Leon Hader
Haaretz (Opinion)
January 30, 2013 - 1:00am

Not that long ago, when someone would sharply criticize the performance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the response would go something like this:

Listen, you may be right, but let’s face it − Bibi has America wrapped around his little finger. It’s not just his English; the guy can read what’s going on in Washington with his eyes closed. The Fox News commentators slept in his home. All the evangelical preachers mention him in their Sunday church sermons. Hey, he even worked with Mitt Romney in Boston. Newt Gingrich is his personal friend and Donald Trump loves him. Maybe we don’t love him, but in the United States, our ally and the source of our international support, Benjamin Netanyahu is a star. So, please.

Well, those were the days. But the white, conservative, evangelical, imperialist America that dreams of leading a global culture war − that America, which is burned into Netanyahu’s brain, is heading for extinction. Today’s America is younger, more liberal and less religious. The blacks, Hispanics and Asians are gradually turning into a dominant political force. It’s an America that wants to adjust to the changes in the international arena, in which China, India, Brazil and Turkey play a central role, and to live in coexistence with the Muslim world.

It’s also an America that doesn’t remember the Holocaust or the founding of the State of Israel. It’s an America that isn’t prepared to give a free diplomatic or military hand to any Israeli prime minister who acts contrary to American interests and values.

It’s the America of President Barack Obama, which Netanyahu doesn’t really know. Its outlook on and approach to life, culture, and politics during the coming years will not overlap with those of Avigdor Lieberman or Naftali Bennett, although the latter’s English is great, too. It’s not pleasant to hear, but that’s reality.

Obama and Yair Lapid may not come from the same village, but in our era’s global village, they are definitely from the same political-cultural neighborhood. It’s not just that Obama and Lapid are around the same age, but that they are two serious thinkers who represent the creative class, as sociologist Richard Florida has dubbed those knowledged-based professionals whose liberal tendencies are not based on opposition to free markets, but on a commitment to civil rights, religious freedom and the integration of women and homosexuals in society.

Obama won big in November among voters living in Silicon Valley. One needn’t be a political expert to guess that Lapid succeeded in winning over the voters of Israel’s Silicon Wadi.

It may not sound too sophisticated and this isn’t taught in political science courses, but both Obama and Lapid are high on their generation’s “cool” index. We’re not only talking about the potential for personal chemistry between Israeli and American leaders ‏(although that’s certainly important‏), but about Israel’s existential need to build a political bridge to this new America. This must be central to Israel’s diplomatic strategy.

Naturally, we’re talking about more than just public relations. The Israeli left argues that Lapid’s diplomatic message isn’t much different from Netanyahu’s. But the political perspective Lapid represents is actually closer to that of Yitzhak Rabin. And unlike the diplomatic worldview of Lieberman and Bennett, it could serve as a basis for a serious diplomatic dialogue with Washington, and in the end, perhaps, also an agreement with the Palestinians.

Lieberman’s proposal that Lapid serve as finance minister was not surprising. The nationalist and religious right would prefer that Lapid and his allies deal with Israel’s domestic agenda, while they, the so-called adults in the cabinet meeting room, with their considerable diplomatic experience, continue to manage foreign and security policy, including Israel’s relations with Washington.

Lapid could act contrary to the pundits’ expectations and demand the foreign affairs portfolio in the new government. The world, which in recent years has become accustomed to seeing Lieberman and his boss as the malcontented faces of the State of Israel, will be surprised to discover that the settlers and rabbis are not the country’s true representatives. Israel would find itself in a world that isn’t totally against it. Israel would be able to work with the White House, where there’s a friend prepared to help it, if only it is ready to first help itself.


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