columnU.S.-Israel Relations

America’s outrageous attack on Netanyahu’s right to govern

The true agenda of Israel’s mass protests has been laid bare.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, March 9, 2010. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, March 9, 2010. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir, Guardian Angel, has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy, in 2018. To access her work, go to: melaniephillips.substack.com.

Whatever one thinks about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, any true Israeli patriot will surely react viscerally to U.S. President Joe Biden’s outrageous attack on Israel’s right to govern itself without foreign interference.

On Monday, Netanyahu announced he was suspending his coalition’s judicial reform legislation in order to negotiate a compromise with the opposition.

The next day, Biden told Netanyahu to “walk away” from the legislation, saying he was “very concerned” about the health of Israeli democracy. Warning that Israel “cannot continue down this road,” he added for good measure that he wouldn’t be inviting Netanyahu to the White House “in the near term.”

It is deeply disturbing that the U.S. should brazenly and insultingly interfere in the internal affairs of another country and tell its prime minister how to behave. Biden was supposedly speaking as Israel’s friend, but he sounded like a colonial administrator barking at the natives to fall into line.

While Likud politicians hit the roof, left-wing and centrist politicians and commentators got behind Biden and kicked Netanyahu even more viciously in the head.

After three months of mass protests, incitement to hysteria and ludicrous hyperbole about the end of democracy that have caused Israel untold social, financial and reputational damage, those who shared responsibility for the crisis took their cue from Biden and blamed Netanyahu instead.

Benny Gantz, leader of the National Unity party, called Biden’s comments “an urgent wake-up call for the Israeli government,” which he accused of delivering a “strategic blow” to Israel’s ties with the U.S.

One of his MKs, Gideon Sa’ar, declared, “Never has any government caused such immense damage to the country in such a short time.” He called Likud politicians’ objection to Biden’s unprecedented foreign interference “a total loss of judgment.”

This is all straight out of the Palestinian Arabs’ Orwellian playbook: Subject Israel to aggression and then blame Israel for causing that aggression by choosing to exist.

That’s not to say there aren’t valid concerns about Israel’s beleaguered prime minister. How could this master political strategist have been so maladroit that he ended up waving a white flag to the mob, thus dealing a terrible and possibly terminal blow to his own authority and to Israel’s defense against its enemies?

The obvious answer is that he was trapped. On the one hand, he should have realized far earlier than he did that he hadn’t taken enough of the public with him and therefore needed to make a tactical retreat to regroup. On the other hand, he needed to prevent his coalition allies from bolting and bringing down his government.

The truth is, however, that creating the current coalition, with its wild men over whom there are understandable anxieties and for whose inflammatory agenda Netanyahu would personally have had little time, was the only way he could return as prime minister.

The reason for this was that Netanyahu had become a fatally divisive figure. It was obvious several years ago that, if he had stepped down, the Likud would probably have comfortably returned to power. The reason it did not, despite the blocs of voters who will always vote for Netanyahu, was because of the passionate dislike the prime minister now provokes.

Even among those who had previously voted Likud, many were alarmed by the way in which Netanyahu marginalized his ministers and concentrated power on himself. They believed he would say anything to get himself out of tight spots and then go back on his word.

The reason so many nevertheless stuck with him was his unmatched global strategic sense and clear understanding of the dire threats from both Iran and its Biden administration appeasers.

Now, his missteps have exhausted this priceless political capital and allowed the Biden administration to say that he’s finished—thus helping to potentially bring this about.

Even some of Netanyahu’s erstwhile supporters are wondering if he’s lost his touch. According to one poll this week, 53% of those who voted Likud in the last election said he was doing a bad job as prime minister.

Notwithstanding reservations about Netanyahu, however, we need to be very clear about what’s actually going on here. Biden’s remarks merely crystallize what’s been obvious from the start to those with eyes to see.

Whatever individual protesters may have told themselves, the real purpose of the uprising was not to stop judicial reform. It was to get rid of Netanyahu.

As the veteran law professor and Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz said on the TV station i24 a couple of weeks ago, the claim that the protests were intended to stop the judicial reforms from destroying democracy was patently ridiculous. The reforms, he said, would make Israel’s political system similar to that of countries like the U.S., Britain and Canada.

As Dershowitz observed, the real purpose of the massive protests was to overturn the result of Israel’s democratic election. And it would do this by making it impossible for Netanyahu to govern.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid launched the uprising with his battle cry of “bring the government down.” Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said that, if the reforms passed, people were duty-bound to refuse orders by “an illegitimate regime” because it risked becoming a “de facto dictatorship.”

Protesters absurdly claimed that the reform program—proposed by a democratically elected government—was a “coup.” Since the obvious response to an actual dictator’s coup is to try to bring him down, it was disingenuous for those protesters to pretend they were merely objecting to the judicial reforms.

For its part, the Biden administration wants a pliable Israeli prime minister who won’t challenge its all-too-obvious decision to live with an Iranian nuclear bomb. It also requires a prime minister who will kowtow to American demands to give away land and Israel’s security to the Palestinian Arabs.

So, the Bidenites have been supporting the protests, not only verbally but reportedly financially too. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted this week: “It’s clear that Biden and his officials are high from funding what they believe to be successful anti-government protests in Israel.”

Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Danny Ayalon said the Biden administration believed Netanyahu was “imperiling the security interests of the U.S.” because “to them, democracy is like a religion; they don’t compromise.”

The administration’s views are preposterous. First, the “risk to democracy” from the judicial reforms is no more than feverish agitprop cynically aimed at enlisting the Israeli middle-class as useful idiots.

On Unherd, protest organizers admitted that they abandoned their original agenda of solidarity with the Palestinian Arabs when they realized the public relations damage done by waving the Palestinian flag. So, they flooded the protests with Israeli flags instead. One organizer said, “We sacrificed our own agenda so the middle-class would come.”

Moreover, the Biden administration is itself imperiling American and Israeli security by groveling to the Iranian regime and merely administering feeble slaps on the wrist when Iran attacks American assets.

Now that the left has been empowered by humbling Netanyahu, there will be no end to this. One of the elite reserve pilots who threatened not to serve over the reforms denounced Netanyahu’s pause as irrelevant. There was no need for negotiations, he said chillingly. No compromise would be acceptable. There should be no judicial reform at all.

A leader of the protesting pilots said that, although they were returning to duty, they will renew their threat if the negotiations don’t satisfy them.

The protesters’ success with their street uprising means they will henceforth use their newfound power to thwart the coalition’s ability to govern again and again.

That is the antithesis of democracy. It is truly frightening that so many in Israel today refuse to see it.

Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir “Guardian Angel” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy.” Go to melaniephillips.substack.com to access her work.

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