07/19/2011 12:05 pm ET Updated Sep 18, 2011

The Chutzpah of Netanyahu Trumps the Audacity of Hope

Netanyahu's has again trumped Obama. Chutzpah has triumphed over the "Audacity of Hope."

Life continues to be good for Bibi. Media frenzy over the Murdoch scandal, the battle over the U.S. deficit and the fallout from the Arab Spring have totally eclipsed Bibi Netanyahu's assault on Israel's democracy and international law and any hope (he never had any intention, anyway) for a resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict.

The Obama administration has not received enough credit for removing bin Laden and its recent official recognition of Libya's rebels and strong denunciation of Bashar al-Assad (though muted criticism of Bahrain's royal family). However, it has given a free pass to Netanyahu's arrogant obstructionism and flouting of democracy and human rights for Israelis and Palestinians. The administration has given the impression of complicity, of ignoring and even working in tandem with Netanyahu in pressuring the Greek government to block the latest flotilla, which includes America's "Audacity of Hope." It has aligned itself with Netanyahu and pressed the EU and other members of the international community to vote against September's U.N. General Assembly resolution recognizing Palestine as a state. Any wonder, then, that as the U.S. struggles to play catchup and regain its respect and leadership during this major transition period in Arab politics, as the recent Zogby International poll for the Arab American Institute Foundation reported, it continues to spiral downward:

President Obama and the U.S. are seen overwhelmingly as failing to meet the expectations set during his Cairo speech, and majorities surveyed disagree with U.S policies. Far from seeing the U.S. as a leader, the countries surveyed viewed U.S. "interference in the Arab world" as the greatest obstacle to Middle East peace and security (61 percent), all but tied with the continued occupation of Palestinian lands (60 percent).

Israel's new anti-boycott law, which has drawn criticism from the American Jewish right as well as the left, underscores the current Israeli government's hubris and the extent to which Netanyahu has pushed Israeli democracy down a slippery slope: ignore international law when it doesn't suit him and now also pass a new law at home that impinges on freedom of speech to silence its critics. As a recent editorial in the American Jewish publication, Forward, observed:

And now, with a new anti-boycott law approved by the Knesset and due to take effect in less than 90 days, the boundaries of free speech and legitimate expression have grown unpredictably and suffocatingly tight.


[The Israeli government] may think putting limits on free speech and outlawing calls for boycott are the best way to counter its growing diplomatic isolation.


The threat of "delegitimization" -- real in some instances, overblown in many others -- should be countered with forceful, positive action to solve real problems, not silence them. No attempt to threaten or censor can hide the fact that, for 44 years, Israel has ruled another people with its own legitimate, national aspirations, and it is in everyone's interests, including those of the United States, to negotiate an end to this impasse.

What can the U.S. be expected to do? Congress is a major obstacle to effective political leadership. Its historic track record of uncritical support for Israel has been raised to new heights (or more correctly fallen to a new low) as witnessed in May by its overwhelming and unconditional support, reflected by the astonishing number of its standing ovations lauding Netanyahu's extremism. The best that President Obama can do, and what he must do, is to provide the strong moral leadership that presidential candidate Barack Obama promised and that he is fully capable of delivering.