Monday, March 23, 2015

America's Policies On Iran Helped Elect Netanyahu

The Iran File

The Israeli elections are over; and it appears that Benjamin Netanyahu will cobble together a
right-leaning religious coalition to once again lead Israel as its prime minister—his fourth term. It is all about security. The issue of security once again triumphed over the socio-economic issues of housing, employment and poverty (so-called kitchen table concerns).  Two nations, one close and one farther away, played a part in this election; one is an ally, and one is not. The people of Israel naturally want peace and security, and it might be that they view Netanyahu as its rightful and only protector. It also might be that America helped elect Netanyahu over the issue of Iran's nuclear ambitions, which is what Prof. George Jochnowitz puts forth as his argument: “Obama made some Israelis decide that a tough stand was required. The Israelis who decided at the last minute to vote for Netanyahu did so because of Obama’s lack of flexibility.”

by George Jochnowitz

In February, House Speaker John Boehner said he had invited Pope Francis to address a joint meeting of Congress. The Pope is scheduled to appear on September 24.

This invitation is a gross breach of protocol. Nevertheless, nobody much noticed. There have been no condemnations of this breach of etiquette. In all likelihood, President Obama will meet with the Pope when he is in the United States.

The contrast with the reaction to Boehner’s invitation to Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is striking. Vice President Joe Biden did not attend Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, even though the Vice President is also President of the Senate. Eight Senators and 50 House Representatives also did not attend.

All of them would have attended had President Obama agreed to meet, however briefly, with Netanyahu. It would have been the polite thing to do, even though the invitation itself was a breach of protocol. Netanyahu and Obama could have exchanged any new information they might have had about Iran’s nuclear plans, even though they probably couldn’t have changed any views.

Instead, the reaction everywhere was that the breach of protocol was an absolute outrage. One of the factors leading to this view was that Netanyahu was running for reelection, and that he was going to Congress to help get votes for his party. It is indeed possible that one of the reasons Netanyahu accepted the invitation was that he felt it might help him win. I can’t read his mind—or anyone else’s—but I believe that the big issue motivating him was his fear of Iran’s increasing nuclear capabilities.

Obama certainly must know that in 2001, Iran’s moderate President Rafsanjani said a nuclear attack against Israel “will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam.”

Israel has every reason to fear Iran’s nuclear ambitions. That is what Netanyahu spoke about in his address to Congress. President Obama should understand—and share—Netanyahu’s fear. In his speech, Netanyahu said, “We appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel.”

Nowhere did Netanyahu say anything that might have offended Obama. Obama, unfortunately, had already been offended, and Netanyahu’s words couldn’t change that. Obama did not offer any conciliatory gesture after the speech. Netanyahu went back to Israel knowing that the President of Israel’s chief ally in the world was rigidly opposed to both Netanyahu and to his desire to control Iran’s attempts at getting the bomb.

Iran is an oil-rich country. Does it make sense for Iran to have provoked many countries to impose sanctions against it? Canada, Australia, England, France and Japan have joined in imposing restrictions against trade with Iran.

Iran doesn’t care. Destroying Israel is a more important goal. President Obama shows no understanding of the problem. That freed Netanyahu to make a statement saying he was changing his openness to creating a Palestinian state.

Israeli politics is very complicated. It became simpler when President Obama’s rigidity convinced many Israelis that nothing could be gained by working with the United States to bring about a peaceful withdrawal from disputed territories. Obama made some Israelis decide that a tough stand was required. The Israelis who decided at the last minute to vote for Netanyahu did so because of Obama’s lack of flexibility.

George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937. He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects. As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at

Copyright ©2015. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. A version of this article originally appeared in the algemeiner (March 19, 2015). The article is republished here with the author’s permission.

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