September 27, 2012

I don't hate Netanyahu, but I'll speak my mind.

One of my friends has expressed his sincere perception that I "really don't like" Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Here was my response:

"I like leaders who actually lead rather than play parlor games and keep giving essentially the same UN speech year after year. You've read my blog posts, where I try to explain the reasons for my disappointment. Unlike in U.S. politics, I have no dog in the fights between Likud and its flailing competition -- it hurts me to see Israel missing the boat and focusing on form over substance, especially when the stakes are so high."

Here is my more general explanation of why I criticize the elected leader of Israel and his actions:

I do want Prime Minister Netanyahu to succeed. But success for him seems to be muddling through just enough to shore up his domestic base and core of support in the United States, while kicking the can down the road -- to paraphrase Mitt Romney. For me, that's a recipe for long-term disaster. When the opportunity has presented itself once or twice over the past few years, with the certainty that my comments would be conveyed directly to the PM, I eagerly provided suggestions that I thought would advance Israel's standing with the White House and the international community. Earlier this month, I blogged against his plan to admonish the United Nations General Assembly TODAY regarding Iran -- if you're curious, please read my reasons here.

In 1988 with PM Shamir -- still keeping my thoughts to myself.
Ten years ago, I felt constrained by my professional obligations from publicizing my concerns about invading Iraq (we were busy lobbying the Bush White House at the time). I shared with a small circle of friends and colleagues my certainty that (1) invading Iraq would embolden and strengthen Iran, thereby making Israel less secure; (2) it was highly unlikely Iraq could have MORE weapons of mass destruction than it did BEFORE the decade of sustained embargoes and sanctions; and (3) even if Iraq really were building weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration was lying that it had credible evidence.

So I kept quiet back in 2002 and 2003, and just months later, publications like The New Republic were wondering how everyone could have been so wrong. I decided that -- if I could -- going forward I would be on record about my analysis and warnings. Not that my views will ever make headlines, but for my own self-respect, to give my own circle an opportunity to include my opinions in their own calculations, and perhaps to impact the politics and policy process. At the very least, my silence will not serve to empower the personal and political agendas of those with whom I disagree.

For many years, I did my best to reiterate and promote the official policies of the Israeli Government, but then I realized that so many champions of Israel -- on the right and the left -- were using the Jewish State to advance their own ideological agenda in Israel and to score partisan points in U.S. politics. When I found myself free to speak my mind, thanks to politicized personnel decisions, I decided to seize the moment for as long as I could.

Back to the original question: I don't especially like or dislike Prime Minister Netanyahu, though I would always give him my best advice with the goal of helping him make the most of whatever situation he chooses to seek for himself and for Israel. In the meantime, I will continue to speak my mind and try to listen to other views along the way.

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