(September 4, 2015 / JNS)
A close adviser to then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton has claimed that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are shaped by his private agony over his father’s “constant criticism” of him. Well, I knew Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, and he was no critic of his son.
Among the latest Clinton emails released by the State Department is a 2010 memo from her longtime confidante, Sidney Blumenthal, in which Blumenthal offered an armchair psychiatric analysis of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies. According to Blumenthal, Netanyahu is haunted by the fear that he “can never equal his dead brother,” Entebbe rescue hero Yoni Netanyahu. The prime minister supposedly is obsessed with a feeling that he “has never measured up” to his brother in their father’s eyes.
That, according to Blumenthal, is why Netanyahu ordered the interception of
the Mavi Marmara in 2010. That was the ship manned by pro-Hamas zealots who beat and stabbed the Israeli soldiers who stopped them from bringing prohibited items into Gaza. In Netanyahu’s eyes, it was an opportunity to carry out his own version of “the raid on Entebbe,” Blumenthal claimed.
Netanyahu’s decision to stop the ship was rooted in the fact that “Bibi desperately seeks his father’s approbation,” Blumenthal asserted. “[Prof. Netanyahu] has constantly criticized [his son] in public for his deviations from the doctrine of Greater Israel.”
An interesting theory. But where’s the evidence?
Between 1996 and 2010, I interviewed Benzion Netanyahu on numerous occasions, in connection with several books I was writing and a film documentary about his life and work. (He passed away in 2012.) We spoke primarily about the 1940s, when he was a Zionist lobbyist in the United States. But on occasion, I would ask him a question that had some connection to the policies of the governing coalition that his son led. If the question was explicit, he would firmly decline to answer. If it was implicit, he would politely dodge it. In every instance, he made it clear he was not going to comment on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies.
One has to search far and wide across the internet to find any interviews with Prof. Netanyahu; he generally avoided the news media. In the few interviews that can be found, he was very careful not to criticize his son. Here, for example, is what he said about the prime minister to the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv in 2009:
“Benjamin, or Bibi, is, in several aspects, a great man. He can influence and motivate people to do what’s necessary….He is loyal to his people, and has a sense of responsibility….He is not one who prefers the comfort of compromise just to rid himself of pressure….Sometimes I feel Bibi is influenced by them from a very early age, and sometimes I don’t. We don’t always have the same opinions….Bibi might aim for the same goals as mine, but he keeps to himselfthe ways to achieve them, because if he gave expression to them, he would expose his goals….Because he is smart. Because he is very careful. Because he has his ways of handling himself.”
With regard to his son’s 2009 speech accepting a Palestinian state under certain conditions, Prof. Netanyahu told Israel’s Channel 2, “He supports the kind of conditions they would never in the world accept. That’s what I heard from him. Not from me. He put forth the conditions. These conditions, they will never accept them—not even one of them.” Surely if Prof. Netanyahu was worried about his son’s “deviations,” as Sidney Blumenthal now claims, that would have been the time to say something. But he didn’t.
Is it conceivable that at some point, Prof. Netanyahu made a comment to someone that was genuinely critical of his son’s policies? Perhaps. But Blumenthal’s assertion that the elder Netanyahu engaged in “constant criticism” of the prime minister for “deviating from the doctrine of Greater Israel”—and that this supposed criticism has shaped his son’s policies—flies in the face of the available evidence, including my own many conversations with him.
If Blumenthal is genuinely interested in exploring the influence on political policy of father-son dynamics, he should look in the mirror. The newly released Clinton emails show that Blumenthal repeatedly sent the secretary of state wild-eyed articles authored by his son, Max. His rambling conspiracy theories, often revolving around sinister Israelis and wily Republicans, read like the side of a Dr. Bronner’s bottle.
Max Blumenthal’s hostility toward the Jewish state is so extreme that even outspoken left-wing critics of the Israeli government have denounced him. Eric Alterman, in The Nation, called Max’s 2013 book, “Goliath,” a “hate-Israel handbook”; J.J. Goldberg, in the Forward, described it as “the anti-Israel book that makes even anti-Zionists blush.”
One of the articles by Max that his father sent to Hillary Clinton in 2010—according to the latest batch of emails—argued that Israel’s interception of the Mavi Marmara was part of an Israeli plot “to intimidate Iran and the Arab world.” Max’s theory: “It appears that Netanyahu and his cohorts had envisioned Entebbe Part Deux…”
Could it be, then, that Sidney Blumenthal’s amateur psychoanalysis concerning the prime minister and Entebbe was conceived by his own son?
In and of themselves, Max Blumenthal’s anti-Israel scribblings are of no consequence. But the possibility that they have played a role in shaping advice that his father has given Hillary Clinton is troubling. An earlier batch of declassified Clinton emails revealed that she called his 2009 book—“Republican Gomorrah”—“great.” In another email several days later, she asked Sidney Blumenthal, “Is Max still rising up the best seller list?” Perhaps the next batch of emails will reveal what the secretary of state thought of “Goliath”—and whether the Blumenthals, father or son, have had a hand in shaping her opinions of Israel’s prime minister.
Dr. Rafael Medoff is the author of 15 books on Jewish history, Zionism, and the Holocaust.