Why Bibi Hates Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, meets with Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, May 20, 2011. Obama yesterday endorsed a key Palestinian demand, calling on Israel to agree to borders of a Palestinian state 'based on the 1967 lines' that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and Jerusalem that year in the Six Day War with Arab nations. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Intel Noreen has already plugged John Heilemann's cover story, which is both an overview and a defense of the Obama administration's fraught relations with Israel and the pro-Israel community. I strongly recommend the piece, and I want to add a thought of my own about the source of Bibi Netanyahu's almost-deranged belligerence toward the president of his strongest and most vital ally.

John gets into Netanyahu's head here:

To Netanyahu’s way of thinking, he had reason to be wary of his counterpart even before they first met. In 2008, Obama had declared to a campaign crowd in Ohio, “There is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel.”

Putting aside the substantive validity of the argument, it’s not difficult to imagine how that sounded to Netanyahu, whose ascension to the prime-ministership for the second time both coincided with and augured moments of dark existential crisis in Israel. On one hand, there was Iran, making rapid advances toward nuclear capability. On the other, there was Hamas, which in the years after Ariel Sharon had withdrawn from Gaza had turned the place into a staging area for rocket fire into Israel — dampening the Israeli public’s appetite for further territorial compromise with the Palestinians. And then there was Netanyahu’s surpassingly volatile governing coalition, which was held together by far-right nationalist, fundamentalist, and even proto-fascistic elements (cf. Avigdor Lieberman).

I agree with that, but I also suspect there's a strong element of irrationality on top of the calculation. Netanyahu thinks a lot like a Jewish-American Republican. Jewish Republicans, for one thing, see the Israel issue in highly partisan terms — Israel's interest may lie in preserving the bi-partisan character of the alliance, but the Republican Party's interest lies in defining support for Israel as something that only Republicans can have.

What's more, Republican Jews tend to have an overdeveloped sense of black anti-Semitism. Indeed, they generally regard traditional (i.e., white) anti-Semitism as having disappeared long ago, replaced by black anti-Semitism, which they consider largely pervasive. Their unstated assumption is that any left-of-center black politician is an anti-Semite unless proven otherwise — and proving otherwise is essentially impossible, as any statement or action will be considered a facade hiding a militant anti-Zionist interior.

I have no basis for this characterization other than every conversation about anti-Semitism and Israel I've had with any Jewish Republican over my entire life.