What Does the Netanyahu Victory 'Mean' for America?

Was it a clear endorsement of Netanyahu's policies? Do we even know what those policies will turn out to be?

The victor (Reuters)

Last night I argued that there was a systematic difference in the way election results are seen inside and outside the country that was voting. From the inside, voters often realize how many mixed, random, or contradictory forces may have led to a certain outcome. From the outside, people tend to think: Well, the people of Britain have chosen X, or the people of America have chosen Z.

As applied to the multi-party, coalition-dependent outcome of this week's Israeli election, that could mean that the increasingly hard-line Benjamin Netanyahu stayed in power, thanks to votes that could have been cast for a wide variety of non-hard-line reasons (starting with the economy). I used the comparison of the 2004 U.S. election results, which the outside world saw as clear ratification of the Bush-Cheney Iraq and anti-terrorism policy, while inside the U.S. it involved a host of other factors (the Ohio gay-rights initiative, etc).

Almost no one agrees. A sample of reader reaction:

1) "The comparison doesn't work." From a reader who disagreed with virtually everything I wrote about Iran and the Netanyahu speech to Congress, and who is very glad that the election turned out the way it did:

The Iraq War was controversial in the US in 2004. If John Kerry had been elected, he would have followed a very different policy from that of George W. Bush.

But in Israel, Buji and Bibi had the same policy on Iranian nukes—that they mustn't be allowed. There is no controversy inside Israel on the issue, which is why Iranian nukes weren't an issue in the election.

So anybody who concludes that Israelis back Bibi's position on the negotiations with Iran is 100% correct.

And regarding a Palestinian state, what Bibi actually promised was no more unilateral Israeli withdrawals, which is the only realistic method by which a second Palestinian quasi-state entity could be created.  Bibi's exact words were,

"I think that anyone who establishes a Palestinian state today and evacuates land is giving territory to radical Islam from which it will attack the state of Israel. This is simply the reality that has been created in recent years. Anyone who ignores this is sticking his head in the sand. The left does this, sticking its head in the sand time and time again. We are realistic and understand."

Bibi spoke to the Israeli experience, but Western reporters automatically twisted his words to fit their their fantasy reality, in which peace talks are eternal and Palestinians actually want to have a state next to Israel.

By the way, I understand that nicknames—Buji, Bibi—are ubiquitous in Israeli politics, as they long have been in the Philippines. I don't use them because I don't know these people, and to me it would sound fake-cozy to refer to them that way. FWIW.

2) "You are now on your own." From an American on the West Coast with a long background in politics:

Didn’t other nations pretty much say to the US after Bush’s re-election, “Okay, but if you want to start or continue Bush’s wars, you are now on your own.”

Is it not at least conceivable that other nations should now respond to Israel and say, “Okay, but if you truly are not going to agree to a two-state solution, and if your settlements are going to continue to be planned and located to make a two-state solution impossible, then you are now on your own"?

I mean, can we not make continued support contingent on a policy that has at least some hope of leading to (1) peace in the Mideast, and (2) extrication of the US from a situation in which we are attacked and our citizens are killed because we are perceived to support Israel unconditionally?

3) 2004 changed things, and 2015 has too. From another American on the West Coast.

The reelection of Bush did, I fear, reflect an American acceptance, all messiness having been sorted through, of the bizarre idea that Bush was a better leader to safeguard American values and realize her aspirations.

I have not felt the same about my country since, having played poker with George [in various places] often enough to know that he was, of all adult Americans then living, among those least suited for this role.

I have the same reaction to this week's developments in Israel.  Netanyahu certainly is not a stupid or stunted man, but he is a willingly and knowingly dangerous catalyst in a bad batch of cultural and ethnic chemistry. I hold Israeli voters responsible for his reelection, and so, my love for Jewish culture and history, and for my Jewish friends and relatives notwithstanding, I have crossed into hostility toward the Israeli nation-state as it now sees itself.

I know that for every Netanyahu there are two or more Barenboims, but Israel has chosen to follow -- and be -- the former.

4) Let's not rush to moralize. From writer Jim Sleeper, a lone "I agree with you" message:

Bravo your post noting what Israel's election and the U.S.'s of 2004 have in common. The differences are vast, but you hit on something inherent in democracy: What may seem monolithically majoritarian abroad is often messier in reality.

And how about Netanyahu's rhetorical reversal today on his election-eve pledge that "There will never be a Palestinian state"?  Maybe Kahlon and Kulanu demanded that reversal as the price for their entering the coalition; we'll see. Netanyahu may lose some right-wing party leaders over this reversal, and, like you, I can't pretend to follow his snake-like twists and turns.

But you're right [about the need] to take a broader, longer view.  Israel is in trouble; Netanyahu's policies in practice have certainly been a big part of the reason it's in trouble; but they're certainly not the only reason, and it would be nice if the rest of the world acknowledged some of those other reasons in its rush to moralize the election stats.

5) You've been duped. From an Israeli writer who obviously opposes Netanyahu and what he stands for. I've condensed a lot of the internal Israeli detail to focus on parts relevant to the "what this means for the outside world" theme:

I'm afraid you've been misled by Netanyahu's policies of the last two terms.

At base, Netanyahu is an extreme right-winger of the Israeli racist kind. His latest appeal against Israeli Palestinian voters is proof of that, but people who remember the 1996 campaign knew it a long time ago. ... He created a right-wing government, and had a hellish time of it, as far as the world was concerned. He did, however, managed to kill the peace process by endless delays.

He learned from his mistakes. When he came back to power, he used leftist and centrist politicians as fig leaves - Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Tzippi Livni, Yair Lapid. This had, as far as he was concerned, two benefits. One, he deluded the world into thinking that since those center-left people supported him, he actually intended to make peace. He never did, however. His government sped on with the construction of the so-called outposts - which are in fact undeclared settlements. The point of the outposts, all of them are far away from the 1967 border, is to prevent any division of the land. (See this recent report by Yesh Din, a human rights organization.)

The second benefit Netanyahu derived from having centrist partners is he undermined them by their very partnership; their voters, disaffected by their collusion with Netanyahu, drifted away. ...

While Netanyahu may look for more fig leaves, there may be few left - and he may actually have to do in public what he did for six years secretly, i.e. undermine any chance of a two-states solution by endless land-grabs.

6) America as again the promised land. From a reader in Florida:

I appreciate the hopeful note on Israel. Hope you are right.

I think the most consequential American political development of [the Netanyahu Congress speech, the Iran debate, and the Knesset elections] is the end of the assumption that only [expert commentators who are mainly Jewish Americans] get to make any kind of distinction between Jewry and Israel. If any of the rest of us attempt to think it through, it's our latent or cultural anti-Semitism talking. The fiction-crushing aspects of Netanyahu's win are pretty liberating to American liberals. Israel is no longer a truly bipartisan issue.

Right now, there is no denying it, Israel is very illiberal place. It has chosen to be. Its leader needed it to be. It should be easy now for an American liberal to say, "Sorry, can't support the leadership of the global tea party."

I consider American Jews, as a group, probably our single finest group of citizens. I can't imagine America without them. I want more of them. I hope liberal American Jews start encouraging liberal Israelis and European Jews to come to America.

I can't think of a better way to smash the easy, pernicious conflation of support for Israel and support for Jews than to simply recruit more Jews to America. ... If nothing else, simply talking about it, telling the Israeli left come here because it's actually welcome, would be valuable...

This is the type of unpredictable pressures that can affect countries after very clarifying elections. Even if the reasons are messy, I don't know that Israel has ever had a more clarifying election to the world at large, at least not in my lifetime.

This last message may be the place to say: For as long as I've been writing in this magazine, I have argued that America's openness to worldwide talent, ambition, energy, and dreaming is our most important advantage over any other country, and the most important element that makes us, us. When traveling in China, I met students, entrepreneurs, or simple rural families who thought that they'd be better able to realize their dreams if they could do so in America. Similarly in India, and West Africa, and Latin America, and Iran, and Israel, and other places I have been.

The United States obviously can't be home to everyone in the world. But recognizing our crucial role as human talent-magnet is important to our understanding of America's strengths. It also should equip us to face our weaknesses, which very significantly include mistreatment of nearly every component of our pluralistic whole. Including notably, in this context, the European Jews who were shouldered aside rather than embraced as Hitler was taking over Europe. I want ambitious people from around the world, including those uncomfortable with the political climate in Israel, to view this as a potential promised land.