- - Tuesday, November 4, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Like many other people, I strongly believe in free speech. At the same time, I also feel there are moments in life when the best strategy is to simply keep your mouth shut.

Here’s one of those instances. In Jeffrey Goldberg’s Oct. 28 article in The Atlantic, he reported that an unnamed senior Obama administration official made an astonishing comment about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This person said, “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chicken-[expletive].”

Wouldn’t you have loved to have been a fly on the wall when that comment was made?

Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous and ‘Aspergery,’ ” wrote Mr. Goldberg. “But I had not previously heard Netanyahu described as a ‘chicken-[expletive].’”

A clearly bemused Mr. Goldberg took this information to another unnamed senior official “who deals with the Israel file regularly.” This person not only agreed with the previous description “related to the comatose peace process,” but also noted the Israeli prime minister is a “coward” when it comes to Iran.

This is what two White House officials think about a leader of an important country with close ties to the United States.

I’ve never met Mr. Netanyahu, but I know many people who have. These two assessments of his leadership are so far off the mark, it’s almost ridiculous to have this discussion.

Here’s what really blows my mind about this story, however.

The fact that two senior White House staffers feel this way about Israel’s prime minister isn’t surprising. President Obama and Mr. Netanyahu don’t see eye to eye on world affairs, and their personal relations are very icy. Hence, their respective political teams are free to conjure up poisonous darts of a virtual nature.

Still, what would possess not one, but two, Obama administration officials to make their private feelings known to Mr. Goldberg, an award-winning journalist who has been called a “liberal hawk” on foreign policy? I don’t have the foggiest notion.

The White House is obviously distancing itself from these comments. While I’m sure they would have preferred to fire these two individuals, they can’t. This course of action would draw further attention to an already explosive situation, and lead to a massive public relations nightmare.

There is one potential long-term effect that could occur. With U.S.-Israel relations at their lowest point in years, and Mr. Obama’s weak-kneed positions on Israel and the Middle East, this could serve as the last straw for American Jews and their relationship with Democrats.

Certainly, not all Jews base their voting behavior on White House ties with Israel. The views of two Democratic staffers don’t represent the entire party, either. Yet it’s hard not to think this direct and offensive criticism of the Israeli prime minister would go unnoticed by (normally) Jewish Democratic moderates and centrists.

Meanwhile, the aggressive shift in modern Jewish voting patterns toward political conservatism has already started to emerge in other countries, including Canada. While Israel occasionally serves as the catalyst, it’s mostly a result of the principles of lower taxes, smaller government, fiscal prudence, individual rights and freedoms, trade liberalization and a strong foreign-policy agenda.

Jewish support for the Republicans has been a bit on the slow side, to be sure. There have been some positive developments in recent years, including Mitt Romney capturing 30 percent of the Jewish vote in the 2012 presidential election. That’s pretty good, although Warren G. Harding earned 43 percent in 1920, Dwight D. Eisenhower received 40 percent in 1956, and Ronald Reagan drew 39 percent in 1980.

That’s why I think the White House criticisms of Mr. Netanyahu could help push more Jews further into the GOP camp. If elements of the party they’ve historically supported, the Democrats, don’t support a country that’s important to the Jewish community as a whole, it wouldn’t make sense to remain in the party.

The irony of all this? One of the most liberal presidents in U.S. history could end up being the catalyst of this sea change in Jewish voting and party representation. While this religious community only makes up 2 percent of the country’s total population, it’s an influential group that the Democrats would greatly miss — and the GOP would welcome with open arms.

That’s why it’s a wise idea for politicos to occasionally keep their views private. There are many potential land mines in American politics, and you never know when you’re going to accidentally set one of them off.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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