Illustration: Ann Lewis, Co-Chair of Democratic Majority for Israel by Edward Kimmel from Takoma Park, MD - Ready for Hillary_(138), [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr
Benjamin Netanyahu is a failed leader. He has led the State of Israel, once a proud example of a tenacious and highly developed democracy, to the threshold of third-world status. He has failed in his domestic policy and his foreign policy. And a substantial percentage of Israel’s citizens refuse to believe a single word that he says
Eric Yoffie, former president of the Union for Reform Judaism, in "Opinion: Netanyahu is a colossal failure. But against the coronavirus, he is all Israel has," Haaretz
In the midst of this unprecedented health and financial crisis for Israel, we respectfully urge you not to use the need for unity in the face of emergency to create a different crisis for Israel by moving forward on unilateral annexation
From a letter initiated by the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) to Blue and White leaders, Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, signed by over 130 left-leaning US Jewish leaders
Such a move would make a two-state solution harder — if not impossible to achieve — and would likely have far-reaching negative consequences for the US-Israel alliance…We cannot overstate the long-term damage such a move would have on the US-Israel alliance…The repercussions would be extremely serious and long-lasting. Most Americans will only support that so long as they believe Israel is committed to pursuing peace
A letter from Mark Mellman and Ann Lewis, president and co-chairwoman of the Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) to Benjamin Netanyahu, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, warning against unilateral annexation in Judea-Samaria
INTO THE FRAY: April was a bad month for common sense — at least as far as declarations from representatives of allegedly “progressive” U.S. Jewry and purportedly pro-Israel organizations associated with the Democratic Party are concerned.
Appalling, asinine and absurd
Arguably, one of the most appallingly asinine instances of the torrent of pompous and pretentiously pious pontification directed at Israel and Israelis was a recent opinion piece in Haaretz by Eric Yoffie (see introductory excerpt), berating Netanyahu as a “colossal failure.” Indeed, virtually every sentence in the article “elevates” the absurd to heights rarely attained in the past.
Yoffie begins his venomous brew of self-contradictions, non-sequiturs and flights of fancy with a toxic tirade against Benjamin Netanyahu and indirectly against Israeli society as a whole.
According to Yoffie: “Benjamin Netanyahu is a failed leader [who] has led the State of Israel, [from being] a proud example of a tenacious and highly developed democracy, to the threshold of third-world status.”
Yoffie rails on: “He has failed in his domestic policy and his foreign policy. And a substantial percentage of Israel’s citizens refuse to believe a single word that he says.”
However, despite this, Yoffie concedes: “And yet, not only does he remain Israel’s prime minister, but at the moment he is widely seen as the only figure who can lead Israel through the coronavirus crisis… Bibi, after all, is the man who has governed Israel for the past 11 years (Israel’s longest-serving premier, Bibi was also in office for three years in the 1990s)”.
Yet despite this, he depicts Netanyahu’s long incumbency as “a period of dramatic and disastrous decline in Israel’s economic and social well-being.”
Disdainful and derogatory
This, of course, is a grave indictment of Israel and Israelis and by unavoidable implication, displays utter disdain for the Israeli electorate — and for the Israeli population in general.
After all, if Yoffie was right in his assessment (i.e. that “Israel’s citizens refuse to believe a single word that he says” and Netanyahu has been responsible for “a period of dramatic and disastrous decline in Israel’s economic and social well-being”), then surely the Israeli voters must be both masochistic and moronic. For what other reason could there be for them to keep reelecting a leader so “unequivocally” mendacious and incompetent.
Curiously, it was well into Netanyahu’s second incumbency that Israel acceded to the prestigious organization of the world’s most developed countries, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and, despite stiff opposition, the country became a significant energy exporter.
Under his stewardship, Israel has become one of the best performing economies in the world — with GDP per capita breaching the $40,000 mark for the first time ever in 2017, up sharply by over 45% since 2009 when he was first re-elected after losing power in 1999. Indeed, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), today Israel has overtaken France, Britain and Japan in terms of GDP per capita — something unimaginable not many years ago
This is a “dramatic and disastrous decline in Israel’s economic …well-being?” Really?
The pot calling the kettle black?
In stark contrast to Yoffie’s glum assessment of Israel’s socio-economic progress after almost a decade under the allegedly “inept” Netanyahu-led governments, the OECD itself describes Israel’s development, in glowing terms: “Israel’s economy continues to register remarkable macroeconomic and fiscal performance. Growth is strong and unemployment low and falling. With low interest rates and price stability, financial policy is prudent, and public debt is comparatively low and declining.”
According to the OECD’s report: “[Israel’s] external position is solid, thanks to a dynamic high-tech sector. The average standard of living is improving, mainly due to higher employment rates. Continued accommodative macro policies and planned investments in the offshore gas fields in the coming years will spur further growth.”
Of course, the dimwitted Israelis, who, by Yoffie’s account are teetering on the brink of a third-world tyranny, are far too dumb to realize what a perilous situation they are in. Thus, the OECD report concluded: “Against this backdrop, Israelis remain on average more satisfied with their lives than residents of most other OECD countries.”
Significantly, in this regard, Israel was slated number eleven in the 2018 Happiness Survey, released every year by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, coming in just below the top ten, which included (in descending order): Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia — none of which are facing the harrowing existential challenges faced by Israel.
Thus, Israel easily outpaced Yoffie’s own country, the United States, which was in 18th place. Likewise, he berates Israel’s health services as being “near collapse.” However, if one assumes the life expectancy is largely determined by the level of medical services and social support, it is interesting to note the 2019 UN Development Report ranked Israel 9th out of over 200 countries, well above a host of Western European countries and almost 30(!) places above the United States at 38th place.
Could the pot be calling the kettle black??
A truly transformative leader?
Of course, Netanyahu — like every mortal on the planet — is not irreplaceable or unblemished, but his record indicates that he is by far the most capable candidate to lead Israel in these challenging times — as even Yoffie is compelled to concede.
Indeed, in many ways, he has been a truly transformative leader.
This is clearly the case not only in the economic sphere, but in security and diplomacy as well.
He has drastically reduced Palestinian terror from the horrific levels he “inherited” from the Rabin-Peres era — and, despite occasional flare-ups, he has largely managed to contain it to hardly perceptible proportions — certainly nowhere near the grisly scale that prevailed under his predecessors.
In terms of foreign policy, he has produced remarkable success. He managed to wait out the inclement incumbency of Barack Obama, emerging largely unscathed — despite the undisguised antipathy between the two men.
His views on Iran and its perilous nuclear ambitions have been embraced by the Trump administration. He has managed to initiate far-reaching changes in Middle East politics, with increasingly amicable — albeit, as yet, only semi-overt — relations with important Arab states, inconceivable several years ago, while sidelining — or at least, significantly reducing — the centrality of the intractable “Palestinian problem.”
He has overseen Israel’s “pivot” eastwards, and burgeoning relationships with the ascendant economies of India and China, increasingly offsetting Israel’s commercial dependence on the oft less-than-benign EU. He also has scored remarkable diplomatic successes in Africa and South America.
Moreover, notwithstanding difficulties with western European countries, he has fostered increasingly warm relations and understanding with those in central and eastern Europe, driving a wedge into the otherwise widespread European animus towards Israel.
Small minded endeavor to diminish achievements
Yet despite Netanyahu’s impressive record of achievement, Yoffie embarks on a small minded and mean spirited endeavor to dismiss them. Belittling his warm relations with world leaders, his success in getting the U.S. to adopt his perspective on the Iran nuclear issue, his success in reducing the once horrific levels of terror and his developing contacts with the Arab-Sunni worlds, Yoffie sneers: “Bibi has produced a record that is, by any measure, a miserable one.”
Significantly, Yoffie is at a loss to explain why a country that is on the cutting edge of almost all fields of human endeavor, repeatedly “shoots itself in the foot” by time and again voting into power a leader, whose record is “by any measure, a miserable one.”
He produces a motley mélange of unpersuasive excuses for a lack of realistic competitors from both the Right: [Bibi] has destroyed potential rivals on the right by his ruthless control of… the right-wing bloc; and the Left: Barak was “…politically inept,” Herzog “…insufficiently tough,” Gantz “…weak and indecisive…”.
Of course, the real reason for Yoffie’s chronic Bibiphobia is only thinly disguised, something he gives away about halfway through the article: the “Palestinians.”
He laments: “‘Deal of the Century’ practically forgotten, Bibi has shown no interest in any alternative arrangement — if not peace, then at least separation that would offer the Palestinians a degree of stability and dignity.”
This leaves us to puzzle over just how much “stability and dignity” separation has provided the “Palestinians” in Gaza — with many awash in untreated sewage, with polluted water supplies, with perennial power outages and under the yoke of the oppressive, dysfunctional Islamist tyranny of Hamas.
As to why separation is likely to produce anything more “stable and dignified” in Judea-Samaria, Yoffie offers nary a clue.
Pursuing a pipedream
Significantly, the Trump Plan and the Palestinians constitute the link that brings us to the other “progressive” caveats directed at the Israeli leadership.
The first is a letter of April 6, initiated by the Israel Policy Forum (IPF), an organization that aims to “shape the discourse and mobilize support among American Jewish leaders and U.S. policymakers for the realization of a viable two-state solution.”
Addressed to Blue and White leaders, Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, and signed by over 130 left leaning US Jewish leaders, it proclaims: “We have strongly objected to Israel unilaterally annexing West Bank territory and applying sovereignty to Jewish settlements, whether according to the parameters of the Trump plan or any other similar proposal, at any point in time.”
The IPF letter warns “To unilaterally move forward with such a plan now would be particularly damaging. It will call into question the Israeli government’s priorities during a global and national emergency, shine a spotlight on controversial Israeli policies… and could create a rupture inside of Congress and in the upcoming presidential campaign….”
According to the IPF signatories, such a unilateral initiative “will be viewed as political opportunism by proponents of annexation during the worst possible moment and will make it more challenging for American Jewish leaders as they seek to maintain strong support for Israel and pro-Israel policies at this time.
The second is a letter of April 13 from the president and co-chairwoman of the Democratic Majority for Israel, whose goal is to “Promote a Two-State Solution and Arab-Israeli Peace through Diplomacy and Partnership.”
Addressed to Benjamin Netanyahu, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, it warns against unilateral annexation in Judea-Samaria: “Such a move would make a two-state solution harder — if not impossible to achieve — and would likely have far-reaching negative consequences for the U.S.-Israel alliance… We cannot overstate the long-term damage such a move would have on the U.S.-Israel alliance… The repercussions would be extremely serious and long-lasting. Most Americans will only support that so long as they believe Israel is committed to pursuing peace.”
When “progressive” means “regressive”
It is of course, a long-standing conundrum why so called “progressives”, who purportedly cherish liberal values of societal pluralism and individual freedoms, would cling to support for a Palestinian state. After all, such a state, if it were to emerge, would almost certainly be yet another homophobic misogynistic Muslim-majority tyranny and the utter antithesis of all to which they claim to subscribe. Yet impervious to factual precedents and future probabilities they adhere doggedly to their flawed dogma.
This was aptly described by Jonathan Tobin in his recent opinion piece, "A disingenuous debate about annexation." He ends it with these words: “Living in the past and clinging to the false hopes of the 1990s won’t build support for Israel or nurture the alliance between the two democracies. It’s long past time for liberal American Jews, even the old Oslo-cheering squad, to accept the reality of Palestinian rejectionism and the permanence of the West Bank settlements, whether or not they believed that they were a good idea in the first place.”
He points out: “Trying to undermine the new Israeli government or setting the stage for a conflict with the Democrats should Trump lose in the fall isn’t consistent with their claim of being ardent supporters of the Jewish state. Nostalgia for the illusions of the past should never be confused with activism that actually helps Israel.”
He is of course, quite right. By its unflagging support of the establishment of a homophobic, misogynistic tyrannical political entity (a.k.a., a Palestinian state), America’s allegedly “progressive” Jewry reveals that it is, in fact, profoundly regressive.
That is the real paradox that Eric Yoffie should set about resolving.
Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. Click here to read more of this writer’s work in The Jerusalem Herald.