It would be a stretch to say that President Obama lost Israel’s election. But our president has made it pretty clear what he thinks of Benjamin Netanyahu, and last night, Israeli voters made it pretty clear what they think of him too. Netanyahu’s Likud party easily beat its closest rival, and now appears likely to head a conservative coalition or a centrist unity government.
President Obama’s distaste for Israel’s reelected leader has two explanations. Netanyahu is the most articulate, most forceful global critic of Obama’s rabid desire for a deal with Iran. He is also the world leader who does the best job providing an alternative to the president’s Pollyannaish approach to Islamic terror.
Of course, Israeli voters were considering many issues during this election, and much of the disagreement among Israeli parties is about domestic and social debates, not security policy. Because of the gravity of their situation, Israelis increasingly agree on questions of defense. But it is important that they reelected the loudest, most impassioned defender of their consensus.
President Obama’s contempt for Netanyahu is disturbing because he is supposed to — and at times pretends to — have special solicitude for Israel’s security. Doing so need not mean agreeing with its prime minister on every single question, but the president’s discomfort with the avatar of Israeli strength runs deeper than day-to-day debates. This is not confined to the president, either: It was obvious in the Western liberal hope and expectation that Israeli voters might share their contempt or boot a paranoid like Netanyahu because they care more about housing costs or income inequality.
Many Americans are disturbed by the Netanyahu–Obama animosity, and for good reason. In part, it is because they worry what it portends for Israel, which needs allies. But it also reminds them that they lack a leader who has a clear-eyed view of evil and understands peace through strength. Israel reelected a man like that; we will have to wait a little longer to elect our own.