(December 19, 2017 / JNS)
My favorite acronym, at least for this year, was coined by historian Ronald Radosh in his PJ Media column back in March. The initials are BDS – not “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions,” but “Bibi Derangement Syndrome.”
Radosh came up with that gem in an examination of the White House’s deliberate distortion of comments that Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, made concerning the two-state solution during his most recent election campaign. By promoting the deceit that Netanyahu had reversed his long-held position in favor of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the White House made sure that its vendetta against the prime minister was leapt on once more by media outlets that have garnered an enormous amount of fun from reporting the troughs and peaks of the Obama-Netanyahu relationship.
This “BDS” has broken out again, this time in relation to the debate about the nuclear deal agreed with Iran in Vienna in July. With Congress readying itself for a vote of approval, partisans of the deal are advancing two curiously related positions. On the one hand, you have centrist Democrats and leading figures in the Jewish establishment arguing that the deal shields Israel from the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon – an argument aimed at those predisposed to believe that American Jews are better placed than Israel’s elected government when it comes to assessing Israel’s core security requirements. On the other hand, you have progressive activist groups like MoveOn promoting the line that Israel and its supporters in Congress and the media are dragging America into another Middle Eastern war – an argument that will warm the hearts of Israel’s adversaries, who tar opponents of the deal as warmongers and Israeli agents.
What unites these positions is Bibi Derangement Syndrome. Both of these arguments are founded not so much upon a dislike of Netanyahu as on a fearful detestation of him. Like a cross between a Bond villain and a diva, he is seen as self-serving, dishonest, unreliable, fanatical, and unable to grasp what is ultimately good for him and his nation. (One might easily forget that Netanyahu scored a decisive victory in a 2015 election that witnessed a 72 percent voter turnout.)
A good example of the ostensibly pro-Israel strain of Bibi Derangement Syndrome is the full-page advertisement published in the New York Times this month by a resolutely establishment group of Jewish leaders. Many of the signatures raised eyebrows and spoke to the divisions over the Iran deal not simply in the Jewish community as a whole, but inside its most storied organizations. For example, while the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has come out firmly against the deal, three of its former presidents put their names on the ad.
Basing themselves on the comments of the former Head of the Shin Bet and Commander-in-Chief of the Israeli Navy Ami Ayalon in support of the deal, these luminaries then gave us additional reasons to the same. Assuring us of their “everlasting” commitment to Israel, they went on to recycle the main talking points of the White House on the deal, including the phrase deployed by President Barack Obama himself concerning the “most intrusive inspections regime ever negotiated” – not a view that is universally shared, by the way, among arms control experts. Later that week, the Associated Press broke the story that, under the terms of a side agreement negotiated by the Iranian regime and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that has still not been provided to Congress, Iran would carry out its own inspections of the Parchin site.
Why are these Jewish leaders so adamant, as the ad puts it, that “this deal is the best available option to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program?” If they accept that we are, indeed, dealing with a “nuclear weapons program,” then they should remember that the Iranians have always insisted their nuclear program is only civilian in nature. By inadvertently reminding us of Tehran’s nuclear grand deception in the wording of the ad, these leaders raise the question of how on earth they can publicly endorse an inspections regime that rules out 24/7 access and enables all sorts of delaying maneuvers.
Citing an Israeli security official like Ayalon doesn’t persuade either. In a superb article for Commentary debunking journalist JJ Goldberg’s claim that Netanyahu is increasingly out of sync with Israel’s own intelligence services, Martin Kramer quoted the Israeli journalist Yossi Melman as saying that no experts in Israel’s military and intelligence sectors regarded the deal as “positive.” Melman also reported a near universal consensus that a better deal could have been negotiated.
But because of their shared “BDS” – the aforementioned Bibi Derangement Syndrome manifested in their conviction that Netanyahu’s toxicity demands appropriately visible distancing from him – these Jewish leaders aren’t urging a better deal. They’re telling us to accept this one. As for their commitment to Israel, it is not, apparently, undermined by their advocacy of a deal that the vast majority of actual Israelis reject.
What of the anti-Israel “BDS” argument? Here, Netanyahu becomes the personification of Israel. Through the medium of Netanyahu, Israel resists concessions to the Palestinians and exposes America to military risk through its rejection of Iran’s nuclear capability. Thus Netanyahu emerges as the warmonger’s prophet, embracing the full spectrum from Senator Chuck Schumer to the Weekly Standardmagazine. This campaign has shown many times how easily it absorbs anti-Semitic canards like the “dual loyalty” smear beloved of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and its ally J Street, neither of which realize the hypocrisy of questioning the loyalty of Jewish Americans while lobbying on behalf of a regime whose slogan is “Death to America.”
In my view, this latter camp is a lost cause. The tough questions remain, though, for those friends of Israel who endorse the deal. They need to ask themselves whether their distaste for Netanyahu has clouded their collective judgment. They need to examine why they ostentatiously endorsed the deal instead of staying silent, given their explicitly declared doubts about it. They need to do some soul searching over what the consequences will be for Israel if they are wrong. It’s the right time of our year to be doing so.
Ben Cohen, senior editor of TheTower.org & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).