In a last minute blitz of opportunistic electioneering, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wrestled ignominious victory from the jaws of defeat. Invoking fear and xenophobia, Netanyahu nullified decades of diplomacy, antagonized allies, and inflamed regional tensions. His last minute retractions and recalibrations were so stunningly cynical, it leaves us wondering: Are Israeli voters now having buyers’ remorse? For many, the answer is yes:
The day after elections, columnist Ben Caspit wrote an article in the Maariv daily newspaper titled "Two States." He was not referring to the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but to Israel's own cultural divide (source: Associated Press).
In America, Europe, and the Middle East, the election outcome in Israel will have profound consequences; and the American public is well advised to pay attention.
Ides of March. Earlier this month, House Speaker John Boehner breached constitutional protocol when he invited Netanyahu to address both chambers of Congress without notifying the White House. Weeks later, forty-seven GOP Senators breached protocol again with an infamous letter that challenged the foreign policy prerogatives of a sitting president in the midst of sensitive negotiations. Last week, an aid to House Speaker Boehner announced a two-week trip to Israel starting in April. This sequence of events is no mere coincidence.
In victory, Netanyahu proved his mettle as a triumphant demagogue, and Speaker Boehner would like some of Bibi’s success to rub off. His trip to Israel will be more than a mere courtship ritual between far rightwing allies. Hardly a state visit, this trip has the appearances of a political strategy session. After all, next year is an election year in America; and the rightwing parties of Israel and the U.S. have a mutual stake in the outcome. Will the GOP and Likud join forces? Follow the trail of sound bites for clues:
Representative Steve King (R-IA): “I don't understand how Jews in America can be Democrats first and Jewish second and support Israel along the line of just following their President" (source).
More Jewish than American Jews, more Catholic than the Pope, with a mouth the size of cantaloupe, Steve King never speaks alone. He serves as an ugly mouthpiece for the GOP, and his outrageous remarks often presage the drift of GOP tactics and taking points.
Wedge politics is the dark art of stoking fear, suspicion, and resentment with appeals to bigotry and xenophobia in order to break apart coalitions and strip away votes. For decades, Jewish voters have consistently returned outsized majorities on behalf of Democrats: 78% for Clinton in 1996, 79% for Gore in 2000, 76% for Kerry in 2004, and 78% for Obama in 2008. Clearly, the GOP sniffs an opportunity to bring these voters into the Republican fold … along with Sheldon Adelson's money. Where demagoguery and diplomacy converge, the Bibi-Boehner connection represents a new low in American politics. Will this unholy alliance bear fruit for Republicans? Not according to Jon Stewart who lampooned Netanyahu for having the audacity to speak for all Jews (and for stealing a favorite GOP campaign tactic). Not according to this commentary across Cyberspace (representative sampling):
“That's why more than 2/3 of American Jews are Democrats - because we know what happens when dangerous demagogues like you preaching hatred and exclusion are allowed to take power."
"They conveniently forget that Obama was awarded Israel's highest honor, the Medal of Distinction, by Shimon Peres, Israel's president."
"It's the Dolchstoßlegende. Any Jew can recognize it instantly."