The Corner

Opposites (Don’t Attract)

I have just read Ian Tuttle’s piece on the Obama administration’s latest salvos against the Israeli prime minister. A senior official — the president himself? — called Netanyahu a “chickensh**.” Another senior official — the president himself? — called Netanyahu a “coward.”

In the past six years, Obama et al. have often disparaged Netanyahu. They can’t seem to get as worked up about the PLO’s Abbas. Is that because they consider the Palestinian leader a savage of whom nothing can be expected? They can’t seem to get as worked up about the leaders of Hamas.

Or about Turkey’s Erdogan, or Syria’s Assad, or North Korea’s Kim, or Iran’s mullahs, or China’s Communists, or Cuba’s Castros.

No, Bibi is their bête noire.

Early in his administration, Obama offered Israelis some advice: They should “engage in serious self-reflection.” My fingers blistered. I wrote,

The Israelis are experts in “serious self-reflection.” The Jewish people is expert in “serious self-reflection.” They have been seriously self-reflecting for several thousand years — they practically invented the practice. Israelis, since the founding — refounding — of that state, have had to do some urgent self-reflecting, and other reflecting. They live in a tinderbox; their existence and survival are threatened all the time. Barack Obama knows nothing about serious self-reflection compared with the average Israeli — compared even with a relatively unreflective Israeli. It’s their lives that are on the line, not Obama’s. It is they who have gone through war after war, not Obama. And those were wars of attempted annihilation: the annihilation of you-know-who.

People always speak condescendingly, ignorantly, and offensively about and to the Israelis. It’s kind of a world specialty. But I think our new American president may have taken the cake.

You know who should “engage in serious self-reflection”? The Arabs — and the Turks and the Iranians. Israelis are self-reflecting to a fault. In other parts of the Middle East, if you self-reflect, and then express the results of that self-reflection — your government could kill you.

I like to quote a marvelous book about Israel, the one George Gilder wrote in 2009: The Israel Test. (I reviewed it for NR, and that review can be found here.) Let me offer a passage from the book. I thought of this passage when our administration labeled Netanyahu a “chickensh**” and a “coward.” Gilder is writing about Netanyahu:

In May 1969, he nearly lost his life in an action against Egyptian forces that had been laying traps for the Israelis near the Suez Canal. The team succeeded in destroying an Egyptian truck loaded with weapons, but two days later Egyptian troops opened fire on Netanyahu’s inflated rubber boat operating in the canal. Laden with ammunition for his machine gun, Bibi discovered that he could neither swim nor disengage himself from his sling full of ammo. He had virtually drowned by the time he was rescued by a naval commando named Israel Assaf, who happened to notice bubbles of foam on the surface, felt for a head under the water, and extracted Bibi by his hair under intense Egyptian fire.

True, Netanyahu never worked as a “community organizer” — that peak of human experience. But he is not unacquainted with the often-hard realities of life.

Netanyahu, writes Gilder, “is the obverse of Obama in nearly every way.” Let the author count those ways:

While the youthful Obama was a community-action organizer and lawyer, Netanyahu was an anti-terrorist warrior. While Obama imagines that taxes in general are too low and inadequately progressive, Netanyahu is a sophisticated supply-side economist who believes that lower rates bring higher revenues and who opened his administration by advocating tax cuts. While in the past the United States has long offered a haven for frustrated Israeli entrepreneurs and other Jewish capitalists, Israel under Netanyahu will beckon as a land of hope and hospitality to frustrated American venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. While Obama believes that foreign aid is the answer to Palestinian poverty, Netanyahu knows that new opportunities opened up by Israeli enterprise are the only solution to the regional crisis.

While Obama believes that the United States has overreacted to the threat of terrorism, Netanyahu for nearly thirty years has championed and explained the war on terror in both the United States and Israel, in books, international meetings, and through the Jonathan Institute (named for his late older brother who died in the stunning Entebbe hostage rescue in Uganda). Netanyahu sees jihad as the single greatest threat to the West, and no other politician is so learned or so determined in combating it. While Obama thinks Churchill is a man whose time has passed, Netanyahu has read and pondered all of Churchill’s works and admires the British titan “above all other gentiles.” The time for Churchillian leadership, according to Netanyahu, is now.

It may well be that Benjamin Netanyahu is the embodiment of everything Barack Obama despises. They should really be on the same side. America and Israel are on the same side, by and large.

Frankly, it pains me (a bit) to side with Netanyahu over Obama, in their spats. Am I an Israel Firster? (My critics, on left and right, will answer that one for you.) But the question of worldview transcends nationality, doesn’t it? Netanyahu has one worldview; Obama has another. Obama chimes with Edward Said. I chime with Bernard Lewis and David Pryce-Jones — and Netanyahu.

And Paul Johnson: who once, when I asked him about great figures on the world stage, mentioned Netanyahu. “I believe he is a man of destiny,” he said.

To be continued . . .

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