Netanyahu: the Comeback Kid

After his second-place finish in the 1992 New Hampshire primary, Bill Clinton, the man in line to become America’s first First Sir, became known as the “Comeback Kid.”

Benjamin Netanyahu will soon earn that nickname too. When Barack Obama, and the leaders of five other world powers, prevented him from thwarting efforts to reach an agreement with Iran over its (non-existent) nuclear program, Netanyahu was humiliated, made to look the fool, handed his comeuppance.

Now, he is about to stage a comeback.   For this, like the Comeback Kid of yesteryear, he has mainly Hillary Clinton to thank.


It was bound to happen sooner or later, but they could at least have had the decency to wait a while longer. Like rats deserting a sinking ship, though in reverse, “progressive” Democrats are jumping on board the Hillary bandwagon. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are among the latest.

No doubt, they think that a Hillary presidency is inevitable in any case, and that endorsing her sooner, rather than later, will increase their influence in the years ahead. Maybe they want jobs in the next Administration.

Whatever their reasons, their endorsements hasten the day when the shapers of conventional wisdom decide that Bernie Sanders is just a minor annoyance whose views can be ignored — no matter how large and enthusiastic the crowds he draws.

From that day on, expect Hillary to start peeling away the liberal veneer that she has lately been laying on thick.

If she and her handlers have any sense, they won’t make too much of a show of it, however. Because most voters are still basically rational, her Republican opponent will have no chance of defeating her. Still, it can’t hurt to keep as many Sanders’ supporters on board as she can.

Therefore, Hillary probably won’t be quite as dismissive of “progressives” as her husband or Barack Obama were when they were seeking the nomination.   She can get away with faking left better than they could because she doesn’t have to prove anything to the “donor class.” She has their confidence.

Even so, once the nomination is hers, the party’s rightward drift will resume. Why bother to placate opponents of inequality and war when victory in the general election is assured?

She can count on winning next November because the Republican establishment has lost control of their party’s base, and because, even if they hadn’t, they have no Mitt Romney character around whom they can use to keep independents and comparatively sane Republicans on board.

There is Jeb Bush, of course; but his campaign is hanging by a thread.   Ever since the Party’s moneymen saw Jeb’s clownish protégé, Marco Rubio, blow him away at the infamous CNBC debate, Jeb has been toast. Moneymen know not to throw good money after bad.

Hillary has always been their best bet anyway. This is so clear, by now, that even they can see it.


The Israelis see it too.   Their King Bibi is not a particularly bright or insightful man, but the thought is now dawning even on him.

Because he speaks English with an American accent, and because some exceptionally noxious Jewish plutocrats adore him, Netanyahu is thought to know a thing or two about American politics. He certainly thinks he does. The evidence, however, is equivocal.

On the plus side, it must be said that he was as quick as any bona fide Republican to realize, early on, that Obama would be easy prey.

It wasn’t just that he wouldn’t take his own side in an argument. Democrats are like that; Robert Frost once said that all liberals are. The more important reason was that Obama is black.

Netanyahu is as “undocumented” as can be, but, thanks to a suburban Philadelphia high school education and MIT, he can sound, to American ears, like he was born on the Fourth of July. That is good enough for right-wingers to make an honorary American bigot of him — and a Republican.

It is a natural fit. The skills he picked up leading the Likud, the core party of the Israeli Right, transfer easily. And, as Prime Minister of Israel, he is the de facto Pope of the neoconservative movement. Christian Zionists love him too, as well they should. If anyone can bring on the Apocalypse, Netanyahu can.

Netanyahu therefore appeals to broad swathes of the Republican base.

The Party’s grandees like him too.   They follow that money, and they see that the miscreants who bankroll him — Sheldon Adelson is the best known, but only one of many – are, for the most part, as generous to Republican bigwigs as to Netanyahu himself.

Ideological affinities run deep; financial ties run deeper.

How remarkable, even so, that they are all Zionists now! Love of Israel and its government – or of anything that smacks of Jewishness – used to be rare in (gentile) patrician circles. The riffraff they recruited into the GOP to vote for Republican candidates were no less hostile.

But that was long ago. Anti-Semitism has been in decline in the United States for more than half a century; and, even before 9/11, Islamophobia had largely taken its place. Jews now are white as snow.

The evidence is there for all to see. Thanks to the catalytic effects of Donald Trump’s run for the Republican nomination for President, the cultural contradictions at the heart of the modern Republican Party are just now reaching a tipping point. The riffraff are in open revolt, and the Party is cracking up. But on Netanyahu and Israel, all Republicans are of one mind.


However, for Netanyahu and his co-thinkers, this is not as good news as might appear – because, for what they care about, Republicans are becoming irrelevant. Netanyahu can hardly have failed to notice.

Even if his grasp of American politics is only half or a third as good as he thinks it is, he has to realize that the Clintons are on their way back to the White House, and that, with the GOP in ruins, Hillary will be carrying lots of Democrats along with her.

Because it is so thoroughly gerrymandered, the Democrats may not be able quite yet to take back the House of Representatives, but it is very likely that they will regain control of the Senate.

Netanyahu must therefore have realized that putting in with the GOP as whole-heartedly as he did was ultimately not such a bright idea. Even in America’s most benighted regions, after Obama-phobia fades away, along with Obama himself, the GOP will have hardly anything going for it at all.

It will not even have a credible Presidential candidate.   The three characters who are said to have “won” the last debate by attacking the moderators and each other — Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Chris Christie – cannot begin to withstand the force of nature that Donald Trump has become.

Whether he knows it or not, Trump is on a mission to do the GOP in, and it is far from clear what, if anything, can stop him.

A Democratic victory – indeed, a Clinton victory — therefore seems certain.

This is why Netanyahu and his (unregistered) agents in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other Israel lobby organizations have no choice but to focus, as they did years ago, on the Democratic Party.

American Jews have always voted overwhelmingly for Democrats, for reasons that have little, if anything, to do with Israel. Indeed, many, maybe most, American Jews, younger ones especially, know little and care less about the self-described “nation state of the Jewish people.”

Wealthy, mostly elderly, Jews who do care have poured prodigious sums of money into Jewish day schools and paid vacations to the Promised Land, but they have gotten poor returns on their investments; ethnocratic attitudes are still in decline.

They have gotten far better results with politicians, however; politicians are always the last to know.

Lately, Republicans have benefited most from their “largesse,” but, with the wind blowing Hillary’s way, this is likely soon to change. Even the most reactionary ideologues among them, and the most fervent chauvinists, will soon realize that, for Israel’s sake – or, rather, for the sake of their vision of Israel – the prudent thing to do is to hedge their bets.

To his everlasting credit, Obama stood up to AIPAC on Iran. It must be said, though, that this was a no-brainer: AIPAC and the others wanted to bring on a US-Iran war.

America’s military and intelligence communities were eager to keep that prospect at bay. They understood as well as anyone that a war with Iran would be a disaster for all involved, and for the United States above all. Obama hardly needed their advice, however; he was more than capable of figuring it out on his own.

And, even if only for psychological reasons, he must have been itching to hand Netanyahu and his lobby a stinging defeat. He has his dignity to look out for, after all; and the dignity of his office. There is a limit to how much vileness he could let pass.

America is Israel’s protector; militarily and diplomatically, it holds all the cards, while Israel holds none. And yet, Netanyahu tries to boss the American government around! The chutzpah is mind-boggling, of course; but the truth is that his efforts are not unreasonable; the tail has been wagging the dog seemingly forever.

Nevertheless, Obama stood his ground, on a matter of geopolitical importance to the United States, and therefore Israel, for once, did not get its way. The last time this happened, on anything like this scale, was when President Eisenhower called off the Suez War.

Unfortunately, though, there are limits to how bold Obama is willing to be, especially with an election looming, and with the Clintons demanding a return to the status quo ante.

Having beaten back the Israel lobby on the Iran deal, now would be an opportune moment for American diplomats to press on – towards establishing normal state-to-state relations with Iran.

It would also be a fine time for the United States to begin treating Israel not as if it were America’s fifty-first – and most pampered — state, but as a country among others. This is not going to happen. Except in cases where the stakes are as high as they were last summer with Iran, Obama will not put America’s national interests ahead of AIPAC’s demands.

Indeed, he is about to throw a sop Netanyahu’s way – the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, is about to receive a bonanza of new weaponry, paid for with Americans taxpayers’ dollars. The biggest machers in the Democratic Party want this to happen, the Clintons want it to happen, and so Obama will acquiesce.

The only question is how large the IDF’s windfall will be. For a spineless Democratic President, piling it on is the path of least resistance.

This is bad news, of course, for the Palestinians upon whom those weapons will be used. But, in the real world of American democracy, donor dollars are what matter; justice and morality hardly count at all.

Meanwhile, AIPAC, still reeling from its recent defeat, is itching to get its mojo back. With that goal in mind, it is pulling out all the stops.

They could hardly arrange for yet another Speech from the Throne to both houses of Congress when Netanyahu comes to Washington next week, but he will be welcomed at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where, among other things, he will receive a prize named for Irving Kristol, the godfather of the neoconservative movement.

No surprise there! The AEI is Washington’s largest and most influential rightwing think tank. It often welcomes villainous leaders of foreign, or not so foreign, countries.

What is more surprising is that Netanyahu will also be welcomed at the Center for American Progress (CAP), the Democratic Party think tank established to counter the influence of the Right.

The CAP is funded by centrist and left-leaning foundations and corporations, and by individual donors, including George Soros, the billionaire “investor” and currency manipulator, whom liberals think of as the Left’s answer to the Koch Brothers and others of their ilk.

Its “founder” is John Podesta, Chief of Staff and Counselor to the President when Bill Clinton ruled the roost. Podesta is now the chairman of Hillary’s Presidential campaign.

Because many CAP staffers hold progressive views, even on Israel-Palestine, there was, it seems, some uneasiness about the invitation to Netanyahu. But AIPAC worked hard for it; and Hillary did too.

The most reactionary Jewish donors – Adelson, Norman Braman and Marco Rubio’s new BFF, Paul Singer, among others – followed (or led) Netanyahu into the GOP. Less reactionary ethnocrats, like Haim Saban and quite a few other Hollywood types, fall within the Clinton’s ambit. AIPAC was once family for them; it likely soon will be again.

It must be said, though, that, for representing the interests of Israeli governments, Democrats need little encouragement.  Some of the most Israel-friendly among them are ensconced in the party’s highest echelons. Chuck Schumer, the presumptive Senate leader, and Ben Cardin, the leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, even opposed Obama on the Iran deal. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, didn’t go quite that far, but, in general, she is second to none when it comes to putting Israel first.

Therefore, when the Clintons move back into the White House, if not before, expect to hear a lot about the United States and Israel getting off to a fresh start.

What a nauseating spectacle it will be — like when Obama took over and vowed “to look forward, not back”; in other words, to shield Bush-Cheney era war criminals from prosecution.

Obama humiliated Netanyahu, but he will not finish the job or even advance it a step further. Too bad for him! By putting US-Israel relations on a more reasonable plane, he could actually provide himself with a legacy worth having.

His acquiescence and the Clintons’ efforts are high on the list of reasons why Netanyahu, a pitiable figure only a few weeks ago, will soon be the next Comeback Kid. He will remain one too, until collective action from below in behalf of justice in Israel-Palestine turns the situation around.

That day is coming – maybe sooner than anyone now dares to think.

Liberal media still laugh off or ignore the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. But the government of Israel and its lobbies around the world know better. They now call BDS an “existential threat” – perhaps even more dangerous than Iran.

It is a danger too: not to the people of Israel, Jewish and Palestinian, but to ethnocratic Jewish rule.

But even without a BDS movement, Israel “as we know it’ cannot go on in its present form forever. Insofar as they think otherwise, Netanyahu and those who think like him are living in a fantasy world.

At some level, though, even they see the writing on the wall. They see that the moral arc of the universe finally is bending towards justice, and this is making them more than a little bit crazy.

Hillary will not do anything to help the process along. She will instead to her best to fend justice off – not out of conviction, but because she thinks that is where their own best interests lie.

The Clintons have been on the wrong side of justice and morality many times throughout their far too many years in public life. They have done as much as anyone to engineer the neoliberal turn in American and world politics; and current versions of America’s devastating and self-destructive liberal internationalist (“humanitarian” interventionist) foreign and military policies took shape under their aegis.

Now add welcoming the Comeback Kid back into the fold to the list.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).