Meddling at the Pond

Jeffery Goldberg at the Atlantic describes the relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu as one of “mutual loathing.” I will grant the feeling on the President’s part, although Netanyahu feels the heat, but does not reciprocate. Netanyahu has a country to run, and issues for him are not personal.

Has the President sent a contingency of election manipulating experts to Israel to defeat Netanyahu’s Likud party in the upcoming Israeli elections? Clearly the White House would deny such an absurd notion. The President will not even see Netanyahu during his visit to DC at the beginning of March due (supposedly) to the proximity to the Israeli elections, let alone meddle in the sovereign election of a foreign country.

The President would not dispatch a delegation directly to Tel Aviv to manipulate the Israeli elections. All the President needed to do is to listen to the idea, smile broadly and nod his head. There are enough mega-philanthropists, mainly American Jews and a few Israeli expats living in New York, who would carry out the plan, put up the finances and pull the strings behind the scenes.

The President, undoubtedly, would love nothing better than to see Netanyahu defeated. For him, it is personal, although he has much greater things to handle, including more fundraising, international mega-excursions with a full court, golf outings and vacations with the First Family.

It is not so much Obama as the driving force, it is his stance of “do what you want, it sounds good.” Leave it to the J Street and like- minded Jews in America who feel they need to force Israel to act as they want. Time and again they turned to the Administration to apply pressure on Israel, for her to give in, extend more gestures, withdraw and to submit. Thus, there is really nothing new under the sun. George Soros, J Street, Americans for Peace Now and others have consistently used the same tactics to topple Netanyahu’s government, but Netanyahu is stubborn. He has his country to defend; contrary to what good American Jews may think.

The Likud party is convening a press conference to disclose sources of funds to members of the so-called “Zionist Camp” (a misleading name self-assigned, somewhat similar to J Street initially calling itself “pro-Israel, pro-peace,” later to drop the “pro-Israel” portion. There is another similarity many would remember: J Street hid the fact the Soros was its initial mega donor). The Likud party also enlisted high-powered lawyers to ask the Elections Committee overseeing the upcoming March 17th election to rule against the flow of foreign indirect funding to the election cycle.

This is a very important lesson to which one must pay very careful attention. For a long period of time, there has been noise, thus public attention in Israel, about the flow of foreign money (some from foreign governments) into local NGOs that are acting to undermine Israel’s position in world public opinion.

There has been an attempt to pass legislation to prohibit such funding, but it has not been successful. The main reason is that in Israel, like any true democracy, one does not target only the portion of the flow of funds one does not like. The rule of law applies equally to all. And the “all” in this equation does not want to stop the flow of funds; until the action hits them directly.

Each member of the Knesset, each political party and movement relies heavily on money flowing in from the outside (the comfort zone is psychological more than an imperative). Members of the Knesset regularly travel overseas on fundraising missions, rather than focus on local individuals and companies, within which there is richness beyond imagination (although less of a giving culture and an inclination is rarely forthcoming). (As I flew to Israel, a former Israeli ambassador and a former major general were busy fundraising in my hometown of Beverly Hills.)

An Israeli colonel (reserves) has travelled to the USA repeatedly and very successfully raised millions of dollars to expose the flow of funds from the USA to Israel. Numerous individuals received tax exemptions on donations to that cause legally. So exposed he did what is otherwise generally publicly available (by the mere status of American non-profits; a requirement for the 501(c)(3) status) and came public with it in Israel.

This vigilante only erred with one unacceptable omission: he hid his own sources of funds. Go expose others, while protecting exactly what you are attempting to expose. This does not sit well with me, nor should it with anyone.

As for the elections, something similar is happening. For many years, there are election experts, primarily in New York, who provide advice to the Likud and to Mr. Netanyahu for “big bucks.” They fly back and forth, most are religious and those whom I know are ultra-Zionists. (This is a new form of Zionism, one of living the comforts and the high-life of New York, while espousing to know better and run the Israeli political scene.)

Suddenly there is a problem. There is an acute need to expose “the other side.” Has the Likud forgotten that it, too, uses high-powered “experts” from New York? Admittedly, V15 may not be “Modern-Orthodox” and their flavor of “Zionism” is closer to J Street’s than to ZOA’s, but they are playing the exact same game.

It turns out they are very good at it, and none other than Ha’Aretz has been actively promoting their every move. There is nothing to hide. All is in the sunlight. And they are very effective – the media both in Israel and the USA is hovering around like bees so the public is fed constantly the idea that “Netanyahu has to go. Even the USA thinks so.” Imagine, they do not even need to spend money on this message. In short, priceless.

The more the White House denies, as it should and as is expected, the more the message is drilled into the collective Israeli and international psyche.

The Likud wants to change the rules of the game. Suddenly the same rules by which it played all along are no longer to its liking. Similar to the foreign funding flowing to Israel, the Likud in this case will cry “foul!” but apply their discontent only to the other side, not themselves.

To effect change, one must hurt personally. But “change” applies to all equally, so one must be very careful with for what one wishes.

The upcoming election in Israel is indeed a most fascinating one. The Prime Minister is going to America to act as a tool in the hands of the Republican-controlled Congress, and a team of experts has arrived in Israel to tilt the election results here.

Allow me a small reminder that holds true both in Israel and in the USA. The voter, contrary to all assumptions, is not stupid. So try as you might, spend the money, attempt to manipulate. At the end of the day, it is the voter who decides.

My recommendation for anyone who cares: BE SURE TO VOTE!

Ari Bussel
In the series "Postcards from Israel," Ari Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers throughout the world to join them as they present reports from Israel as seen by two sets of eyes: Bussel's on the ground, Zager's counter-point from home. Israel and the United States are inter-related - the two countries we hold dearest to our hearts - and so is this "point - counter-point" presentation that has, since 2008, become part of our lives.