U.S. and Israeli journalists appear to be working overtime to convince their viewers and readers that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is meddling in upcoming presidential elections.
Israeli leftist pundits have been saying for weeks that this is the case, citing as evidence the fact that billionaire Sheldon Adelson backs both Netanyahu and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and Netanyahu's warm reception for Romney on his visit to Israel. Now, the U.S. press seems to have joined the effort to show that Netanyahu is intervening in the American elections.
In a story datelined September 22, U.S.-based Associated Press says that "some Israelis are squirming over a perception that their prime minister is siding with Republican Mitt Romney in the U.S. presidential race, in the belief he will take a harder line on archenemy Iran if elected."
To substantiate the claim, AP quotes diplomat Alon Pinkas, whose nomination as Israel's UN ambassador was vetoed by Netanyahu three years ago, and ultra-liberal journalist Ari Shavit of Haaretz.
The headline for an AP news item last week proclaimed: "Israeli PM makes case on Iran to US voters."
The story, which was carried by hundreds of news outlets worldwide, referred to Netanyahu's appearances on NBC's Meet the Press and CNN's State of the Union. "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a direct appeal to American voters on Sunday to elect a president willing to draw a 'red line' with Iran," it said.
However, while Netanyahu may have intended his appearances to affect U.S. voters, the transcripts of both interviews show him studiously avoiding any statement that could be construed as preferring one candidate over another, despite the interviewers' attempts to elicit such a statement.
"You're trying to get me into the American election and I'm not going to do that," Netanyahu told NBC's David Gregory. "There's no one in Israel who appreciates more than me the importance of American support for Israel. It's not a partisan issue. In fact we cherish the bipartisan support of Democrats and Republicans alike. This is critical for us."
Gregory tried again, asking: "So president Obama has not thrown Israel under the bus?"
"There's no bus and we're not going to get into that discussion," Netanyahu replied. "The only bus that is really important is the Iranian nuclear bus… That's my only interest."
On CNN, Netanyahu said: "All the things that you see now in these mobs storming the American embassies is what you will see with a regime that would have atomic bombs. You can't have such people have atomic bombs. And I believe that's as important for Republicans as it is for Democrats, important for Democrats as it is for Republicans. It's as important for President Obama as it is for Mitt Romney. It's important for the future of our world."
Presumably, a perception that Netanyahu is trying to tilt the election in Romney's favor would have an opposite effect on voters, causing them to favor Barack Obama.
Maariv's Ben Caspit, who harbors a visceral enmity for Netanyahu, wrote a column for the Jerusalem Post Thursday, in which he made his anti-Netanyahu talking points available to the English-speaking world.
"Netanyahu’s people are well aware of what they can expect from the White House in a second term for Obama," Caspit gloated. "They are fully aware of how much the American president has grown to despise everything that the Israeli prime minister represents."
"They know that the rehabilitation work that lies ahead is hopeless, pretty much. It’s like standing on the spot that the Twin Towers stood, 15 minutes after they fell. Destruction, smoke and fire, complete silence."
"Nevertheless, Netanyahu won’t have a choice," wrote Caspit. "He will have to survive. It’s still not clear whether it is preferable for him to call elections as soon as possible – before Obama makes clear to the Israeli public that Bibi’s reelection would incur a costly price – or to put them off as much as possible, to allow the US president to chill out."