It must be said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown a renewed level of focus and diplomatic prudence of late. This is especially noticeable in light of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s inconsistency-of-message and Democratic senators’ coordinated strategy of escalating their delegitimization of Israel’s war effort.
Put simply: A lot people are baiting Bibi, and Bibi ain’t biting.
This contrasts with the situation a couple months ago when Netanyahu was allowing pointed disagreements over postwar Gaza to bleed into the public debate. He’s showing more diplomatic deftness these days, and the result is that Israel’s position seems less precarious than perhaps at any time since October 7.
Yesterday, there were several tests of Netanyahu’s restraint. Some of them came from Blinken. The most controversial comment from the secretary of state’s diplomatic blitz came at a press briefing after his meetings with Netanyahu and with President Isaac Herzog. “Israelis were dehumanized in the most horrific way on October 7th. The hostages have been dehumanized every day since,” he began. “But that cannot be a license to dehumanize others.”
Blinken was referencing specific incidents, but there’s no way to know that unless you know that—to state the obvious. The Biden administration has an interest in Israel maintaining its legendary military discipline, so the president wants the stories about soldiers uploading taunting videos of their exploits in Gaza to stop. Blinken had also said this: “Israel must ensure that the delivery of life-saving assistance to Gaza is not blocked for any reason, by anyone.” He was referring to a few families of hostages who protested at the Kerem crossing by blocking aid trucks from getting through. Those trucks went a different route and arrived at their destination late—far from a crisis deserving of public admonishment from the secretary of state.
Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren made his displeasure clear: “When Secretary of State Blinken accuses Israel—inaccurately, unfairly, and libelously—of dehumanizing Palestinians, he dehumanizes us and contributes to the delegitimization of Israel and the demonization of Jews worldwide.”
That’s a legitimate public response to a public swipe, but had it come from Netanyahu or his inner circle it would have been a two-day story and the headlines out of Blinken’s day in Israel would have been about a “crisis” in U.S.-Israel relations. Instead, Netanyahu smartly brushed it off.
Just as he brushed off another of Blinken’s reported comments, this one in private. According to an Israeli news network, Blinken said: “Every day for the rest of my life I will ask myself and think about the thousands of children who were killed in Gaza.” Netanyahu reportedly responded: “The responsibility lies with Hamas, which operates from within the civilian population.”
And that was that. Netanyahu was laser-focused on the narrative coming out of diplomatic meetings, and that message was crystal clear: Hamas’s demands are outrageous and Israel has every right to continue its mission to defeat the terror army that started this war and refuses to surrender or to return the hostages.
The more overt attempts to bait Netanyahu were also the easier ones to ignore. Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren has taken lately to broadcasting her ignorance of the Middle East more aggressively than usual. Ranting on the Senate floor like a human TikTok account, Warren moronically blamed “Netanyahu and his right-wing government” for the fact that Hamas is still holding Israeli hostages, a demonstration of Warren’s particular brand of morally repugnant spitefulness masquerading as political passion.
To be clear, I am not accusing Warren of having an original thought. Warren is merely repeating talking points from the Squadfather himself, Bernie Sanders, who has been leading the call to block or condition wartime aid to Israel.
Such comments are also coming fast and furious from House Democrats. But unlike Sanders or Warren, the House members tend to be unapologetically pro-Hamas, like Rashida Tlaib or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, so they are louder but easier for the Israeli government to ignore.
Earlier in the conflict, Netanyahu stood accused of picking unnecessary fights with Biden and Blinken in an attempt to boost his domestic political standing. His recent careful diplomatic balancing act may also be good for his political prospects, but it’s clearly in the national interest.