Few stories that start out as potential bombshells end up as utterly duddish (from “dud”) as the “hot mic” exchange between Presidents Sarkozy and Obama. Duddish, that is, here in Israel, where I am for a couple of weeks; not so back home, in the States, as we shall see.
If I were a rich man, I’d immediately do a survey of Israeli public opinion, a survey with just two questions: (1) Do you believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu is a liar? (2) Do you hope that Prime Minister Netanyahu will stay in power for another term after the next elections?
Here’s how I expect the answers would go: A very substantial majority of Israeli voters would acknowledge that their Prime Minister is, indeed, a liar. A majority, albeit somewhat smaller, would endorse his continuing in power.
How can that be so?
The pervasive belief in Israel — and, be it noted, not only in Israel — is that all politicians are liars. So there’s nothing new in President Sarkozy’s blunt assertion. Moreover, the specific assessment of Netanyahu here has long included the sense that he has an aversion to the truth.
If all politicians are liars, you have to go with the liar who delivers. And there’s a widespread perception here that Netanyahu delivers. Specifically, there is broad agreement with his policy of blaming the collapse of the peace process exclusively on the Palestinians. Nor does the current Netanyahu-led effort to criminalize and otherwise restrict dissent arouse widespread outrage.
The more curious question is why such an unsurprising story kicked up such a tempest in the American Jewish community. After all, Netanyahu has been declared a liar not only by Sarkozy but also, months earlier, by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the hot mic that caught Sarkozy saying, “I can’t deal with Netanyahu any more, he is a liar,” also recorded President Obama’s rejoinder: “What about me? I have to deal with him every day.” None of these assessments, shared quite widely among other leaders, should surprise. Yet the Zionist Organization of America (which opposes the two-state solution Netanyahu allegedly endorses), in a state of high dudgeon, demands apologies, and the Anti-Defamation League expresses its profound concern.
As the ZOA misleadingly puts it, the Sarkozy/Obama “personal attacks on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu…demonstrated their hostility towards Israel. Presidents Obama and Sarkozy owe Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli people and all supporters of Israel an apology.” One might have been entitled to suppose that even the ZOA was able to distinguish between personality and politics, perhaps even to remind people that the Obama expression of frustration took place during a conversation in which Obama was seeking French support to oppose Palestinian membership in UNESCO. To say nothing of the truly unprecedented military cooperation between Israel and the US. To say nothing of Obama’s UN speech, so fulsomely pro-Israel.