Opinion |

Netanyahu vs. the West

When Netanyahu paints himself into the far corner of the tainted and the reproached, the responsibility of the opposition’s leaders is to see to a healthy relationship between a sane Israel and Europe and the United States

Tzvia Greenfield
Tzvia Greenfield
Netanyahu delivers his speech in the Goldmark Room of the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities of Hungary (Mazsihisz) Office in Budapest, Hungary, Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Netanyahu delivers his speech in the Goldmark Room of the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities of Hungary (Mazsihisz) Office in Budapest, Hungary, Wednesday, July 19, 2017Credit: Balazs Mohai/AP
Tzvia Greenfield
Tzvia Greenfield

Benjamin Netanyahu made a big mistake last week. In his attempt to return to the glory days of his struggle against the nuclear agreement with Iran, he presumed that maligning the most important and largest democracies in Europe would be welcomed by the right wing with the same wonderment with which his defiant speech to Congress against President Barack Obama was received.

In those forgotten days, Netanyahu believed he could actually become the real leader, in spirit, of the American right wing. The young Marco Rubio, who would be elected president, would look to him admiringly and draw inspiration from him, and even if Hillary Clinton were elected, he could always continue being the leader in spirit of the defeated American right.

But to everyone’s surprise, it was Donald Trump who won the grand prize, and threw to the winds not only assumptions about politics and rules of governing, but also Netanyahu as a source of inspiration for right-wing America. Netanyahu realized that the American game is lost – at least as long as Trump is in office. Trump doesn’t need him and doesn’t really care about him, and the Republicans won’t agree to a subversive campaign against Trump in Congress like the one Netanyahu waged against Obama.

When he recovered from the shock, the prime minister came to the obvious conclusion: Leave the work against Trump to the American left, which doesn’t for a minute stop trying to bring down the new administration. Just like he leaves the main work against political rival Yair Lapid to the useful idiots of the Israeli left, who don’t stop for a minute trying to weaken the chief threat to Netanyahu’s rule, instead of weakening Netanyahu.

As for the prime minister, he needs to immediately reestablish his shaky status as the greatest and smartest of all leaders. Even opposite Trump and Vladimir Putin. From now on, Netanyahu has to be the new source of inspiration not to the countries of poor, far-off Africa and India, but to the European white right as he leads the rebellion of the affronted against the failed humanist values of the democratic world. Precisely as he did so successfully in Israel. Thus his admirers will once again realize that he is not just the prime minister of tiny Israel – a trivial role, which is of course too small for him – but the greatest of international leaders, who can now show the true path to the whole confused world.

But this is where Netanyahu failed. His decision to become a kind of symbolic leader of the problematic countries in Eastern Europe, which are under the powerful influence of right wing (anti-Semitic) movements, does not place him, as in the past, in opposition to the hated leaders of the left like Obama. Rather, it places him in opposition to realistic leaders of the center, who today govern the most important democracies in Europe – Emmanuel Macron in France, Theresa May in Britain and Angela Merkel in Germany. These responsible leaders understand full well the problems Europe is facing and were elected to deal with them.

And so the assault on classical Europe in the name of its former fascist and communist backyard is a source of surprise and skepticism for Israelis. Where will they find such beautiful places for pleasurable, safe, relatively cheap family vacations? The same is true of the assault on Putin and Trump: Will Netanyahu decide to go to war against the entire Western world?

His loss of good judgment provides justification to the opposition’s leaders to follow Lapid’s correct intuition and create alternative, normal ties with Trump and the assailed European leaders. When Netanyahu paints himself into the far corner of the tainted and the reproached, the responsibility of the opposition’s leaders is to see to a healthy relationship between a sane Israel and Europe and the United States.

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