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Misconception 3:
Who Needs the United States and the West?

Netanyahu’s Governments have pursued a foreign policy based on contempt scorn for Israel’s allies in the West and rapprochement with leaders of the anti-liberal axis. But when the chips were down, it became clear who are Israel’s true friends and who are its enemies

March 2009

 Netanyahu returns to power and starts detaching away from its traditional allies, the US and Western Europe, while cozying up to the anti-liberal axis

2010

 Rightwing MKs breach the decades-old boycott and forge ties with far-right parties in Europe, many of which have antisemitic elements and fascist roots

March 2015

 Netanyahu opens an unprecedented breach with the Democratic Party when ignores President Obama’s objections and addresses both houses of Congress

July 2017

  In Budapest, Netanyahu meets with Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán, despite the latter’s antisemitic election campaign and attempt to blur Hungary’s complicity in the Holocaust

July 2017

 Netanyahu takes part in the conference of the anti-liberal Visegrád Group and attacks the EU: “It is undermining Israel”

January 2019

 Netanyahu attends the inauguration of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro alongside populist prime ministers from other countries. The leaders of liberal democracies are conspicuous by their absence

April 2019

  Election posters hung on Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv show Netanyahu alongside Putin and Trump with the caption: “Netanyahu – a Different League”

January 2020

 Netanyahu hosts Putin in Jerusalem: “I want to welcome our great friend, the president of Russia, and thank him for his strong support”. During the past decade Netanyahu has made no fewer than ten visits to Moscow

January 2023

 Minister of Justice Yariv Levin unveils the main points of the judicial overhaul. The presidents of the US and France, the chancellor of Germany, and the prime minister of Great Britain all expressed strong opposition to the proposed legislation 

January 2023

  The executive director of the Kohelet Policy Forum, Meir Rubin, suggests that Israel stop accepting defense assistance from the US and look for other allies

February 2023

 Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli scolds the American ambassador: “Stop interfering in Israel’s internal affairs”

March 2023

 Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir: “Israel isn’t another star in the American flag.” MK Nissim Vaturi of the Likud: “We can defend ourselves even without the United States”

July 2023

  Against the background of the tension with the White House, Netanyahu announces a planned trip to Beijing and is photographed with an autographed copy of the book by Chinese President Xi Jinping

September 2023

 Biden and Netanyahu meet during the UN General Assembly. Because of his insistence on the judicial overhaul, Netanyahu is not invited to the White House, unlike every previous Israeli prime minister

October 2023

 After the bloody attack on the Gaza periphery, the US and Western Europe stand unequivocally behind Israel. Netanyahu’s new friends in Russia and China back Hamas

During the 2019 election campaign, a picture of Netanyahu shaking hands with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin was hung on the outside of Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv. The caption: “Netanyahu—A Different League.” The message was clear, Netanyahu, with his fluent English and gimmicky speeches at the United Nations, is “Mr. Diplomacy” who will weave a new network of alliances with anti-liberal leaders across the world and propel Israel towards a new era on the international stage. Alas, the massacre in the south and the war that followed have uncovered a painful truth: the right-wing Governments’ diplomatic strategy has been a colossal failure. The new best buddies of the Israeli Right – figures like Trump, Orban, Modi and Putin – turned out to be a broken reed; some came out openly in support of Hamas, while others made do with mealy-mouthed condemnations. The stars of that Likud campaign went all out in their hostility towards Israel in its most difficult hour: In a speech to supporters a few days after the massacre in the Gaza periphery, Trump praised Hezbollah and derided the Israeli defense establishment; Putin has consistently refused to criticize the murderers and abductions, made sure Russia employed its Security Council veto to prevent a sharp condemnation of Hamas, and, three weeks after Black Saturday, welcomed a delegation from the terrorist organization to Moscow. Yes indeed, a different league.

The war has uncovered a painful truth: the right-wing Governments’ diplomatic strategy has been a colossal failure. Netanyahu’s new pals turned out to be a broken reed, with some openly supporting Hamas and others offering only weak condemnation.

By contrast, Israel’s traditional allies in the West—those whom Netanyahu and his allies have been deriding in recent years—were the first to align themselves with Israel, in words and deeds. While Russia has been protecting Hamas, the United States dispatched a large military force to the region, including two aircraft carriers, and began the airlift of advanced defensive systems and equipment in order to deter Hezbollah from attacking. While China refuses to condemn the massacre, the European Parliament expressed overwhelming support for Israel’s right to self-defense. The leaders of France, Italy, and Britain all paid urgent visits of support, despite the frequent rocket alerts; Biden stood beside Israel in a historic speech that will be remembered for generations, backed by military assistance on an unprecedented scale.

A matter of hours sufficed to demolish the diplomatic conception propagated by the right-wing governments over the last decade and a half, when they pulled Israel away from its traditional allies in the West, seen as too “liberal,” and replaced them with undemocratic countries who assist the terrorist organizations in the Middle East region (Russia and China) and countries headed by anti-liberal leaders (Hungary, India, and Brazil).

Over the last decade, Netanyahu has concluded alliances with ultranationalist politicians such as Victor Orbán of Hungary and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, while drawing back from liberal allies such as Germany and France. Hoping to endear himself to Putin (whom he called on more than one occasion “my dear friend”), Netanyahu never condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine or provided significant assistance to Kyiv. Netanyahu went so far as to hint to the American administration that Israel sees closer ties with China as a possible substitute for the strategic alliance with Washington—an alliance based on common values and the fact that Israel is a liberal democracy. There is an obvious motive behind this intended historical volte-face in Israeli foreign policy: not one of these new friends gives a hoot about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, criticizes the Government’s policies in the Palestinian territories, or stubbornly insists that Israel remain a liberal democracy. In other words, Netanyahu was on the prowl for comfortable political partners, even at the cost of damaging Israel’s national security.

But Netanyahu is not alone. For years right-wing organizations in Israel have been cultivating ties with far-right groups abroad, including political parties with a neo-Nazi past, messianic evangelical Christians, and politicians whose specialty is antisemitic propaganda. In 2017, when she was still a minister in the Netanyahu Government and worked closely with the Kohelet Policy Forum, Ayelet Shaked provided details of this strategy, which she called “The Program for National Steadfastness.” She argued that Israel should invest in a new international alliance with the anti-liberal forces in the world. “In these times we have the possibility of reaching new understandings with organizations and states that understand the new trend,” she preached. “We must promote closer ties with Russia, Africa, India, China, and the Gulf states.” Only a few months ago Meir Rubin, the executive director of Kohelet, an influential right-wing think tank, proposed that Israel move away from its long strategic alliance with the United States. Right-wing journalist Kalman Liebeskind has already told American Jews, in our name, that “if you decide to break off the connection or stop your contributions, dear brothers, we’ll manage without you.” One can only conjecture what Israel’s security situation would be today without American backing.

During the last 14 years, Netanyahu has brought Israel’s relations with the United States to an unprecedented low when he violated the convention to which all previous Prime Ministers, Left and Right, adhered and transformed support for Israel from an American political consensus into a partisan issue.

During the last 14 years, Netanyahu has pushed Israel’s relations with the United States to an unprecedented nadir. He violated the convention to which all previous prime ministers, left and right, adhered, and transformed support for Israel from an American political consensus into a partisan issue. Netanyahu turned his back on the Democratic Party and its leaders, including when he engaged in a frontal confrontation with the Obama administration and addressed Congress on the eve of the American elections. “I was near tears throughout the prime minister’s speech — saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States,” said the then-speaker of the House of Representatives and a great supporter of Israel, Nancy Pelosi. Netanyahu’s partners on the right have gleefully joined him in making the American administration their punching bag. Only a few months ago, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen attacked Vice President Kamala Harris when she pointed out the dangers inherent in the brutal advance of the judicial reform in Israel, saying she didn’t know what she was talking about. For many months Channel 14, Netanyahu’s mouthpiece, continued to tell its viewers the blatant lie that Biden had not really won the election.

The Netanyahu Governments’ irresponsible foreign policy has cost Israel a dramatic loss of support by the American public, especially among Jews and the younger generation—the leaders of the future.

This unprecedented recklessness has cost Israel a dramatic loss of support, both among Democratic politicians and American Jews, the vast majority of whom vote Democratic. Surveys have shown that the younger generation in the United States supports Israel much less than its elders, due to the policies of the right-wing governments.

The most extreme example of the right wing’s diplomatic blindness, of course, relates to American President Joe Biden. This man, who for years has been publicly insulted by Netanyahu and the object of condescension and scorn by Netanyahu’s loyalists in the media, has now proven himself the most pro-Israel president in the history of the United States. What insults did Netanyahu’s people not hurl at Biden? A senile old man, anti-Zionist, pro-Iranian. Gadi Taub proclaimed him “the most corrupt president in history.” Yinon Magal asserted that Biden is “a puppet … controlled by ultra-leftists.” And Evri Gilad, still part of the Netanyahu camp then, called him “a serial sexual harasser, including girls” (and was forced to apologize). And numerous politicians echoed these attacks by right-wing journalists against President Biden. The Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Amichai Chikli, called on the Biden administration “not to intervene in Israel’s internal affairs”; the deputy speaker of the Knesset, MK Nissim Vaturi, attacked Biden with the absurd charge that “Israeli soldiers were killed because of the weapons embargo imposed by former president Barack Obama.” Obama, we should recall, was the American president who provided the IDF with the largest quantity of military assistance in history.

The most extreme example of the right wing’s diplomatic blindness, of course, is American President Joe Biden. This man, who for years has been publicly insulted by Netanyahu and the object of condescension and scorn by Netanyahu’s cheerleaders in the media, has in recent weeks proven himself the most pro-Israel president in the history of the United States.

On October 7 it became clear that Netanyahu had totally misread the international diplomatic map. Not one of his new friends on the anti-liberal axis stood up for Israel. By contrast, the essential need for the Western liberal alliance—on which Israel has depended since its founding—again surfaced in full force. Had the events of that day been postponed until a few years from now, when the process of severing Israel from the West was complete, or with an American president whose sympathy for Israel had not been forged back in the 1970s, Israel would not be enjoying the unreserved support it is getting today. We must not endanger it again.

Third, the defense measures that Israel built have proven to be useful but have led to dangerous complacency. The barrier around Gaza, the Iron Dome system, and the reliance on technological superiority along the border created a false sense of control and security, which crumbled along with the entire IDF defense apparatus on October 7.