It’s a week since Israel went to the polls. The residents of Tel Aviv are disappointed. They had hoped for a different outcome. They had hoped for new Prime Minister. All are disappointed, some are discouraged, others are ready to double down and begin the fight for next time. The residents of Tel Aviv recognize that the nations seems more divided than they thought; possibly more angry than they thought. It is possible that the fight for what they perceive as ‘the soul of the country’ will be longer and harder than they thought it would be – for one brief moment – in the two weeks before the elections.
However, residents in Tel Aviv also realize that although Prime Minister Netanyahu won re-election, Israel has not moved to the right. The left-wing actually gained marginally. Furthermore, the only reason Benjamin Netanyahu is returning as Prime Minister is that he managed to syphon off support from several parties further to his right. In fact, the new Knesset has fewer representatives from far right-wing parties than served in the previous Knesset.
The residents of Tel Aviv also know that Prime Minister Netanyahu did not gain an overwhelming mandate in this recent election. Netanyahu’s party received less than 25% of the votes cast but as noted above, it appears he will remain Israel’s next Prime Minister by getting members of other right wing parties to vote for him. Netanyahu did not receive a broad mandate in American or even European democratic terms. However, he was elected in free and fair elections.
The one person who seems unwilling to accept the results of the election here appears to be the current resident of the White House and other members of his administration. President Obama has been exceptionally harsh in his criticism; criticism which is starting to create a backlash among Israelis.
As one prominent area resident, Professor Oz Almog, a well known sociologist, and head of the People of Israel Project stated this afternoon in a Facebook post:
The White House has created recently a new custom to embarrass and insult the Prime Minister of Israel after the elections, in a harsh and vitriolic manner. The White House has also added threats of re-examining the relationship.
Almog goes on to say:
I never voted for Netanyahu and I do not have inclination to defend him, but as a resident of Israel, President Obama’s the tone and statement are hard to take…
He states further that:
President Obama is going too far. Attacking the government is also attacking the people. We are open to criticism, but not one-sided…
Almog's remarks represent a growing feeling among many who opposed Netanyahu – and in no way support his recent remarks in the heat of his election race. No one excuses what he said. To most observers one of Netanyahu’s greatest failings has always been his willingness to say anything to get elected. However, why in a Middle East where over 100 people are dying every day in Syria; where Yemen and Libya are falling apart in front of all our eyes; when Russian has occupied 20% of the Ukraine, and yet, the President of the United States needs to get on TV and attack the stupid remarks of our Prime Minister – while sending warm new year’s greetings to a dictator in Iran, responsible for brutally killing demonstrators who were requesting additional freedoms? Looked at in context, President Obama’s choice is unfathomable to many.
The residents of Tel Aviv know they have a hard path ahead of them – i.e. fighting anger, fear and yes, racism inside this country. These elections have taught us that the path ahead is not an easy one. To many residents of Tel Aviv, who see themselves as residents of a global economy, that realization came as a bit of a shock. However, the reactions of President Obama and his team including his Chief of Staff, stating that the occupation has to end, as if it is solely Israel’s fault, is an exaggeration that has surprised even some of Netanyahu’s harshest critics.
Finally, tonight their is astonishment in Israel regarding what seems to be mostly a bogus story claiming Israel stole US secrets relating to talks with Iran. No one in the Obama Administration is accusing Israel of having a spy in the room or bugging the room that talks took place in. Although, they seem to be implying as much. In reality, it’s no secret that Israel has put extraordinary effort into understanding what is going on – both no doubt by intercepting Iranian calls and using human intelligence to speak to third parties to assess what is going on in the talks. What seems to have most incensed the U.S. administration appears to be Israel’s sharing that information with Congressional critics of the Iranian negotiations.
It is understandable why President Obama is not happy that Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying to undermine a potential agreement with Iran. But, resorting to the canard of spying seems a step too far.