Back when political polls were reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was likely to lose power in Tuesday's election, I figured that Bibi must have overplayed his hand when he spoke before Congress at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner and against the wishes of President Obama. I assumed he had miscalculated, and that the gambit would backfire with Israeli voters.
As it turns out, the polls were wrong. (What are the chances of that?) The conservative Likud Party won at least 29 seats, a healthy boost over the center-left Zionist Union's 24.
The big loser then is not the blustery PM but our pouty president. Before the March 3 speech, the White House had every right to telegraph its displeasure at Netanyahu's address -- which the White House did not approve because it was too close to Israel's March 17 election. Obamaland could have dismissed the speech as a stunt, a pesky molehill. Instead, it turned it into a mountain of controversy.
Sadly, the White House cannot pass up an opportunity to showcase victimhood. When the White House learned of the planned speech, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest complained that it was a breach of protocol. From that day on, the administration kept whining. The day before the speech in which Netanyahu warned against a possible nuclear pact with Iran, Obama complained to Reuters that if Democrats had done the same thing to a Republican president, "Some of the commentators who are cheerleading now would have suggested that it was the wrong thing to do." He truly is the Poor Me president.
After Netanyahu spoke to Congress (minus some 60 Democrats), there was more grievance airing. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi released a statement that she had been "near tears throughout the prime minister's speech" as it was an "insult" to American voters' intelligence. The president let it be known that he didn't watch the speech, but still was disappointed that there was "nothing new" in it.
If there was any doubt that the administration wanted Bibi to fail, former Obama campaign operative Jeremy Bird had gone to Jerusalem early this year to defeat an ally's leader. Tuesday night, a former Obama official told Politico, "They hate him, they should, and they're praying that he is out of power." Wednesday, the New York Times editorialized that Bibi's speech was "subversive."
Netanyahu's victory follows his weekend decision to come out against a Palestinian state, reversing his 2009 stance. By breaking radically to the right, San Francisco State Jewish Studies Professor Eran Kaplan observed, Netanyahu "took seats away from the two other right-wing parties." The result, Kaplan predicted, will be a new government without a centrist element. I don't think a less-moderate Knesset helps this White House.
Kaplan doesn't think the March 3 speech was "the critical element in the campaign." Probably true. But if Bibi lost, the left was ready to credit his speech overreach for the loss. I don't blame the White House for snubbing Netanyahu. He pushed. Obamaland pushed back. But the decision to inflate the speech's significance, and make Israel's election a referendum on Netanyahu's treatment of Obama, backfired.