The New York Times and the current US administration have questioned the Israeli elected government choice of ministers and speculated on its policies. While it’s true that friends and allies such as the US and Israel occasionally can question one’s policy, it is usually the US that does most of such questioning, and the US administrations have on occasion attempted to influence Israel’s election outcomes. This was the case when President Bill Clinton openly supported the election of Ehud Barak over Benjamin Netanyahu. President Joe Biden is more circumspect about taking sides in Israeli elections, but he too wished for a left-leaning and easily manipulated Israeli government that would make concessions to the Palestinians. This was the case of Yair Lapid’s short government. Israel is a mature democracy and the people of Israel, in an open and purely democratic election, have the right to elect their chosen leaders and parties. Labeling Netanyahu’s government as “extremist” before it has begun to govern is unfair and counterproductive.
The Biden administration does not like the new Israeli government, and top administration officials have expressed concerns about the posts in Netanyahu’s government of at least two right-wing politicians: Naftali Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir (the Biden administration did not qualify some parties in Lapid’s government as left-wing). Smotrich is slated to serve as Minister of Finance along with some sections of the Defense Ministry, and Ben-Gvir is to serve as Minister of Public Security. It has been said that President Biden declared that he would hold Netanyahu responsible for the policies of Israel’s government. It is interesting to note that no such concerns by the Biden administration or the New York Times were raised when Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid as Prime Ministers included an Arab Islamist party in their coalition government.
The New York Times (NYT), which tends to influence Democratic administrations and generally guide its policies, blasted the Netanyahu coalition. In an opinion piece on December 17, 2022, the NYT expressed fear that Netanyahu was catering to the demands of the most extreme elements of Israeli politics with a coalition of radical and far-right cabinet picks. The NYT opined that, “Mr. Netanyahu’s government, however, is a significant threat to the future of Israel — its direction, its security and even the idea of a Jewish homeland. For one, the government’s posture could make it militarily and politically impossible for a two-state solution to ever emerge. Rather than accept this outcome, the Biden administration should do everything it can to express its support for a society governed by equal rights and the rule of law in Israel, as it does in countries all over the world. That would be an act of friendship, consistent with the deep bond between the two nations.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu was quick to respond on his Twitter account. He blasted the NYT for its fraught history of covering Israel and the Holocaust. Netanyahu stated that “After burying the Holocaust for years on its back pages and demonizing Israel for decades on its front pages, the NYT now shamefully calls for undermining Israel’s elected incoming government.” Bibi, as he is fondly nicknamed by Israelis and by many world leaders added, “While the NYT continues to delegitimize the one true democracy in the Middle East and America’s best ally in the region, I will continue to ignore its ill-founded advice and instead focus on building a stronger and more prosperous country, strengthening ties with America, expanding peace with our neighbors, and securing the future of the one and only Jewish state.”
The double standard in the US-Israel relations was revealed in 2015, when PM Netanyahu addressed the joint session of the US Congress. He presented Israel’s security concerns over the impending Iran nuclear deal. There was nothing partisan about his speech and he sought to clarify to the Obama administration that the known parameters of the nuclear deal will not deter Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state. Netanyahu was condemned in the US media and by many Democrats in Congress as interfering in US affairs. Conversely, the Biden administration is warning Israel about Netanyahu’s coalition partners, which is indeed a direct interference in Israeli domestic affairs, and of a democratically elected government. While the nuclear deal with Iran directly and dangerously impacted on Israel, the US telling Israel’s PM that he should reconsider his coalition partners doesn’t have any bearing on US interests.
And this is not the first time a US administration laid a “heavy hand” on Israel, seeking to manipulate and exact concessions from the Jewish state, while treading gently with its Arab and Palestinian adversaries. President Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry called for “reassessment” of the US-Israeli relations following the breakdown of the negotiations he conducted in 2014. Similarly, President Bush Sr., held up loan guarantees to Israel and demanded that the Itzhak Shamir’s Likud government stop construction in Judea and Samaria, and join a peace conference with the Palestinians. Israel needed the loan guarantees to absorb over a million Jews from the former Soviet Union. During that spat with Israel, Bush Sr. declared “I heard today there was something like 1000 lobbyists on the Hill working on the other side of the question. We have got one lonely guy down here doing it.”
Judea and Samaria, also known at the West Bank, was the historical heart of biblical Israel. Following the Six Day War of 1967, the UN Security Council Resolution 242 never prohibited Jewish settlement there. It was confirmed by the late Professor Eugene Rostow who served as dean of the Yale University Law School, and as President Lyndon Johnson’s Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, and dealt with the drafting of UNSC Resolution 242, wrote in a NYT opinion piece in 1991, that “Israel has an unassailable legal right to establish settlements in the West Bank. The West Bank is part of the British Mandate in Palestine which included Israel, Jordan, as well as certain other territories not yet generally recognized as belonging to either country. While Jewish settlement east of the Jordan River was suspended in 1922, such settlement remains legal in the West Bank.”
Perhaps the most famous “reassessment,” was done by President Ford and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1975. Kissinger fell in love with Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat, and pressured Israel to make territorial concessions to Egypt, which at the time appeared detrimental to Israeli security. Kissinger ordered a halt to Israel’s request for arms until they complied with his plans. Israel had to make unilateral concessions to satisfy Kissinger.
Making premature judgement on Netanyahu’s coalition government before it has begun to function is patently unfair. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was right when he said that the “Biden administration will judge the next coalition based on its policies rather than the personalities of those who make up what is being described as the most right-wing cabinet in Israeli history.” Blinken is correct but his administration should respect the choice of the Israeli people without labels, and negative characterizations.