Entry from May 27, 2011

“Media Throw a Fit Over ‘Rude’ Netanyahu ‘Lecturing’ Obama” reported Geoffrey Dickens of the indispensable Media Research Center.

For many in the media Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction to Barack Obama[‘s] insistence that his country return to the 1967 borders was out of bounds. ABC’s Christiane Amanpour declared she was “stunned” by his “public lecture” of the President and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell hissed, “it was really rude,” and charged he treated Obama “like a school boy.” Mitchell didn’t reserve her criticism to Netanyahu as she even went after Republicans who dared to take his side, accusing them of “piling on the President.”

If Mr Netanyahu was rude to the President, it was a kind of rudeness mainly if not exclusively noticed by critics of Israel like Pat Buchanan, who wrote that

Not since Nikita Khrushchev berated Dwight Eisenhower over Gary Powers’ U-2 spy flight over Russia only weeks earlier has an American president been subjected to a dressing down like the one Barack Obama received from Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday. With this crucial difference. Khrushchev ranted behind closed doors, and when Ike refused to apologize, blew up the Paris summit hosted by President de Gaulle. Obama, however, was lectured like some schoolboy in the Oval Office in front of the national press and a worldwide TV audience.

It is an interesting question, however, as to who, when a lectures b “like a school boy,” is more to blame for the breach of diplomatic decorum. Is it a for giving the lecture or b for submitting to it? That’s the thing about honor and respect: if you aren’t being given them where you think they are deserved, the chances are it’s because you have invited such treatment by allowing yourself to appear weak — as had President Obama in this instance by arguing for Israel’s capitulation to Arab demands. For in the context, as Charles Krauthammer points out in today’s Washington Post, a reiteration of the formula that has in practice been repeatedly rejected by the Arabs amounts to an exhortation to Israel that it hasn’t yet made enough of a sacrifice for the sake of meeting the Arab conditions.

It’s true that what Mr Netanyahu’s critics were appealing to was a residual sense that it is not quite the gentlemanly thing to do brutally to expose another gentleman’s weakness in public or, especially, to embarrass him in front of those he is supposed to lead. But the pretense that he was proposing some exciting new route to peace when in fact it was the same one which has failed again and again would have made any greater politeness on Mr Netanyahu’s part in effect an act of complicity in the deception and therefore an acceptance of the implied blame to Israel for not having done enough hitherto. In short, the situation was the opposite of the one which the critics were assuming, the one where there is a diplomatic acceptance of responsibility on both sides. Mr Obama’s formulation made it necessary for Mr Netanyahu either to accept or reject the blame for past failures that was being proposed to him and to Israel. Not surprisingly, he rejected it, and in no uncertain terms. Otherwise the public display of weakness would have been his, rather than the President’s. So I think we have to acquit him of impoliteness in this case.

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