The reason Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer the prime minister of Israel today has much to do with the Democratic Party, whose recent drift toward anti-Israel positions has become a major and imminent threat to the security of the Jewish state.
Netanyahu had no major failures on his record. On the contrary, he had achieved astonishing success — especially within the past year. Israel, he pointed out in his final address as prime minister, was the first country to reopen after the COVID pandemic, thanks to his aggressive vaccination policies. The Israeli economy is also in better shape than most, thanks to his free-market reforms. And last month, Israel successfully defended itself against thousands of Hamas terrorist rockets.
His rival, newly-inaugurated Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, offered no major new policy departures in his speech to the Knesset. He thanked Netanyahu for his service — partly out of courtesy, but partly because Netanyahu’s policies worked.
The key area where Bennett — or, members of Bennett’s diverse coalition government — departs from Netanyahu is on the question of whether, and how, to oppose the U.S. government as it pushes to renew the ill-fated Iran nuclear deal.
Bennett called the Iran deal a “mistake,” but his foreign minister, Yair Lapid — who will take over as prime minister in two years, if the government survives — panned Netanyahu’s open criticism of President Barack Obama’s deal in 2015.
Netanyahu defended his public opposition to Obama in Sunday’s speech, noting that Jews had tried a quieter approach during the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as the Nazi Holocaust raged in Europe. That approach failed.
Minister of Defense Benny Gantz — who will retain his post in the new government — countered that Netanyahu’s rivals were certainly prepared to oppose the U.S. openly if needed, but would meanwhile keep disputes behind closed doors.
The dispute between these two approaches makes clear that both sides of the Israeli political divide view the leftward shift of the Democratic Party as a major problem for Israel, but they differ as to the best way to resolve that problem.
Democrats — and some on the Israeli left — blame the Israeli government, and Netanyahu personally, for the growing opposition to Israel within their ranks. They say his open criticism of Obama made support for Israel a partisan issue.
Bennett lent some weight, implicitly, to that criticism, when he promised to pursue “bipartisan” approach to U.S.-Israel relations, breaking into English at that point in his speech, implying that Netanyahu had favored the Republican Party.
But the truth is that Obama himself was the reason for the split. Though he pledged in 2008 to support Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, he reneged on that promise the next day. He deliberately engineered “distance” between the U.S. government and the Israeli government, first by snubbing Netanyahu in 2009, then by condemning Israeli housing policy in 2010, and finally by negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran that placed Israel’s very existence in grave danger.
Netanyahu was elected in 2009 precisely because he promised Israelis — explicitly — that he would oppose what Obama was likely to do to Israel. He found new purpose in his relationship with President Donald Trump, which marked an historic peak in U.S.-Israel relations.
Netanyahu argued Sunday that his decades-long relationship with President Joe Biden would be an important diplomatic asset into the future. But Biden’s party, at least, has been eager to see him go.
The new Israeli government offers a diverse Jewish-Arab coalition that may appeal to Democrats. But identity politics, and Biden’s attempt to rescue the Iran deal, may continue pushing Democrats to the left, regardless of what Israel does.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new e-book, The Zionist Conspiracy (and how to join it). His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.