Jewish Journal


May 15, 2012

Netanyahu’s excuses and the Financial Times’ leaps of logic



Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Reuters)

On the plane from Tel Aviv to Washington DC (where I’m going to be spending a ‎few days), I got a copy of the Financial Times, and one headline caught my ‎eye: “No more excuses for Netanyahu”. It was the lead editorial of a paper ‎known for being critical of the Israeli prime minister and his government. As I ‎read, I was unsure as to whether I should even bother to correct all the false ‎assumptions and overstatements and illogical conclusions it contained, but ‎having the temper that I do and a very long flight ahead of me, putting it aside ‎was difficult. So here we go, a line-by-line reading (not every line, but many).‎

Headline: “No more excuses for Netanyahu”‎

Really? Why not? True, he can no longer say his coalition is too small, but can ‎still offer other excuses. Besides, the headline doesn’t specify excuses for what. ‎As you will see later, it’s not easy to understand what the writers actually want ‎Netanyahu to do.‎

Sub-headline: “Bibi’s choice: peace with the Palestinians or war with Iran”‎

This is a false dichotomy. Suppose Netanyahu wants both peace with the ‎Palestinians and a war with Iran, or alternatively doesn’t want either. Could he?  ‎

First paragraph: “He [Netanyahu] is unquestionably a master tactician. Now, ‎Israel and the world need to know whether he is a statesman”‎

This sentence is problematic on two counts. First, it clearly assumes that being a ‎statesman means doing what the editorial board of the Financial Times ‎advocates. I’m not saying it isn’t, but I would need some more proof to be ‎convinced that it is. Second, it assumes that Israelis do not think Netanyahu is a ‎statesman – an assumption that contradicts almost every poll I’m aware of. ‎

Second paragraph: “…ultra-nationalist coalition…”‎

Why not “nationalist”, why not “right-tilting”, why not “right-of-center”? What is an ‎‎“ultra-nationalist” coalition, and who defines a coalition as such? And when ‎exactly does a coalition cross the line from merely “nationalist” to “ultra-‎nationalist”? ‎

Third paragraph: “the new alliance… reunifies the mainstream right”‎

The FT, yet again, has found a new way to define Israeli politics. Why is the ‎unification of Likud and Kadima an alliance of the “mainstream right”? Kadima, ‎if I remember correctly, was established as a centrist party, and in the last ‎election was clearly a left-of-center party. Not according to the FT – they’d ‎probably divide Israel into two equally important camps: the right (all parties ‎except for the left), and the left: Meretz and maybe the Arab parties. ‎

Fourth paragraph: “Mr. Mofaz’s primary service will be to provide Mr. ‎Netanyahu with a shield… against Barack Obama”‎

As far as I can tell (but this may change when I’m in Washington), Mr. Mofaz ‎actually provided the Obama administration with an opportunity to try to push ‎Netanyahu around (because, as the FT itself declared, Netanyahu has no more ‎excuses).‎

Fifth paragraph: No complaints.‎

Sixth: “to change Israel’s enfeebling system of proportional representation”‎

It is really “enfeebling”? Some say it is, some say it isn’t. I have no problem with ‎those claiming it is, as long as I’m convinced they did their homework and ‎understand what they are talking about. In this case I was not convinced.‎

Eighth (I know, I skipped one): “it is Israel’s regional and Palestinian policies ‎that will be watched most closely”‎

By whom? Israelis seem to have other priorities for this government. ‎

Ninth: “national unity governments have in the past been the preclude to ‎war”‎

With all due respect to FT’s mention of 1967 – it was a long time ago, the ‎government was formed for a war, and drawing any comparison to the present is ‎questionable. The 1984 unity government effectively started the withdrawal of ‎Israel from Lebanon following the first Lebanon War – and the withdrawal was ‎completed 15 years later. Why not use this as example of the things that Israeli ‎unity governments can do?‎

Tenth: “Mr. Mofaz has said he regards the Palestinian question as far more ‎important than Iran”‎

Mr. Mofaz says many things. He said that Netanyahu was a liar, and then joined ‎the coalition; he said he’d never leave the Likud Party, and then departed for Kadima. ‎The quote regarding Iran is taken from Mofaz’ opposition days, and I’m not sure ‎if it still holds. It surely holds from the FT perspective, and that’s the only reason ‎Mofaz is quoted in this fashion.‎

Eleventh: “committed to a greater Israel”‎

Are we talking about the same Netanyahu who publically supported the two-‎state solution?‎

Twelfth: “the contours of an agreement with the Palestinians will not change”‎

Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. I wish I had a dollar for every time I read or ‎heard this observation. And by the way, will not change from what? As far as I ‎can remember, the agreement specified by the FT has not yet been achieved. ‎So these are the contours of a non-agreement that will not change. But if they ‎will not change, it will remain a non-agreement – so maybe we ought to change ‎them (or, possibly, accept the FT view, something I can’t see either the Israelis ‎nor the Palestinians doing at present).  ‎

Thirteenth: “with its [Israel’s] legitimacy eroding abroad”‎

FT contribution guaranteed.‎

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