up the trip, he will be considered a loser; if he insists, he will be hit for the third time. Netanyahu has chosen, at least for now, to insist.
"I will go anywhere to make the State of Israel's case," he declared Sunday at the beginning of the cabinet meeting. Netanyahu has a lot of faith in his rhetoric power. If you speak – you do, if you don't speak – it's as if you didn't do anything. That's the motto.
But even he doesn’t believe that a speech, as successful as it may be, can force the president of the United States to act against what he sees as a vital interest of his country. All the more so when the speeches Netanyahu is slated to deliver there, and his actual visit, are aimed at sabotaging, humiliating and belittling the only person Netanyahu has to convince. Convincing through insult? There must be better ways to soften the president's heart.
The embarrassment is mainly there, in the US. I'll get back to it soon. In the meantime, a few words about Netanyahu's trip and the elections in Israel.
Obama and Netanyahu. 'Convincing through insult? There must be better ways to soften the president's heart' (Photo: AP)
I am travelling in order to rescue the State of Israel from the Iranian nukes, not in order to steal the elections, Netanyahu says. I believe him, of course. Unfortunately, not everyone does. And so, in order to remove any doubt, Netanyahu should send a letter today to Supreme Court Judge Salim Joubran, chairman of the Central Elections Committee, and ask him, imploringly, to ban the coverage of his speeches in Washington two weeks before the elections.
Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon filed a similar request with the judge this week, but with all due respect, Netanyahu is closer to the matter. Without cameras, Netanyahu should demand from his hosts. Without applause. Without billionaires in the gallery. I am here to convince, not to be photographed.
Back to the entanglement on the American side. At the end of the negotiations, Iran is expected to become a nuclear threshold state. This is bad news for Israel and a total failure for our foreign policy, but the die is cast. Not because there is an Israel hater sitting in the White House, but because most Americans refuse to enter a war with Iran at this point in history. The Republicans jump at every opportunity to provoke Obama, but they don’t want a war either.
Netanyahu knows that there is no purpose for his trip, apart from its theoretic contribution to the elections in Israel. The decision to concoct the trip behind the administration's back has put Netanyahu up against not only President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, but also the Democrats in both houses of Congress and some of the Republicans.
That says a few things. First of all, the chances for legislation which will step up the sanctions have been reduced (even if a majority is reached, the president will veto the legislation and it will be cancelled). Second, the AIPAC organization, the pro-Israel lobby, has suffered a blow. AIPAC gained a lot of influence in Washington thanks to its reliance on the majority in both parties. It must lose the Democrats.
AIPAC got caught in another embarrassing situation in this affair: So as not to make it seem as it if it intervening in the elections in Israel, its leaders must invite Netanyahu's rivals, led by Isaac Herzog, and give them the exact same stage Netanyahu will be given. Herzog has already been invited (so has Tzipi Livni, who will likely decline). Herzog should turn down the invitation: His arrival will provide fake legitimacy to Netanyahu's visit. But Herzog is Herzog: He is thinking it over.
Third, the Jews. The overwhelming majority is loyal to the Democratic Party and will remain loyal to it. They can take a conflict between the Israeli government and the White House (and enjoy the mediation efforts). They will not support an Israel which turns into a tool in the hands of the rival party.
The fourth and perhaps most serious thing is that Netanyahu has hurt the American pride, the feeling of patriotism, the huge respect towards the presidency. There is no wonder that the pro-Republican Fox News anchors are joining the attack on the Netanyahu. They are really upset by this matter. In front of the cameras, they prefer to attack him rather than John Boehner, their man in the House of Representative, who cooked this stew together with Netanyahu and his American patrons.
In Israel, people think that Netanyahu is the boss and that the billionaires work for him. That's a mistake. Now that we know how difficult things are for those who work for the Netanyahu family,
we can understand just how unfounded this idea is. When it comes to the relationship with America, Netanyahu works for them – only for them.
It may be time to allow him to turn the part-time job into a full-time job and let others restore the relations with America. Quite a few people in Israel, Jews and non-Jews, Israel's friends and lovers, will gladly accept this change.
A Kuwaiti newspaper claimed this week that Israel, and no one else, attacked the Hezbollah convoy
which was patrolling the Syrian Golan Heights early last week. Three Hezbollah commanders and – most importantly – an Iranian general were killed in the air strike.
Let's assume for a moment, just for a moment, that the Kuwaiti newspaper made the right guess. It isn't hard to imagine how to discussion was conducted between the cabinet ministers.
The officers presented the ministers with a complicated picture. There is an opportunity; there are advantages; there will be a price to pay. According to past experience, Iran and Hezbollah will respond, and the retaliation will be serious. Had the assassination been planned without any identifying signs, they may have restrained themselves. But here the plan is for an almost public assassination, and the revenge will come.
Among the army representatives, there were those who felt that the price is high and the benefit is insignificant. There were those, on the other hand, who estimates that the price is far and the benefit is close: It's worth taking a risk. And there were those who shrugged: Whatever the cabinet ministers decide, it's their problem.
Naftali Bennett. Aggressive conduct (Photo: AFP)
Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon, who is usually an introverted person, glanced from behind his glasses at Economy Minister Naftali Bennett,
the Bayit Yehudi party's representative in the cabinet. Bennett was bursting with enthusiasm. In fact, Bennett has been bursting since the day Netanyahu decided to move up the elections. In every appearance, his hands wave to and fro, as if they are trying to disconnect from his body. His head turns right and left, his eyes roll. He is either on something, or has something on him.
And this clown wants to be defense minister, Ya'alon says to himself, bitterly compressing his lips. I know what he's up to. He will go out of this room and leak that the frightened generals, the coward Bogie and the weak Bibi have screwed up another victory for the people of Israel. Why that's what he did in the summer, in Operation Protective Edge. He is belittling me now in order to take the defense portfolio from me after the elections, Ya'alon will say to himself. No, I won't let him do that this time. The hell with the Iranians and their revenges. I will push for this operation with all my might.
Netanyahu stared into space. He hasn't been looking people in the eyes for years. He only directs his gaze forward for the television cameras' lenses, and only if he has make up on. If Bennett supports the operation and Bogie supports it, he thinks to himself, what can I do? Bogie may want me to stop this nonsense. He will come out looking okay, an Israel hero, and I will come out looking like the nerd.
No, I won't give him the pleasure; not during elections. And anyway, a dead Iranian has never hurt any politician in Israel. If there is revenge, it will be in a few weeks or months, and in the meantime we will have put the security issue back on the agenda, and Iran. Security is good. So is insecurity: When the voters feel insecure, they come back home.
And so, unintentionally, Naftali Bennett, the leader of the most loony faction in the Knesset, has turned into the acting prime minister. Every lawless decision he supports will pass, because Netanyahu can't afford to stand on his left side.
They are competing over the same electorate: Netanyahu needs Knesset seats in order to get the appointment from President Reuven Rivlin; Bennett needs Knesset seats in order to prevent Netanyahu from creating a joint government with the leftist-centrist camp and leaving Bennett outside. The battle is asymmetric, but it has one direction: As lawless as possible, as low as possible.
Netanyahu is following Bennett in the election campaign as well. Bennett launched a demagogic, McCarthyist campaign questioning the patriotism of female candidates on Herzog's list (it appears that homosexuals are not the only ones who irritate them; so do women). Netanyahu copied the quotes, regardless of whether they are true or not, into his own election campaign.
They are also in sync in their alleged violations of the election laws. Each of them raised more than NIS 1 million (about $250,000) to fund their race for party chairman. These were fictitious competitions, which were decided in advance: Netanyahu against Danny Danon in the Likud, and Bennett against Rabbi Shimon Or in the Bayit Yehudi party. Bennett admits that he did not invest the money in the primary elections, but in the creation of an Internet infrastructure for his party ahead of the Knesset elections. It's unclear what Netanyahu did with his million, a gift from his patrons in the US. In the good-case scenario, there is some sophistry here. In the worst-case scenario, it's a legal offense.
What distinguishes Bennett from the others in this election campaign is not the opinions he voices, but the conduct. His aggression is unusual. He responds to every word of criticism by wildly tongue-lashing the critic and making sweeping accusations against the profession or the public that person comes from. He, who apologized more than any other politician here (to Netanyahu, to Netanyahu's wife Sara, to the LGBT community, to the Gaza vicinity residents), has turned the refusal to apologize into a value. A refusal to apologize is vulgar, it's not an ideology.
His hooligan behavior on Saturday evening, during a Channel 10 interview, is considered illegitimate even here. For a moment I thought about Sara Netanyahu, who expelled him from his husband's bureau. Thanks to her profession, or thanks to her experience in life, she realized what other people failed to realize.
Tzipi Livni, who watched him in dozens of cabinet meetings, has a slightly different opinion of him. He is childish, she says. He is dangerous because he believes in what he says.
Maybe. I tend to think that it's all an act. Bennett is a walking act, from the skullcap swinging on his head – proof for those who doubt that he is truly religious – to the crazy incitement campaign on the social networks. He is a complete cynic.
On March 18, when he asks for the defense or finance portfolio for himself, you may meet a different Bennett: Levelheaded, soft, pragmatic. A Bennett who will knows how to laugh with us, the journalists, the enemies of the nation, about his unusual behavior during the election campaign.
He is marketing two slogans at the moment, and they both show just how full of himself he is. One says: It's either Livni or Bennett, as if Netanyahu has evaporated and the only question is which one of these two will lead us on the day after the elections.
The second says: It's time for Bennett. Such a slogan from the leader of a religious party is appropriate for welcoming the Messiah, son of David, not the false messiah from Ra'anana.