Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing a firestorm at home for his veiled support of Mitt Romney, congratulates President Obama on his reelection
Netanyahu's phone call with Obama Thursday is part of his attempt to short-circuit the criticism he is facing with his own reelection fight entering high gearNEW YORK DAILY NEWS THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2012
BY MATTHEW KALMAN / SPECIAL TO THE NEWS
JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated President Obama on his reelection as he tried Thursday to stifle controversy that he endangered Israel’s relationship with the U.S. through his not-so-subtle support of Mitt Romney.
“This was a vote of confidence in your leadership,” Netanyahu told Obama during their phone conversation, Israeli left-wing newspaper Haaretz reported.
The Prime Minister, beset by broad criticism that he blundered himself into a corner with Israel’s greatest ally, sent out a press release Thursday to further respond to the firestorm. It said Netanyahu “looked forward to continuing to work with the President to address the great challenges facing the United States and Israel, and to advance peace and security in our region.”
Netanyahu’s seemingly conciliatory gesture was made as his rivals across the political spectrum crowed at his uncomfortable political position following Romney’s narrow defeat. Israeli media commentators piled on the agony.
The mainstream daily Yedioth Ahronot declared Netanyahu “bet on the wrong candidate.” Yossi Sarid mocked the Prime Minister’s predicament in Haaretz: “So sorry, President Obama, please forgive Netanyahu … Don’t be mad at us, dear friend.”
Netanyahu, who must face Israeli voters on Jan. 22, had a frosty relationship with Obama even before an election that saw him featured in a Romney ad. Netanyahu first met Romney in the 1970s when they worked together at a consulting firm. The Prime Minister’s lavish welcome of the GOP challenger during Romney’s gaffe-filled overseas tour contrasted starkly with his thinly-veiled criticism of Obama. He professed neutrality, but seemed to encourage Jewish-American voters to back the Republican candidate.
Such a rare embrace of a presidential challenger by the leader of a U.S. ally has given former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hope he will be able to emerge from a series of corruption scandals to challenge Netanyahu in Israel’s general election. Addressing Jewish leaders in New York on Wednesday, Olmert accused Netanyahu of “breaking all the rules” by getting involved in the U.S. election “to prefer one candidate over another.”
Olmert is aiming to capitalize on fear within the Israeli electorate that Obama will no longer trust Netanyahu, thereby undermining the bound between the two countries as they confront the threat of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The concern is Obama will push for talks with Iran’s leaders, bucking the hard-line Netanyahu.
“There are those among us who are trying to cause conflict between us and the United States,” Netanyahu said earlier Thursday in a veiled shot at Olmert. “They won’t get away with it. The alliance with the U.S. is firm.”
Within Netanyahu’s informal circle of advisers, there was confidencethe crisis would soon pass.
“Leaders have historically made their decisions on the basis of national interests and political interests, and not on the basis of whether they like or don’t like the head of another country,” said Professor Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University.
Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said the reported tensions between the two leaders are“overstated.”
“Because we’re in a political season in Israel, the Prime Minister’s critics are making hay out of this whole thing.Israel is tied to the U.S.by a multitude of interests and shared values, and that will continue to be the case,” he said.
“Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama are pragmatic and their countries face a common threat.”