David Remnick reports from the Saban Center gala this weekend for the New Yorker, and says that Israel’s leadership is a rightwing trainwreck.
Olmert also violated the rules of the conference by dragging something that was off the record onto the record. He accurately, if generally, described how, earlier in the day, Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and Obama’s former chief of staff, had spoken angrily and bluntly about the way Netanyahu has repeatedly betrayed the friendship of the United States, lecturing Obama in the Oval Office and now, after the U.S. had underwritten the Iron Dome anti-missile system, supported the operation in Gaza, and voted Israel’s way in the U.N., embarrassing the Obama Administration by taking punitive actions against the Palestinian Authority. After describing Emanuel’s remarks, Olmert went on to agree with them.
Olmert was unflinching in his criticism of Netanyahu. “This government is not dedicated to the cause of peace in a realistic way,” he said. “The most important thing for a prime minister,” he said, any Israeli prime minister, is to create two states for two peoples.
What was striking was that Israeli politics is now utterly dominated by Netanyahu, Lieberman, and an increasingly rightist coalition. And, demographically, the Israeli electorate is only getting more conservative.
A keen and intelligent interviewer, Siegel seemed uncharacteristically reluctant to press Lieberman very hard or bring up Lieberman’s history of indelicacies where Arabs are concerned. Lieberman speaks English with a distinct accent, but he is fluent—and he was especially fluent in the talking points of the Netanyahu government. “Settlements are not an obstacle to peace. The opposite is true.” “Israel has never interfered in the internal domestic politics of any country.” False, darkly comical, but not especially inflammatory, not by his standards, anyway. Later in his performance, Lieberman managed to amuse himself when he said that the main problem for the Palestinians was not Israel or occupation but rather the fact that for the Palestinians the average income does not approach ten thousand dollars a year and that there is scant acquaintance in Ramallah or Rafah with the works of Voltaire and Rousseau. That forty-five years of grinding occupation may play a role in the depressed economy of Gaza City or in the modest enthusiasm for “Candide” and “Emile” in Jenin seemed not to enter Lieberman’s smug analysis.