Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after doing everything in his power to antagonize Democrats in concert with his Republican pals, seems to have belatedly realized that needs President Obama and Democrats in Congress, and he’s moving to make amends.
Not only is Netanyahu visiting Washington D.C. Monday – not to go behind the President’s back to Congress – but to actually talk to him, but he belatedly and conveniently realized that his nominee for public diplomacy chief, Ran Baratz, had referred to President Obama as an anti-Semite and said Secretary of State John Kerry had the intellect of a pre-teenager.
Now Netanyahu says such thinking is “totally unacceptable and in no way reflect my positions or the policies of the government of Israel,” and he is reconsidering his choice of Baratz, as well he should, since the Likud party is not likely to let anyone forget this and other things Baratz has said, though Netanyahu’s cabinet gets to vote, and the prime minister has not outright rejected Baratz.
Baratz had posted the comments on Facebook and has apologized on Facebook for “the hurtful remarks” and in an email to The New York Times explained that “what I most regret is using the word anti-Semitism in relation to President Obama.” He said, “It’s not true and I deeply regret having done so.”
Aha! Right? A simple oversight? All’s good? Not so fast! As Barak Ravid wrote at Haaretz yesterday, “Israeli journalist Ben Caspit reported in the Maariv daily way back in August that Netanyahu had invited Baratz to a meeting regarding precisely this matter” and that therefore,
Netanyahu has three months to size Baratz up, to go through his past with a fine-toothed comb, and to check every mention of his name on the internet. A pretty natural, basic and necessary procedure in 2015. Netanyahu didn’t do this, and we can see the result.
Ravid is willing to accept Netanyahu at his word that he was unaware of Baratz’s “Facebook meditations” but wonders how the Prime Minister could not have been made aware of how their author felt on these matters when the two met face to face.
As Ravid writes, on the contrary, “If anything – we should assume that Baratz’s views on Rivlin, Obama, the media and others were what brought him this far.”
Timing-wise, the whole thing seems on a par with Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. Fortunately for Netanyahu, he is dealing with a man, Barack Obama, who is far more mature than he is, and who will not let U.S.-Israeli relations be torpedoed by someone Ravid refers to as “an ignoramus in anything relating to U.S.-Israel relations.”
I think that term could be used of Netanyahu as well.
Netanyahu had made his own displeasure felt early on with Democrats who supported the Iran nuclear deal, as though trying to take control of American foreign policy wasn’t enough of a slap in the face.
The New York Times reminds us that Democrats “were left off the guest list of the annual Rosh Hoshana reception at the Israeli Embassy in Washington,” and other Democrats experienced various other forms of displeasure extended by pro-Israel groups.
Now all that seems to be coming to an end and Netanyahu’s appears to see the need for some fence-mending. While still not giving up on Baratz, Netanyahu has sent out Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer – whom you might remember was the guy Netanyahu also employed to throw John Boehner under the bus – to invite “prominent Democrats…to a dinner to commemorate Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who was assassinated 20 years ago.”
And the Times reports that even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, the pro-Israeli group that spent millions to oppose the Iran deal, “appears to be reaching out tentatively to the Democratic lawmakers it attacked for backing the agreement.” Of course, what Aipac wants is not détente but control.
Remember. These Democrats were attacked for insisting that America had a right to control its own foreign policy. This is a big deal, and Democrats should never forget what this was about. Netanyahu obviously if belatedly has remembered who really needs who in this relationship. It is not Israel that is about to give the U.S. a $40 billion aid package, after all.
Obama has triumphed so far over all his enemies, including Benjamin Netanyahu, and you can imagine he will be more than willing to make the nature of the U.S.-Israeli relationship very clear before he picks up a pen to sign that $40 billion check.
Uri Misgav wrote in an op-ed at Haaretz yesterday that “Anyone who was shocked by the words” of “Israeli Tea Party Type” Ran Baratz, “doesn’t understand where he is living,” and you can be sure Obama was not surprised and knows exactly how Netanyahu still feels about him.
President Obama is being typically gracious in being willing to, at least publicly, overlook some of Netanyahu’s many gaffes and outright attacks, by meeting with him again. For the greater good he may be willing – at least publicly again – let bygones be bygones – but what many of us wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall when the president and prime minister talk privately.