IT TOOK Bibi Netanyahu nearly a week to apologize properly for his inflammatory comment on Israel's election day warning that Arab voters were "heading to the polls in droves." On Monday, speaking at his Jerusalem residence to a group of Israeli Arab community leaders, the newly reelected prime minister expressed his regret: "I know the things I said a few days ago wounded Israel's Arab citizens. That was not in any way my intention, and I am sorry."
But even after four and a half years, there has been no apology from Barack Obama for his inflammatory remarks just before the 2010 election, when he exhorted Latinos to generate an "upsurge in voting" in order to "punish our enemies and . . . reward our friends." Nor has the president ever expressed regret for his running mate's racially-tinged warning to a largely black audience in 2012 that the GOP was "going to put y'all back in chains" if Mitt Romney won the White House. In fact, the Obama campaign insisted no apology would be forthcoming.
Under normal circumstances, there would be no reason to link these episodes. But the White House pointedly reproached Netanyahu for his distasteful words. "This administration is deeply concerned by divisive rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens," Obama spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters the day after the election. The president himself declared in an interview that Netanyahu's "rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel's traditions," and warned that it "starts to erode the meaning of democracy in the country."
Fair enough — except for Obama's egregious failure to meet his own standard. The candidate who captivated America with his promise to transcend partisan and racial rancor turned out to be the most consistently polarizing president in modern history. He hasn't scrupled to inject barbed racial comments into the nation's political discourse, but if he has ever candidly apologized for doing so, it must have been on deep background. Obama's contempt for Netanyahu is nothing new, but before he lambastes other political leaders for their "divisive rhetoric," the president really ought to take a good look in the mirror.
Then there is the ginned-up outrage from the White House over Netanyahu's election-day assurance that Palestinian statehood would not happen on his watch. Netanyahu subsequently stressed that he continues to favor a two-state solution in principle, but that under current circumstances — with Islamist fanatics rampaging through the Middle East, Mahmoud Abbas refusing to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, and Gaza a Hamas-ruled terrorist base — a Palestinian state isn't feasible.
Whichever Netanyahu position you take to be genuine, or even if you believe that his attitude toward the "peace process" is wholly driven by politics, it is astonishing to watch Team Obama going ballistic over Bibi's purported flip-flop.
"We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made," intoned White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, in a speech to the left-wing Jewish lobby group J Street. Obama claims he took Netanyahu "at his word" when he momentarily ruled out a Palestinian state. The prime minister quickly backtracked, but the president's fury hasn't cooled.
When Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei declaims "Death to America!," as he did in a speech last week, an unruffled White House brushes it off as "intended for a domestic political audience." Doesn't it cast doubt on Tehran's trustworthiness? Not to worry, Obama's press secretary assured CNN. Iranian negotiators have "demonstrate[d] a willingness to have constructive conversations."
But there is no "domestic political audience" allowance for Netanyahu. If he says one thing today and something different tomorrow, the American president's wrath knows no bounds.
Obama's contempt for Netanyahu is an old story, but before he lambastes other leaders for their "divisive rhetoric," perhaps the president should glance in the mirror.
Perhaps Netanyahu should be flattered that Obama holds him to such a high standard of constancy. The president has certainly never demanded it of himself. On a whole slew of issues, Obama has adamantly taken one position, then cast it aside when it was politically advantageous to do so.
He stoutly told AIPAC that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel. Then he took it back.
He endlessly promised voters that if they liked their existing health plan, they could keep it. Then he took it back.
He repeatedly explained that he didn't have the authority to unilaterally change or ignore immigration law. Then he took it back.
He coldly warned Syrian dictator Bashar Assad that any use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" calling for a military response. Then he took it back.
He firmly asserted that he was not in favor of same-sex marriage. Then he took it back.
Time after time, the president has come down clearly on one side of a controversial policy debate, only to walk away from it and end up on the other side. "We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made," says the White House witheringly about Netanyahu. Hypocrisy, thy name is Obama.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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