Dear Mr. Netanyahu, Please Don't Speak to My President That Way

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For whatever reason, I tend to react strongly when a foreign leader disrespects the United States, and its President. I didn't like it when Hugo Chavez of Venezuela insulted President Bush; I don't like listening to Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan lecture the U.S. on its sins, and I'm not happy when certain Pakistani leaders gin-up righteous indignation about American behavior when it was their country that served as a refuge for the greatest mass murderer in American history.

And so I was similarly taken aback when I read a statement from Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday that he "expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both House of Congress."

So Netanyahu "expects" to hear this from the President of the United States? And if President Obama doesn't walk back the speech, what will Netanyahu do? Will he cut off Israeli military aid to the U.S.? Will he cease to fight for the U.S. in the United Nations, and in the many  international forums that treat Israel as a pariah?

I don't like this word, "expect." Even if there weren't an imbalance between these two countries -- Israel depends on the U.S. for its survival, while America, I imagine, would continue to exist even if Israel ceased to exist -- I would find myself feeling resentful about the way Netanyahu speaks about our President. Netanyahu had an alternative, of course: He could have said, as he got on the plane to Washington, where today -- awkward! -- he will be meeting with President Obama: "The President today delivered a very fine speech. His condemnation of Hamas and Iran, his question about whether the Palestinians actually seek peace; his strong language against Syria; his recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; his re-assertion of the unshakeable bond between our two nations -- all of this and more brought joy to my heart. There are a couple of points in the speech, having to do with borders and refugees, that I would like to clarify with the President when I see him, and I'm looking forward to a constructive dialogue on these few issues."

Of course, he didn't say this. Instead he threw something of a hissy fit. It was not appropriate, and more to the point, it was not tactically wise: If I'm waking up this morning feeling that the Israeli prime minister is disrespecting the President of my country, imagine how other Americans might be feeling. And, then, of course, there's this: Prime Minister Netanyahu needs the support of President Obama in order to confront the greatest danger Israel has ever faced: the potential of a nuclear-armed Iran. And yet he seems to go out of his way to alienate the President. Why does he do this? It's a mystery to me.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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