How Netanyahu Is Like Obama

Politicians do not always act in admirable ways.


So on the basis of two election-related maneuvers by Benjamin Netanyahu—a pre-election interview, since walked back, casting doubt on prospects for a Palestinian state, and an Election Day post on Facebook urging supporters to go vote because Arab turnout was high—President Obama has let it be known that the U.S.-Israel relationship is up for reevaluation.

Let's stipulate that neither the statehood statement nor the Facebook post was Prime Minister Netanyahu's finest hour or Israel's. But neither was Netanyahu the first politician to use, in the heat of a campaign, methods that in retrospect seem short of wholly admirable.

The editor of the New Yorker, David Remnick, is perceptive enough to see that Netanyahu was behaving like an American politician. Remnick, in a piece with the Web headline "Netanyahu plays the race card," uses the example of Richard Nixon courting white Southern voters opposed to racial integration.

But there are more recent examples at hand. Some even involve Democratic politicians. Obama's political consultant David Axelrod, for example, says that Obama privately acknowledged in 2008 that political reasons dictated switching his position to opposing gay marriage. After getting elected, Obama eventually changed back to supporting gay marriage.

Back in the 1996 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton went so far as to air a radio ad targeting Southern religious conservative voters and touting his own signing into law of the Defense of Marriage Act, a law prohibiting federal recognition of gay marriages.

During the 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, had flown home from New Hampshire to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a black man so mentally disabled that, as the Economist put it, "he said he would save the pecan pie from his last meal 'for later.'"

In the 2000 New Hampshire Presidential primary, Al Gore's motorcade intentionally created a traffic jam to prevent Bill Bradley's voters from getting to the polls. That story was told in the memoir of Bob Shrum, a Democratic political consultant.

In the 2012 campaign, Vice President Biden told a largely black audience that, if elected, Mitt Romney and a Republican administration are "going to put you all back in chains." 

As for saying one thing to get elected and another after the election, gay marriage isn't the only issue where Obama has flip-flopped. There are at least a half-dozen others, from Sudan and Darfur to the individual mandate for health insurance to the tax on high-premium policies, where Obama said one thing during the campaign and has since done another. George H.W. Bush broke a "read my lips" campaign promise and raised taxes; Obama praises that as statesmanlike. For Netanyahu, such praise is absent.

Obama can try to explain somehow that what he or Clinton or Biden or Gore or Bush 41 did isn't as bad as what Netanyahu did, or that it's somehow different. But any such differentiation would be based on some awfully fine distinctions.

One of the great goals of Zionism, the movement that led to the founding of Israel, was the idea of "normalization," the idea that if Jews had a land of their own they'd be more like all the other nations. In that narrow sense, at least, Netanyahu's election maneuvers can be seen as a success. Israeli politics are now just as dirty and hard-fought as those of any other country, including the world model of a democratic republic, America. For a people that for many years of exile were in important ways bereft of politics, this is progress.

But normalization has its limits, too.

Netanyahu's tactics show that Israel may have achieved some semblance of normalcy in its internal politics. But the reaction to the electoral tactics of Netanyahu by President Obama and by his allies in the press, and even by the American Jewish community, shows that externally, Israel's treatment is far from normal. Like it or not, that's the reality that Israel's next prime minister will face. Dealing with it will require an effort just as relentless as the one that won the election.

NEXT: Is "Rampant" Black Homophobia Really a Thing? And What About Ted Cruz's Anti-Gay Marriage Stance?

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  1. Obama has less than two years to “reevaluate” his administration’s relationship with Israel (because the American people outside of fringe left still like Israel or don’t care) because neither Clinton nor any of her GOP rivals will be this hostile to Israel.

    “Hey, I think it’ll be transformative if everyone was forced to vote.”

    Our POTUS.

  2. You know who else is “like Obama”….

  3. Ira Stoll invents a new task for “Reason”: covering Bibi’s ass.

    1. What’s wrong with pointing out that behavior Obama apparently considers so egregious that we have to reset one of our core alliances, is behavior that he and his colleagues and supporters have engaged in themselves?

      1. The problem with pointing out that Netanyahu’s behavior isn’t fundamentally different from Obama’s is that it gets us dangerously close to a) criticizing Obama’s own behavior directly (can’t have that) and b) it might suggest that Obama’s respect for an important alliance* somehow hinges on whether Obama feels personally insulted–which is childish behavior.

        I guess it’s passe and naive of me to think that the interests of American security should somehow trump whether Obama feels personally slighted by Netanyahu, but I guess I’d like to keep the hope alive that someday we might have an adult in the White House, again, whose primary concern in foreign policy is the security of the United States.

    2. The left, a political persuasion that feeds on the basest of human tendencies, hating people of character is as predictable as the sunrise.

      Of course Obumbles hates Netanyahu.

      1. It’s doubly interesting because the “racist” Likud is dominated by brown Jews from (or descended from Jews originating in) Arab and other Islamic countries, and Obama’s favored “not racist” Labor party is dominated by lily-while descendants of Europeans.

  4. *Incidentally, I think the bashers of the Israeli-American alliance out there seem to be missing proper responses to a couple of interrelated points.

    1) Doesn’t America’s relationship with Israel mean Israel restrains itself in regards to its enemies–more so than it would otherwise?

    I think it works that way in South Korea, too.

    If our allies weren’t concerned about their relationship with the United States, they’d have taken the gloves off decades ago–and they’d have left them off.

    Do these people really think that if the United States stopped backing Israel, that Israel would suddenly knock down their walls and embrace Hamas, Hezbollah, and The Exploding Martyrs’ Brigade?

    2) Israel being willing and able to take the gloves off means we stay out of it.

    Elements of what coalesced into Hezbollah attacked our Marines in Lebanon circa ’82–great reason to keep our troops out of the area. Other than that, how many times did the PLO, Hamas, or Hezbollah purposely attack the United States directly?

    If Israel is willing and able to do our dirty work for us–if and when it’s in the interests of American security to do so–then why the hell should we want to throw an asset like our relationship with Israel away?

  5. How is Obama like Netanyahu?

    Well, they’re both carbon-based life forms.

    What else, what else?

  6. Devout Muslims blown up in Mosque while cursing Jews, Israel, and America

    Terrorists alleged to be associated with ISIL blew up a mosque in Yemen while the worshipers in the Mosque were calling down curses on Israel, America, and the Jews. Memri tv recorded the incident: direct Memri link here

    “Schadenfreude, it’s what’s for breakfast”

    Michelle Malkin

    “There’s no need to fear. Underzog is here”

    1. Why bother calling yourself “underzog”?

      Why not just go with, I dunno, “Sock Puppet X”?

  7. The Trayvon Martin Lied, modeled after the Horst Wessel Lied.

    1. that youtube video is sooooo lame.

    1. sthgrau said:


      Oops that wasn’t supposed to happen

      Fwiw this is a paragraph
      Reason said:

      Back in the 1996 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton went so far as to air a radio ad targeting Southern religious conservative voters and touting his own signing into law of the Defense of Marriage Act, a law prohibiting federal recognition of gay marriages.

      Lets laugh at it

      1. what are we supposed to be laughing at?

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