Tel Aviv Diary: Obama's Hostility to Netanyahu Goes Down Badly

Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on October 1, 2014. Kevin Lamarque/Files/Reuters

After a week since Israel went to the polls, the residents of Tel Aviv recognize that the nation seems more divided than they thought, possibly more angry than they thought. It is possible that the fight for what they perceive as "the soul of the country" will be longer and harder than they thought it would be—for one brief moment—in the two weeks before the elections.

However, Tel Aviv residents also realize that although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won reelection, Israel has not moved to the right. The left actually gained marginally.

Furthermore, the only reason Netanyahu is returning as prime minister is that he managed to siphon off support from several parties further to his right. In fact, the new Knesset has fewer representatives from far-right parties than the previous Knesset did

The residents of Tel Aviv also know that Netanyahu did not gain an overwhelming mandate in this election. His party received less than 25 percent of the votes cast, but it appears he will remain Israel's prime minister after getting members of other right-wing parties to vote for him.

Netanyahu did not receive a broad mandate in American or even European democratic terms. However, he was elected in a free and fair election.

The one person who seems unwilling to accept the results of the election here appears to be the current occupant of the White House and other members of his administration. President Barack Obama has been exceptionally harsh in his criticism, which is starting to create a backlash among Israelis.

As Professor Oz Almog of Haifa University stated in a Facebook post:

The White House has created recently a new custom to embarrass and insult the Prime Minister of Israel after the elections, in a harsh and vitriolic manner. The White House has also added threats of re-examining the relationship.

He goes on to say:

I never voted for Netanyahu and I do not have inclination to defend him, but as a resident of Israel, President Obama's tone and statement are hard to take….

He states further:

President Obama is going too far. Attacking the government is also attacking the people. We are open to criticism, but not one-sided.

The professor's remarks represent a growing feeling among many who opposed Netanyahu, and in no way supported his recent remarks in the heat of his race. No one excuses what he said.

To most observers, one of Netanyahu's greatest failings has always been his willingness to say anything to get elected. However, in a Middle East where over 100 people are dying every day in Syria, where Yemen and Libya are falling apart in front of our eyes, and when Russia has occupied 20 percent of Ukraine, the president of the United States goes on TV to attack the stupid remarks of our prime minister while sending warm new year's greetings to a dictator in Iran, responsible for brutally killing demonstrators who were asking for additional freedoms?

Looked at in context, Obama's choice is unfathomable.

Tel Aviv residents know they have a hard path ahead of them: fighting anger, fear and, yes, racism inside this country. These elections have taught us that the path ahead is not an easy one. To many, who see themselves as living in a global economy, that realization came as a bit of a shock.

However, the reactions of Obama and his team, including the president's chief of staff stating that the occupation has to end, as if it is solely Israel's fault, have surprised even some of Netanyahu's harshest critics.

Finally, there is astonishment in Israel about what seems to be mostly a bogus story claiming Israel has been stealing U.S. secrets relating to the Iran nuclear program talks. While no one in the Obama administration is accusing Israel of having a spy in the room or bugging the room where the talks took place, they seem to be implying as much.

In reality, it's no secret that Israel has put extraordinary effort into understanding what is going on, no doubt by intercepting Iranian calls and using human intelligence to speak to third parties to assess what is happening. What seems to have most incensed the Obama administration is Israel's sharing of that information with congressional critics of the Iranian negotiations.

It is understandable why Obama is not happy that Netanyahu is trying to undermine a potential agreement with Iran, but resorting to a spying canard seems a step too far.

Historian Marc Schulman is the editor of An archive of his reports from Tel Aviv can be found here.