Giuliani Slights Obama but Yearns for a Love Like Netanyahu’s

The former N.Y. mayor's comments would pass unnoticed in Israel, where the right routinely casts doubt on the left's patriotism.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Former N.Y.C. Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaking before protesters outside the Metropolitan Opera, on opening night of the opera "The Death of Klinghoffer," October 20, 2014.
Former N.Y.C. Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaking before protesters outside the Metropolitan Opera, on opening night of the opera "The Death of Klinghoffer," October 20, 2014.Credit: AFP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani is trying to cool off the heated controversy that erupted following his widely publicized remarks last week that Barack Obama “doesn’t love America.” My bluntness overshadowed my message,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Turns out, however, that his “bluntness” wasn’t a one-time affair. In fact, he made similar observations only a few days earlier - but this time he used Benjamin Netanyahu as a role model for a leader’s love for his people.

Appearing before the Iranian-American Community of Phoenix Arizona three days before his impromptu February remarks at a fundraiser for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Giuliani referred to the nuclear threat against Israel made by Iran and its’ Ayatollah Khamenei, whom he described as “insane” and “a madman”.

“And we are upset that Netanyahu wants to come here and defend his people?” Giuliani bellowed to the applause of his audience. “If someone threatened to destroy New York City, I would go anywhere, anytime, any place, and I wouldn’t give a damn what the President of the United States thought, to defend my country.”

Giuliani, who has long held close ties with Netanyahu as well as with his benefactor, Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, then proceeded to compare the two leaders, saying of the Israeli prime minister: “That is a patriot; that is a man who loves his people; that is a man who protects his people; that’s a man who fights for his people - unlike our President”.

In his subsequent appearance at the Republican fundraiser for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker - first reported by Darren Samuelsohn at Politico - Giuliani apparently did not make the Netanyahu-Obama connection, though he did elaborate on the reasons why the President’s “love for his people” falls short. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”

In the ensuing uproar that erupted, Giuliani was described as everything from a pathetic racist through a raging bull to a long time McCarthyite: “Rudy Giuliani’s sad self-destruction: How ‘America’s Mayor became just another GOP sidewalk lunatic” was how the left-wing Salon put it. After standing his ground for over a week with remarks and explanations that only made matters worse – Obama was ‘raised by Communists’ was one rationale – Giuliani finally tried to tame some of the turmoil he had sparked by writing on Monday: “Obviously, I cannot read President Obama’s mind or heart, and to the extent that my words suggested otherwise, it was not my intention. I bear him no ill will, and in fact think that his personal journey is inspiring and a testament to much of what makes this country great.”

But he stuck to his guns nonetheless, by claiming that Obama “criticizes his country more than other presidents have done”. Furthermore, according to Giuliani, “this president sometimes seems to have a difficult time in expressing adequate support for important allies, particularly Israel, Ukraine and Jordan.”

Ironically, Giuliani’s remarks, which created such a ruckus in America, would probably pass virtually unnoticed in Israel, where right-wing politicians routinely accuse their centrist and left-wing rivals of anti-Zionism, a lack of patriotism and working against Israel’s interests. At the same time, it is also true that some of the outrage directed at Giuliani stems from the sense that questioning Obama’s love for his country is an affront to the office of the presidency itself, a sanctity and immunity that Israeli prime ministers, including Netanyahu, seem to have lost many years ago.

In the case of Giuliani, one must also take into account the assumption made by many of his detractors that his remarks are tainted by racist undertones, an accusation that Giuliani has rejected, however clumsily, by citing the president’s white mother and grandmother. In the eyes of his critics, however, Giuliani’s insult goes hand in hand with claims that Obama is somehow “different”, because he was really born in Kenya, was secretly raised as a Muslim or is somehow a foreign agent working against the United States.

Whether such prejudices underlie some of the suspicions that many Israelis harbor towards Obama is a matter for debate. What is more certain, however, is that many Israelis will agree with the former mayor’s diagnosis of the president’s sentiments, a feeling they share with American conservatives and right-wingers, for whom Netanyahu, indeed, is the ideal.

Another striking similarity with Israel is in the counteroffensive launched by the American right: the media is on a vendetta against the right, it has double standards when it comes to covering controversial comments made by liberals and Democrats and, of course, it is hell bent on making sure that Republicans fail in their 2016 bid to retake the White House, just as they are now waging a campaign to unseat Netanyahu. Or so the prime minister claims.

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