As a bonus to Benjamin Netanyahu’s unexpected victory in Israel’s election, we are treated to the public gnashing of teeth by the American left. For example, David Axelrod tweeted: “Tightness of exits in Israel suggests Bibi’s shameful 11th hour demagoguery may have swayed enough votes to save him. But at what cost?”
This is rich coming from Axelrod who, as Mary Katharine Ham points out, “ran a campaign that accused Mitt Romney of giving a woman cancer, blessing scurrilous charges of tax evasion, and darkly warning Ohio voters that Obama’s opponent wasn’t ‘one of us.’”
Of what did Netanyahu’s alleged demagoguery consist? Axelrod may be referring to Netanyahu’s statement that left-wing groups funded by foreign money were busing Arab voters to the polls in order to elect the opposition Zionist Union party.
Was it demagoguery to warn supporters about the opposition’s turnout efforts? I don’t think so, unless Netanyahu made up the claim. I haven’t seen any demonstration that his assertion was false.
Was it racist to point out that the opposition’s turnout efforts were focused on Arab voters? Hardly. Netanyahu, from all that appears, was simply telling it like it is — and appropriately so. As Jonathan Tobin reminds us, Israeli Arabs elect anti-Zionist representatives who favor dissolution of the Jewish state.
Perhaps by demagoguery, Axelrod meant Netanyahu’s statement, late in the election season, that he opposed a Palestinian state. Previously, as the Washington Post pointed out in an example of anticipatory teeth gnashing by William Booth, Netanyahu had said he supported a two-state “solution.”
Political expediency, which isn’t the same thing as demagoguery, can never be ruled out as an explanation for positions articulated during the 11th hour of a campaign. But as “flip-flops” go, Netanyahu’s barely makes the grade.
In a 2009 speech, Netanyahu said he favored a two-state solution as long as Israeli conditions were met and Israel’s security was guaranteed. In opposing a Palestinian state now, Netanyahu explained that establishing a Palestinian under current conditions would cede vital territory at a time when radical Islamists are gobbling up territory:
In the Mideast today, any evacuated territory will be overtaken by radical Islam and terror groups backed by Iran.
The statement is a little too categorical, but its thrust is spot-on. In 2009, during the seemingly halcyon days following the Bush administration, radical Islam was not on the march. Now, deep into the Obama administration, radical Islam is filling power vacuums from Iraq, to Yemen, to Libya. Indeed, both ISIS and Iranian forces are now present near Israel’s border with Syria.
In 2009, Netanyahu was probably motivated to endorse a two-state solution in part by a desire to please the new Obama administration. In 2015, Netanyahu understands that, for him, there is no pleasing Obama. His support of a two-state solution did not lead to decent relations with Obama; nor did it lead to fruitful negotiations with the Palestinians.
It is not, therefore, demagoguery for Netanyahu to change his stated position on a Palestinian state. Indeed, given the rise of radical Islam, it would be irresponsible of him to cling to the position he took six years ago under very different conditions. In all likelihood, that position has been a dead-letter for some time.
The left’s Israeli election narrative is off-base, but it’s anger is fun to behold.