Shaul Mofaz, the chairman of the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee, wrote an op-ed essay on the Ynet Hebrew website on Wednesday May 25, savagely summing up Netanyahu’s American visit. Strangely, it doesn’t appear on the English site. In fact, it’s not so strange—the English site’s opinion section carries mostly right-wing material (Obama vs. the truth, Obama’s skewed worldview, Beware fake humanitarians, Say no to a Palestinian state etc. etc.) while the Hebrew opinion page is fairly balanced between left and right and varied in theme as well.
The failure to translate Mofaz is particularly telling — the Iranian-born ex-soldier has more credibility on defense matters than just about any other critic of Netanyahu right now, given his background as IDF chief of staff (appointed by Bibi), defense minister and ally of Ariel Sharon and reluctant convert to Kadima (he first mulled running for head of Likud after Sharon bolted). He’s someone the security minded would have to take seriously.
Here’s some of what Mofaz had to say:
Like many Israelis I believe the prime minister gave an excellent speech in Congress, but unlike the prime minister I am not a great believer in the power of speeches. I was raised to believe that actions are stronger than words. The prime minister of Israel is good at giving speeches. Very good. If I were looking for a salesman, he would be the man. But Netanyahu sold air yesterday—promises without political backing in front of the wrong audience… The state of Israel has come to the moment for action. Since the Six-Day War the state leadership has refused to take the necessary decisions. What began as a tactical consideration has become over the years a moral and existential decision that the jewish state can no longer escape. The quest for defensible borders is in opposition to the Zionist nightmare of a binational state. Electoral considerations, populism, seductive words and twisted language have become a replacement for national policy. The principles of Obama’s speech aren’t new. The American president erred when he chose not to state clearly that there will not be a right of return, there will not be a return to the 1967 lines and that President Bush’s commitment to recognizing the settlement blocs is still in effect. The prime minister erred when he wasted two precious years. He erred in forming a government of national refusal, in relying on war-mongering extremists, in his inability to make a reality of the statement that it would be good for our Jewish state to give up parts of the land of Israel. A leader is judged by his ability to lead. In the end, Netanyahu chooses to stand in place, to hand out promises that he can’t fulfill, to preserve the past, to muddy the present and to mortgage the future. This is a surrender to paralyzing fear and is the opposite of leadership. Today Netanyahu returns to Israel. From here Obama looks less threatening. The echoes of the stormy applause in Congress will fade within hours, but the problems, challenges and threats will remain. Fine words are no replacement for leadership. Punchy sentences aren’t a replacement for deeds. September is only four months away and the reality is not going to change—the threats will become reality, the seeming quiet will turn to violent, bloody confrontation.
(Before my fans to crazy, yes, are dovish pieces on the English opinion page as well. I count three right now, versus 12 right wing pieces. Of the three dovish pieces, two are by Yediot’s Washington correspondent Orly Azoulay and one is by Arab Knesset member Ahmed Tibi (who actually wrote a rather funny satirical piece, his version of the speech Bibi shoujld have given).
Here are some of Tibi’s best lines:
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished Congress members. Again we meet, while the world remains the same. Israel faces threats of extermination; we are being persecuted and are getting no rest. As your ally, I came here to draw encouragement for the “sit and do nothing” policy I’ve been leading with great skill. There is no doubt that “survival” is the key word in the Middle East, and therefore it’s important for my government to survive. Help me survive, Congress members… Congress members, I fail to understand why people are clinging to a word I uttered once or twice. So I spoke of a Palestinian state in Bar-Ilan. So what? It was in Bar-Ilan. Get the hint…. What, am I the first to ever say something and not deliver? … I almost forgot to mention the Iranian threat – not the Bushehr reactor, but rather, Shaul Mofaz. Suddenly he appears, presents diplomatic plans and dares to say that the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas is a golden opportunity. Didn’t I tell you, Mr. President, that the threat will come from Iran’s direction?
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).