by Syarif Hidayat
The US-Israeli relations have sunk to new lows after Obama administration officials were cited calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “chickenshit” and “coward” engaging in political posturing, instead of efforts at Middle-Eastern de-escalation.
The comments were delivered in a conversation with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg on condition of anonymity. To many they symbolize the next step in a “full-blown crisis” of relations between the two, primarily over Netanyahu’s relentless settlement-building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and the Iranian nuclear issue.
“The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” said one official, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname. “The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars. 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,” he continued.
Goldberg keeps a running list of all the things US officials have ever called Netanyahu in interviews, and it’s not small. “Aspergery” popped up, among other things. But it is the first time high-ranking officials have expressed their views of the Israeli leader in such a “gloves-off manner.”
A senior Obama administration official has described Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “chickenshit” (coward, afraid), expressing the US president’s frustration with the Israeli leader. “The thing about Bibi [Netanyahu] is, he’s a chickenshit,” the unnamed official told the Atlantic when asked about the foreign leader who seems to frustrate the White House the most.
The official added that the good thing about Netanyahu is that “he’s scared to launch wars,” and the bad thing about him is that “he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians.” “The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat… He’s got no guts,” the official said.
According to the Atlantic, the statement by the top Obama official indicates that relations between Washington and Tel Aviv have moved toward a “full-blown crisis.” The United States recently criticized Israel’s plan to build more than 1,000 settler units in the occupied Palestinian lands.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that, “if Israel wants to live in a peaceful society, they need to take steps that will reduce tensions. Moving forward with this sort of action would be incompatible with the pursuit of peace.” However, Netanyahu attacked the State Department for condemning Israeli expansion plans, saying US officials are “disconnected from reality.”
Last week, top American officials rejected requests by Israeli Military Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon for meetings with them during his visit to the United States. The White House and State Department refused proposals for meetings with Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and Secretary of State John Kerry.
The refusal was an angry response by Washington after Ya’alon mocked Kerry’s efforts to forge a peace deal between Tel Aviv and the Palestinians.
The Israeli minister had called Kerry’s efforts for Israeli-Palestinian peace “messianic and obsessive.” The State Department had called Ya’alon’s remarks “offensive and inappropriate.”
Netanyahu angry at being called a coward
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has given an angry response to being called a coward by an unidentified US official. “Our supreme interests, chiefly the security and unity of Jerusalem, are not the main concern of those anonymous officials who attack us and me personally,” said Netanyahu who was addressing the Israeli parliament on Wednesday, October 29, 2014.
I come under attack because I defend the interests of the Israeli regime and its people, he added. Netanyahu’s angry response came in reaction to the recent remarks of a senior US official who described the Israeli premier as a “chickenshit,” expressing US President Barack Obama’s frustration with the Israeli premier. “The thing about Bibi is he’s a chickenshit,” the unnamed official told the Atlantic magazine.
“The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat… He’s got no guts,” the official said, adding that Netanyahu “won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians.” US State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said on Wednesday that Washington will not apologize to Tel Aviv over the controversy since the US statesman’s remark “isn’t the position of the administration.”
Washington and Tel Aviv have recently exchanged heated arguments over the Israeli regime’s plan to build more than 1,000 settler units in the occupied Palestinian lands. Netanyahu had earlier lashed out at Washington for condemning Israeli expansionist plans, saying US officials are “disconnected from reality.”
The faithful servant mad over ‘chickenshit’
Seems to be afraid of the Zionist lobbyists (masters) wrath, US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner has slammed President Barack Obama over a statement by his administration’s top official which described the Israeli prime minister as “chickenshit”.
An unnamed Obama administration official called Benjamin Netanyahu a “chickenshit” in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrery Goldberg on Tuesday, October 28, 2014. “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” the unnamed official told Goldberg, expressing the Obama administration’s frustration with the Israeli premier.
On Wednesday, the White House tried to do some damage control by calling the remark “inappropriate and counterproductive”. However, it did not satisfy Boehner, the Republican leader of the House, who said, “I am tired of the administration’s apology tour.”
“The president sets the tone for his administration. He either condones the profanity and disrespect used by the most senior members of his administration, or he does not,” Boehner said in a statement on Wednesday. “It is time for him to get his house in order and tell the people that can’t muster professionalism that it is time to move on.”
In response, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Boehner himself has made “salty” remarks in the past. “It’s an interesting observation by the speaker of the House who, you all know, has a penchant for using some pretty salty language himself. So, it’s a little rich to have a lecture about profanity from the speaker of the House,” Earnest said.
According to The Atlantic, the statement by the top Obama official indicates that relations between Washington and Tel Aviv have moved toward a “full-blown crisis”. The United States recently criticized Israel’s plan to build more than 1,000 settler units in the occupied Palestinian lands.
US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that, “if Israel wants to live in a peaceful society, they need to take steps that will reduce tensions. Moving forward with this sort of action would be incompatible with the pursuit of peace.” However, Netanyahu attacked the State Department for condemning Israeli expansion plans, saying US officials are “detached from reality”.
Last week, top administration officials rejected requests by the Israeli military affairs minister, Moshe Ya’alon, for meetings with them during his visit to the United States. The White House and State Department refused proposals for meetings with Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and Secretary of State John Kerry.
The refusal was an angry response by Washington after Ya’alon mocked Kerry’s efforts to forge a peace deal between Tel Aviv and the Palestinians.
The Israeli minister had called Kerry’s efforts for Israeli-Palestinian peace “messianic and obsessive”. The State Department had called Ya’alon’s remarks “offensive and inappropriate”.
US beginning to ‘disengage’ from Israel
A combination of factors is pushing the United States to “disengage” from Israel, a regime that will not last a month without US support, says an analyst. Mike Harris, an editor of Veterans Today, argues that the American people — particularly the young and college-educated — have an “implicit sense of fairness” which is driving them away from Israel.
Americans are “fed up” with the significant sway that Israel holds on corridors of power in their country, Harris told Press TV on Wednesday. “Israel has been interfering in the US political process for a very, very, very long time.” They are also outraged by “Israel’s unjustified war and slaughter of the Palestinian people in Gaza,” he added. “The unmitigated slaughter that Israel has done to the Palestinians, it creates a sense of outrage.”
The analyst continued that the American people are beginning to see through the “lies” that are being fed to them by the “Zionist-controlled” mainstream media. “Times are changing for Israel, they spend a lot of money to manipulate public opinion, all of Hollywood and mass media is Jewish-controlled (and) Zionist-controlled, and people realize the lies that are being told to them on their Nightly News on a daily basis,” he said.
“But the American people can see through this. The American people, particularly at university level, are smart (and) well-educated and they have this implicit sense of fairness,” he added. “All of this combined” Harris said, “is adding up to what is going to be a perfect storm for Israel where the people of the US are going to reject Israel, and that is the process that we are beginning to see the early stages of.”
Anti-Israeli events on university campuses across the United States have more than doubled in the fall compared to the same period last year, according to new report. The New York-based Anti-Defamation League said in a report Friday that anti-Israeli activism has risen significantly on US campuses following the recent 50-day Israeli onslaught on the besieged Gaza Strip.
“This is going to continue for some time, and everyone knows, without the support of the US, Israel will be gone in 30 days,” Harris said. “There is a groundswell that is developing for the US to disengage from Israel.”
Netanyahu’s settlement remark angers White House
White House press secretary Josh Earnest has criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for questioning Washington’s condemnation of Israeli settlements. The United States recently denounced Israel for planning to build a new housing project on the Palestinian territories, warning that the project could distance Israel from “even its closest allies.”
Netanyahu called the condemnation baffling, and said, “It’s against the American values. And it doesn’t bode well for peace.” “The idea that we’d have this ethnic purification as a condition for peace, I think it’s anti-peace,” the Israeli prime minister said. In response, Earnest said on Monday that it seemed “odd for him [Netanyahu] to try to defend the actions of his government by saying that our response did not reflect American values.”
“The fact is American policy has been clear and unchanged under several administrations, both Democrat and Republican,” Earnest said. The White House spokesman also noted that Netanyahu had ignored questions about plans for the project and reiterated that moving forward is contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.
Relations between the US and Israel have been strained increasingly following President Obama’s inauguration in 2009. During a bilateral meeting with Netanyahu last week, Obama called for a change in the status quo between Israel and the Palestinians in order to prevent another war in the Gaza Strip.
“We realize we have to find ways to change the status quo, so that both Israelis feel safe in their homes and also you do not have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well,” Obama told visiting Netanyahu on Wednesday. Before his meeting, Obama said they would discuss ways to find a more sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Obama administration’s anger is “red-hot”
Jeffrey Goldberg in his article titled: “The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here” published in The Atlantic, writes The Obama administration’s anger is “red-hot” over Israel’s settlement policies, and the Netanyahu government openly expresses contempt for Obama’s understanding of the Middle East. Profound changes in the relationship may be coming.
Goldberg says, The other day I was talking to a senior Obama administration official about the foreign leader who seems to frustrate the White House and the State Department the most. “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” this official said, referring to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, by his nickname.
This comment is representative of the gloves-off manner in which American and Israeli officials now talk about each other behind closed doors, and is yet another sign that relations between the Obama and Netanyahu governments have moved toward a full-blown crisis. The relationship between these two administrations— dual guarantors of the putatively “unbreakable” bond between the U.S. and Israel—is now the worst it’s ever been, and it stands to get significantly worse after the November midterm elections. By next year, the Obama administration may actually withdraw diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations, but even before that, both sides are expecting a showdown over Iran, should an agreement be reached about the future of its nuclear program.
The fault for this breakdown in relations can be assigned in good part to the junior partner in the relationship, Netanyahu, and in particular, to the behavior of his cabinet. Netanyahu has told several people I’ve spoken to in recent days that he has “written off” the Obama administration, and plans to speak directly to Congress and to the American people should an Iran nuclear deal be reached. For their part, Obama administration officials express, in the words of one official, a “red-hot anger” at Netanyahu for pursuing settlement policies on the West Bank, and building policies in Jerusalem, that they believe have fatally undermined Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace process.
Over the years, Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and “Aspergery.” (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list.) But I had not previously heard Netanyahu described as a “chickenshit.” I thought I appreciated the implication of this description, but it turns out I didn’t have a full understanding. From time to time, current and former administration officials have described Netanyahu as a national leader who acts as though he is mayor of Jerusalem, which is to say, a no-vision small-timer who worries mainly about pleasing the hardest core of his political constituency. (President Obama, in interviews with me, has alluded to Netanyahu’s lack of political courage.)
“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.”
I ran this notion by another senior official who deals with the Israel file regularly. This official agreed that Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. The official said the Obama administration no longer believes that Netanyahu would launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to keep the regime in Tehran from building an atomic arsenal. “It’s too late for him to do anything. Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”
This assessment represents a momentous shift in the way the Obama administration sees Netanyahu. In 2010, and again in 2012, administration officials were convinced that Netanyahu and his then-defense minister, the cowboyish ex-commando Ehud Barak, were readying a strike on Iran. To be sure, the Obama administration used the threat of an Israeli strike in a calculated way to convince its allies (and some of its adversaries) to line up behind what turned out to be an effective sanctions regime. But the fear inside the White House of a preemptive attack (or preventative attack, to put it more accurately) was real and palpable—as was the fear of dissenters inside Netanyahu’s Cabinet, and at Israel Defense Forces headquarters. At U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, analysts kept careful track of weather patterns and of the waxing and waning moon over Iran, trying to predict the exact night of the coming Israeli attack.
Today, there are few such fears. “The feeling now is that Bibi’s bluffing,” this second official said. “He’s not Begin at Osirak,” the official added, referring to the successful 1981 Israeli Air Force raid ordered by the ex-prime minister on Iraq’s nuclear reactor.
The belief that Netanyahu’s threat to strike is now an empty one has given U.S. officials room to breathe in their ongoing negotiations with Iran. You might think that this new understanding of Netanyahu as a hyper-cautious leader would make the administration somewhat grateful. Sober-minded Middle East leaders are not so easy to come by these days, after all. But on a number of other issues, Netanyahu does not seem sufficiently sober-minded.
Another manifestation of his chicken-shittedness, in the view of Obama administration officials, is his near-pathological desire for career-preservation. Netanyahu’s government has in recent days gone out of its way to a) let the world know that it will quicken the pace of apartment-building in disputed areas of East Jerusalem; and b) let everyone know of its contempt for the Obama administration and its understanding of the Middle East. Settlement expansion, and the insertion of right-wing Jewish settlers into Arab areas of East Jerusalem, are clear signals by Netanyahu to his political base, in advance of possible elections next year, that he is still with them, despite his rhetorical commitment to a two-state solution. The public criticism of Obama policies is simultaneously heartfelt, and also designed to mobilize the base.
Just yesterday, Netanyahu criticized those who condemn Israeli expansion plans in East Jerusalem as “disconnected from reality.” This statement was clearly directed at the State Department, whose spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, had earlier said that, “if Israel wants to live in a peaceful society, they need to take steps that will reduce tensions. Moving forward with this sort of action would be incompatible with the pursuit of peace.”
It is the Netanyahu government that appears to be disconnected from reality. Jerusalem is on the verge of exploding into a third Palestinian uprising. It is true that Jews have a moral right to live anywhere they want in Jerusalem, their holiest city. It is also true that a mature government understands that not all rights have to be exercised simultaneously. Palestinians believe, not without reason, that the goal of planting Jewish residents in all-Arab neighborhoods is not integration, but domination—to make it as difficult as possible for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem to ever emerge.
Unlike the U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, I don’t have any hope for the immediate creation of a Palestinian state (it could be dangerous, at this chaotic moment in Middle East history, when the Arab-state system is in partial collapse, to create an Arab state on the West Bank that could easily succumb to extremism), but I would also like to see Israel foster conditions on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem that would allow for the eventual birth of such a state. This is what the Obama administration wants (and also what Europe wants, and also, by the way, what many Israelis and American Jews want), and this issue sits at the core of the disagreement between Washington and Jerusalem.
Israel and the U.S., like all close allies, have disagreed from time to time on important issues. But I don’t remember such a period of sustained and mutual contempt. Much of the anger felt by Obama administration officials is rooted in the Netanyahu government’s periodic explosions of anti-American condescension. The Israeli defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, in particular, has publicly castigated the Obama administration as naive, or worse, on matters related to U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Last week, senior officials including Kerry (who was labeled as “obsessive” and “messianic” by Ya’alon) and Susan Rice, the national security advisor, refused to meet with Ya’alon on his trip to Washington, and it’s hard to blame them. (Kerry, the U.S. official most often targeted for criticism by right-wing Israeli politicians, is the only remaining figure of importance in the Obama administration who still believes that Netanyahu is capable of making bold compromises, which might explain why he’s been targeted.)
One of the more notable aspects of the current tension between Israel and the U.S. is the unease felt by mainstream American Jewish leaders about recent Israeli government behavior. “The Israelis do not show sufficient appreciation for America’s role in backing Israel, economically, militarily and politically,” Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, told me. (UPDATE: Foxman just e-mailed me this statement: “The quote is accurate, but the context is wrong. I was referring to what troubles this administration about Israel, not what troubles leaders in the American Jewish community.”)
What does all this unhappiness mean for the near future? For one thing, it means that Netanyahu—who has preemptively “written off” the Obama administration—will almost certainly have a harder time than usual making his case against a potentially weak Iran nuclear deal, once he realizes that writing off the administration was an unwise thing to do.
This also means that the post-November White House will be much less interested in defending Israel from hostile resolutions at the United Nations, where Israel is regularly scapegoated. The Obama administration may be looking to make Israel pay direct costs for its settlement policies.
Next year, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, will quite possibly seek full UN recognition for Palestine. I imagine that the U.S. will still try to block such a move in the Security Council, but it might do so by helping to craft a stridently anti-settlement resolution in its place. Such a resolution would isolate Israel from the international community.
It would also be unsurprising, post-November, to see the Obama administration take a step Netanyahu is loath to see it take: a public, full lay-down of the administration’s vision for a two-state solution, including maps delineating Israel’s borders. These borders, to Netanyahu’s horror, would be based on 1967 lines, with significant West Bank settlement blocs attached to Israel in exchange for swapped land elsewhere. Such a lay-down would make explicit to Israel what the U.S. expects of it.
Netanyahu, and the even more hawkish ministers around him, seem to have decided that their short-term political futures rest on a platform that can be boiled down to this formula: “The whole world is against us. Only we can protect Israel from what’s coming.” For an Israeli public traumatized by Hamas violence and anti-Semitism, and by fear that the chaos and brutality of the Arab world will one day sweep over them, this formula has its charms.
But for Israel’s future as an ally of the United States, this formula is a disaster, Goldberg concludes his article.(Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror).
Washington washes hands about one of its official’s statement
Meanwhile The Jerusalem Post reported The Obama administration rejects the characterization of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu as “chickenshit,” an insult to the premier’s leadership and character leveled anonymously by a senior administration official on Tuesday, as reported by the Atlantic.
“Certainly that’s not the administration’s view, and we think such comments are inappropriate and counter-productive,” National Security Council spokesperson Alistair Baskey said in an e-mail. “Prime Minister Netanyahu and the president have forged an effective partnership, and consult closely and frequently, including earlier this month when the president hosted the prime minister in the Oval Office.”
The quote in the piece published by Jeffrey Goldberg, a prominent columnist on matters of interest to the Israeli and American Jewish communities, led coverage of most Israeli news outlets on Wednesday morning.
Other insults were leveled against Netanyahu, including that he is “Asbergery” and generally a “coward” for avoiding open war with Iran over its nuclear program. “Obviously, despite the extremely close relationship between the US and Israel, we do not agree on every issue,” Baskey added. “For instance, we have repeatedly made clear the United States’ longstanding view that settlement activity is illegitimate and complicates efforts to achieve a two-state solution.
Netanyahu responded on Wednesday morning saying that he was under “attack” for his broad defense of Israel. The US-Israel relationship remains “as strong as ever,” Baskey continued. But last night Baskey also noted: “We raise these concerns as a partner who is deeply concerned about Israel’s future and wants to see Israel living side by side in peace and security with its neighbors.” (HSH)