Bibi and Obama

Bibi and Obama

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.


It seems that there really are people in Israel and the U.S. who will stop at nothing to try to make the U.S.-Israel relationship the key issue in the 2012 campaign. The contretemps over whether there ever even was a requested meeting and whether the President is holding any one-on one meetings at the U.N. or whether Israel was actually rebuffed in its request exploded in a matter of hours. The confrontation between Bibi and Obama over the U.S.’s intentions in confronting Iran was unnecessary and confrontational; outrageous and absurd. The continuing question remains as to why all of this is happening?

The U.S.-Israel relationship is solid and the President has spelled it out in public repeatedly and no doubt in even greater detail in private. Both men do understand what the U.S. intends when it says it has Israel’s back on Iran. If the President does not let Bibi write his speeches or public statements that does not minimize his support. This is a problem for the Israelis if Bibi is so insecure that he needs to have things done his way. Netanyahu must let the U.S. make policy and not tell the U.S. what its policy should be. This was certainly some of what they discussed on the telephone last night. 

Netanyahu understands American politics as well or better than any Israeli Prime Minister ever has.  Israel is not a key campaign issue like the economy or healthcare or housing.  Israel is of vital concern to maybe one-third of the Jewish voters this fall and only a portion of them live in a battleground state like Florida. The numbers suggest that even a 10% shift by the Democrats to Romney in Florida would only produce an additional 85,000 votes. While hardly inconsequential, if the Obama campaign can register and turn out an additional 5% of the Latinos in Florida, it could mean perhaps as much several hundreds of thousands of additional votes in that key state. Israel and the Jewish vote are important, but the Latino vote is more important. No President wants to alienate any constituency, but Bibi apparently is taking advice about how to deal with this election from heavy Likud/Republican donors, who probably have convinced him to keep hitting the President.

Bibi knows better than to appear to be interfering in an American campaign. In the long run it will backfire. There certainly are people in the White House who are fed up, not with supporting Israel but with the personal attacks, explicit or implicit by Netanyahu against Obama.  They know that regardless of the personalities, the U.S. has too many lives and treasure at risk in the Persian Gulf to permit their personal pique with Bibi to affect policy; yet they have long ago become tired of how they believe he has treated the President.

The events and confrontations with the U.S. are out of control. In a matter of a few weeks there was a scene with the U.S. Ambassador in Tel Aviv, the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and a remark employing again the Holocaust analogy. What has been happening between the U.S. and Israel appears like a bad Grade B movie. It ought to stop; besides which there are absolutely no guarantees that a Romney Administration would be better.

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