Saturday, November 1, 2014


Over at the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a piece about the frayed and rapidly unraveling diplomatic relations between the Netanyahu and Obama governments, and saw dire consequences. Many of us have seen the pompous, self-serving and brutal Netanyahu as the greatest threat to the well being of Israel for years, but the sudden frantic sounding of the alarms isn't the part of Goldberg's reporting that has gotten the lions share of attention. Instead, it's a quote from an unnamed but clearly high ranking Obama administration official, in which he used the term 'chickenshit' to describe PM Netanyahu, in such a way to indicate it was conventional wisdom in Washington.

The quotes used the term to describe Bibi in a number of contexts - one of which was the complete conviction that he will never accept the risks of starting a war with Iran, a conviction that gives Washington the freedom of movement to negotiate Iran's nuclear program over the spittle-flecked bluster of the Netanyahu administration - but the clear focus was within the wholly unsurprising context of Israeli domestic politics. As quoted in Goldberg's article:

“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said, expanding the definition of what a chickenshit Israeli prime minister looks like. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”

Now, to be fair this kind of risk-averse politics is not unusual in western democracies.  It's hard to think of a modern politician on the global stage who might NOT fairly be labeled a 'chickenshit'. It's just that in order to hold his political coalition together Netanyahu must implement a series of increasingly despicable and inhuman policies while repeatedly derailing a peace process, that while it could cement his place in history, would certainly cost him any future role in the Israeli political leadership.

But the deeper question is not about political leaders sacrificing statesmanship on the alter of craven politics, but what the practical manifestation of those craven politics might be. We could talk about the lies, the murders all over the globe, the lack of loyalty to his very best friends and supporters, the alliances of convenience with the worst despotic regimes, the war crimes and the ongoing brutal occupation. But for now, lets consider how having a leader who is such a grotesque chickenshit is affecting Israel herself. The Israeli political right continues to demand more and more. It was bad enough to appoint the noted genocidal racist Avigdor Lieberman to head the Foreign Ministry. Then it was worse to continue to authorize more and more settlements on the West Bank, in spite of the fact that they are an unquestionable violation of international law. The steaming pile of crimes got even deeper with each new episode of collective punishment, when entire neighborhoods of civilians were slaughtered in response to a few specific provocations.

So, flush with a decade of increased deference from the Netanyahu government, the political and religious right has now set their sights on East Jerusalem, and the Dome of the Rock. There would be no greater victory for them than to ethnically cleanse East Jerusalem of Arabs and Muslims and bring in the bulldozers to once and for all desecrate the Muslim Holy Sites. And while the West Bank smolders and teeters on the brink of a third intifada, something is different this time. This time the world has had enough. Enough of the murders, enough of the bigotry and random, mindless violence, enough of the stateless, helpless population living out hopeless lives under brutal occupation. It may just be that this time around, Chickenshit Bibi may find that he's damned if he does continue to kowtow to the demands of the racist right wing, and he's damned if he doesn't.

If it becomes clear that either course will cost him his job, which way will he turn? It's interesting to note that just yesterday the UN Security Council issued a statement condemning the latest West Bank settlements, which means the US delegation did not veto that statement. A few days before that, Sweden became the first major EU nation to recognize the State of Palestine. Relations with the Obama Administration are very tense. If the West Bank goes up in flames again this winter, the world's reaction will be much different than it has been in the past.

Israel is not at risk. They are the regional military and economic powerhouse. But that doesn't mean that international isolation will go un-noticed. The Israeli government is facing some very hard choices very soon, and it doesn't bode well for them that those choices will have to be made by a leader who has an international reputation for being a chickenshit.