It’s official. Benjamin Netanyahu is Donald Trump’s poodle.
For those unfamiliar with the reference, Yossi Beilin was a Labor party activist and an architect of the Oslo peace process whose mentor was Shimon Peres. Peres often called on Beilin to carry out various political tasks, some worthy and some unsavory, leading Yitzhak Rabin to give Beilin the nickname "Peres’ poodle."
Haaretz Weekly Ep. 35
It wasn’t fair, but it stuck. And forever after, Beilin, despite his impressive accomplishments, was seen by many in Israel as an errand boy and a yes-man, whose task in life was carrying out Peres’ dirty work.
Bibi, welcome to the world of poodledom.
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Whatever else happens in your career, from this time forth you will be known as Trump’s poodle. You will go down in history as the prime minister desperate to carry out Trump’s will, gain his favor, be mentioned positively in his tweets, and be graced by his compliments. And in your case, the nickname "poodle" will be well-deserved.
After all, your government had again and again signaled its intention to admit Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to Israel for a visit; you had heard leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties express support for permitting them to come; and your own Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, had publicly declared that it was Israel’s intention to allow the trip.
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And then, after a bit of administration lobbying and a single rebuke-by-tweet from Donald Trump, you changed direction, denying the women the permission that all of Israel’s most ardent Congressional supporters, from Marco Rubio to Chuck Schumer, had assumed would be forthcoming.
Were there other reasons for your actions? Undoubtedly, chief among them being your own election prospects.
And yes, there is no denying the hostility of the Congresswomen to the State of Israel. It’s worth noting that Tlaib later made a humanitarian plea to visit her elderly grandmother in the West Bank because this visit might be her last chance to see her. She then changed her mind when the request was granted, heaping scorn on Israel in the process. One wonders: What happened to seeing her grandmother, and what does this incident tell us about Rashida Tlaib?
But, Mr. Prime Minister, none of this makes any difference at this point. By rushing to accommodate Trump’s desires, expressed with his usual indecent belligerence, you have made the mistake that you always make: You have played the shameless sycophant to the President, while forgetting that Trump does not define America.
And while Israel requires good relations with Donald Trump, she also requires good relations with the voices of decency and sanity that make up the majority of America’s citizens.
And if you are still insisting that you were justified in what you did, let us review the reasons why you were not.
* Tlaib and Omar are not figures of power and influence in the U.S. Congress.
They are on the margins of Washington’s political arena, as Shlomo Shamir noted in Maariv, especially when it comes to foreign policy. The recent anti-BDS resolution passed by the House was a direct rebuke to their anti-Israel positions. The resolution passed overwhelmingly; only 17 House members out of 435 opposed it.
By denying the Congresswomen entry, you were returning them to the spotlight and vastly inflating their political importance. You were also returning the BDS movement to the headlines at precisely the moment when it had just suffered a humiliating and devastating defeat.
* You were, for the second time, dealing a terrible blow to relations between the State of Israel and the Democratic Party.
In 2015, when you spoke to a joint session of Congress about the Iran deal, you did so in a way that was interpreted by many Democrats as an affront to their president and their party. The anger among Democrats was deep and profound. After four years, the wounds are just beginning to heal. Now, you have reopened those wounds by slamming the door in the face of House Democrats seeking to visit your country.
Ironically, among Democratic House members, there is more than a little resentment toward Tlaib and Omar, not to mention the other members of "the squad." The great majority of the 41 new Democrats elected to the House are moderates, and most are frustrated, if not furious, that the press has focused almost exclusively on the handful of representatives on the far left.
In confidence, they will not hesitate to share their dismay that the moderate wing of the party is consistently ignored by the media. But now, of course, all Democrats, whatever their views, will feel obligated by party loyalty to come to the defense of their colleagues.
* You are interfering in the internal affairs of the United States.
Donald Trump’s polls numbers are cratering. In straw polls, he is losing to all of the major Democratic candidates. Meanwhile, the economy is at risk and the country’s credit is threatened. In addition, Congress is dysfunctional, the courts are increasingly politicized, white supremacist terror is on the rise, and the climate crisis intensifies.
What then is Trump’s strategy to win in 2020? It is to focus on the squad - to run not against Biden, or Warren, or Harris, but against Omar, Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, and Pressley.
And that is why he sent you that tweet. And in doing his will, you were playing his game and allowing yourself to be used. In the process, you were boosting his campaign and helping Trump turn inconsequential political figures into a diversion from the very real problems of the American people.
And this too: You were undermining Israel’s representatives who speak in the name of the Jewish state.
I rarely agree with Ambassador Ron Dermer, but he is smart and tough and knows America well. And it was pathetic to hear him say to Jewish leaders, after having assured them that Tlaib and Omar would not be turned away, that Donald Trump had nothing to do with Israel’s change of position.
This was a bald-faced lie, and no one pretended otherwise, just as Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely was lying when she asserted that the reason for the policy change was the entourage accompanying the Congresswomen.
Mr. Prime Minister, it does not serve Israel’s interests to turn your own Foreign Ministry into a clown car.
* You are, yet again, alienating American Jews.
Most American Jews believe that Donald Trump is morally unfit to be President of the United States.
Most believe that his rhetoric is incendiary, that his behavior toward immigrants is abominable, and that his disdain for America’s political norms is a threat to their country’s unity and civil peace. They are also deeply distressed by Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, his indifference to traditional alliances, and the pure lunacy of such recent ideas as purchasing Greenland.
In other words, they fear for the future of their country.
But make no mistake. These Jews also care deeply about Israel, and are not naïve about the problems that Israel faces in the world. They will allow considerable leeway to a Prime Minister trying to maneuver his way through the thicket of political problems that Israel’s besieged democracy must confront.
But at a time when their own country’s constitutional order is in danger and their own president’s moral character can only be described as despicable, they simply will not tolerate an Israeli Prime Minister who has become Donald Trump’s poodle.
And until you, Mr Netanyahu,show us otherwise, that is exactly what you have become.
Eric H. Yoffie, a rabbi, writer and teacher in Westfield, New Jersey, is a former president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Twitter: @EricYoffie