Israelis are split about what to think about the unnamed U.S. official calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “chickens--t” this week. Netanyahu isn't terribly popular in his own country, and the comments ignited new controversy over his leadership and strained relations with a vital ally.
The comments were published in a piece by the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, a veteran Mideast reporter. Read some background on the scandal here.
Views of U.S. President Barack Obama among Israelis, already negative, have worsened significantly since the comments came out. A Smith Research poll taken Wednesday night found only 16 percent of Israelis believe the Obama administration is more pro-Israel than pro-Palestine, down from an already abysmal 27 percent in March 2013. And 53 percent believe the opposite, that the U.S. administration favors the Palestinians, up from 16 percent in March 2013.
A poll last week found only 36 percent of Israelis approve of Netanyahu's job performance and only a quarter believe he's the best person for prime minister, but that's double how many people think the second-place choice, right-wing Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, should be PM.
Jonathan Rynhold, a senior researcher at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, said Israelis for the most part see Netanyahu as “far and away the best option there is out there,” even though the public can be highly critical of his performance.
The reaction, split along familiar ideological lines, has played out fiercely in Israeli media. Left-leaning pundits took the opportunity to confirm their criticisms of the Israeli leader. Most provocatively, the liberal newspaper Haaretz on Thursday ran a cartoon by Amos Biderman that Netanyahu flying a plane labeled “Israel” into the old World Trade Center. Biderman said the cartoon was meant to say Netanyahu is leading Israel to a collapse in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, a disaster on par with 9/11.
â€” Ilån Bεn Zıon (@IlanBenZion) October 31, 2014
â€” Ilån Bεn Zıon (@IlanBenZion) October 30, 2014
The right fired back:
â€” Anne Bayefsky (@AnneBayefsky) October 31, 2014
Haaretz’s Asher Schecter took time to remember Yitzhak Rabin, the peace-making, Nobel Prize-winning prime minister who was assassinated in 1995. Schechter calls him “the last of the non-chickens--ts,” and speculated on how Rabin would handle the issues facing Israel today.
On the right, some Israelis argue that the leak is actually good for Netanyahu because it gives him leverage with the U.S. and a chance to affirm bolster his position at home.
“This latest onslaught is yet another mistake by Obama, and its severity only benefits the Likud [Netanyahu's right-wing party], whose members can detect the anti-Netanyahu -- even anti-Israel – sentiment,” argued Mati Tuchfeld at Israel Hayom, a conservative paper.
Ari Soffer at the far-right Israeli National News (also known as Arutz Sheva, or Channel Seven) downplayed the impact of the “chickens--t” comment and questioned Goldberg’s intentions in breaking the story. In reference to Goldberg’s implication that the comments signal the White House’s waning confidence in Netanyahu, Soffer asked, “Why does a man like Jeffrey Goldberg create such stories, and what is the subtext to it?... Of course, as I mentioned, the motive behind such stories is to engender fear.”
His colleague Jack Engelhard said Goldberg “wrote an article that makes nobody look good, including himself,” and criticized his use of anonymous sources. Arutz Sheva’s Mark Langfan defended Netanyahu’s foreign policy and called Obama a “liar and an Iranian stooge.” Nearly all of the Facebook comments on the Arutz Sheva’s opinion pieces agreed with the author's view of the scandal.
The American right has seized on the comments as well and blasted Obama for failing to stick up for Israel or investigate who made the comments.
If only the current resident of the White House was half the man, half the leader that @Netanyahu is! Let's take the reins from O on Nov 4.
â€” Sarah Palin News (@SarahPalinLinks) October 30, 2014