On December 23, 2016 U.S. President Barack Obama instructed his U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, to abstain in a United Nations Security Council vote on a resolution aimed at stopping the growth of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian Arab territories of the West Bank, which the Israeli government calls “Judea and Samaria.” U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 was passed unanimously, with only one abstention, that of the U.S. It stated that Israel’s settlement activity constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and has no legal validity, and demanded that Israel stop such activity and fulfill its obligation as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention. After the voting, Ms. Power read out of statement defending her vote as in line with longstanding U.S. policy, but the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who had expected the U.S. to veto the anti-Israeli resolution, was very angry. He publicly attacked “the Obama administration” for having violated the decades-long policy of the U.S. to veto anti-Israeli resolution in the Security council (see http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.761095).
There had been bad blood between Barack Obama and Bibi Netanyahu for years. In an article in The Atlantic Monthly in October 2014, the American Jewish journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who had interviewed the U.S. President several times, announced the existence of an “official crisis” in U.S.-Israeli relations as well as in the personal relations between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The bad blood between Obama and Netanyahu had been an open secret for a long time. According to Goldberg, “a senior Obama administration official” publicly called the Israeli prime minister “chickenshit” (see http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/10/the-crisis-in-us-israel-relations-is-officially-here/382031/).
The straw that had broken the camel’s back seems to have been Netanyahu’s public accusation of Obama in the fall of 2014 for “acting contrary to American values.” The young American Jewish scholar Peter Beinart has pointed out that it is Netanyahu’s own “Americanism” that outrages American officials above and beyond anything else he is or does (see http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.624545). In a slip of the tongue on a CBS News TV interview on November 16, Netanyahu said “Israel is America’s best ally in the United States… er, in the Middle East.” As Sigmund Freud would have put it, the unconscious never lies.
On January 21, 2015, the day after Obama’s State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress, his chief political opponent, John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, invited Netanyahu to deliver an address to a joint session of both houses of Congress on March 3, as he had twice before, and Netanyahu accepted. Many Democrats in the House and Senate announced that they would not attend. Obama made it known that he would not meet Netanyahu this time, as did his secretary of state, John Kerry (see http://news.yahoo.com/kerry-obama-not-meet-israels-netanyahu-during-visit-190448572.html).
“Bibi” was facing a bitterly contested Israeli election on March 17, 2015; it was not clear who was using whom for his political ends. Many Israelis, American Jews and U.S. Democrats bitterly opposed Netanyahu’s address to Congress. One political pundit thought that Boehner had “bungled his Bibi bid” (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joe-cirincione/how-boehner-bungled-his-b_b_6534378.html).
On March 1, 2015, with Netanyahu on the plane to Washington, Jeffrey Goldberg made the following observations:
On Israel, here’s the promise Obama made that stays with me the most: “I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff,” he said. “I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli government recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.” He went on to say four words that have since become famous: “We’ve got Israel’s back.” Netanyahu obviously believes that Obama doesn’t have his, or Israel’s, back. There will be no convincing Netanyahu that Obama is anything but a dangerous adversary. But if a consensus forms in high-level Israeli security circles (where there is a minimum of Obama-related hysterics) that the president has agreed to a weak deal, one that provides a glide path for Iran toward the nuclear threshold, then we will be able to say, fairly, that Obama’s promises to Israel were not kept. One of Netanyahu’s most strident critics, Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad intelligence agency, said recently, “A nuclear Iran is a reality that Israel won’t be able to come to terms with.” He went on to say, “Two issues in particular concern me with respect to the talks between the world powers and Iran: What happens if and when the Iranians violate the agreement, and what happens when the period of the agreement comes to an end and they decide to pursue nuclear weapons?” (see http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/03/Danger-Ahead-for-Obama-on-Iran/386486/).
The American Reform rabbi Eric Yoffie has wondered why the leader of tiny Israel, for which U.S. political, military and economic assistance is so vital, would go out of his way to repeatedly provoke the president of his country’s only ally (see http://ericyoffie.com/stop-bashing-america/). Rabbi Yoffie has set forth five “principles” for the Obama-Netanyhau relationship (see http://ericyoffie.com/obamanetanyahu-primer/), which, however, do not seem to solve the psychological riddle; why was Netanyahu bent on damaging U.S.-Israeli relations and endangering his own country, as many Israeli security experts claimed, and, one might ask, why would the most powerful man in the world go out of his way to denounce his much less powerful antagonist in such language?
On March 3, 2015, Bibi made his third address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, at Boehner’s invitation; like Antony in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, Bibi praised Obama while really seeking to bury him.
For years, Bibi had been decrying Iran’s intention of destroying Israel to the world. On July 14, 2015, after protracted and excruciating negotiations which had culminated in a midnight shouting match in a Vienna hotel between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the U.S., the European Union, Russia and China signed a complicated deal with Iran that would lift economic and political sanctions in exchange for an Iranian pledge to avoid seeking nuclear weapons. Bibi, along with the American Republican right, viciously assailed the deal; on August 4 Bibi delivered a long-distance video speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations attacking the deal and, indirectly, Barack Obama (see http://www.conferenceofpresidents.org/content/benjamin-netanyahu-on-iran).
Bibi unsuccessfully sought to rally the conservatives in the U.S. Congress to reject the deal and override Obama’s promised veto. The next day Obama delivered an address at American University in Washington mocking Bibi’s strident tone (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOHOw2izlbU).
There are obviously irrational elements in Bibi’s unrelenting struggle against the world’s most powerful leader and Israel’s most powerful ally. What could the unconscious reasons be for such irrational behavior?
In his youth, before deciding to return to Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu had part of his life in the United States, where he changed his name to Ben Nitai in an attempt to escape the identity of his father’s son and to forge a new self for himself in a new motherland. Was it what Donald Winnicott had called “the false self”?
America has a powerful unconscious emotional meaning for both men. For Barack, she is an idealized mother; he loves her, and he also badly needs to repair her defects; for Bibi (an affectionate abbreviation of the Hebrew name for Benjamin), she is more of an adoptive mother. As a young man he immigrated to America and made her his new motherland, only to abandon her later in favor of his native Israel (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Netanyahu). Like an infant who imagines that has two separate mothers, an all-giving fairy and a devouring witch, Bibi unconsciously splits his mother into an all-good mother, America, who protects Israel and defends her, and an all-bad one, Iran, who wishes to destroy her. In his unconscious mind, he and Israel are one.
However, whereas Barack Obama is a high-level, reparative narcissistic leader, who gets his narcissistic gratification from raising other people to his own level, making them more like himself, and helping them (see http://www.amazon.com/The-Riddle-Barack-Obama-Psychobiography/dp/0313385874/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1411145896&sr=8-1), Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be a high-level destructive narcissistic leader, whose gratification comes from defeating his rivals, putting them down, and feeling superior to them.
This is not the only difference between Barry and Bibi. Whereas Barack Obama did not have to deal with his father, except in his imagination (his abusive father abandoned him at the outset of his life, visited him only once, when Barry was ten years old, and died young), Bibi had to struggle for decades with a stern, severe and critical father who lived to be 102 years old. In another slip of the tongue, when publicly congratulating his father on the occasion of his 102th birthday, Bibi said, “You have lived for two hundred years… er, I mean, one hundred and two years…”
Barack’s mother was a highly intelligent and unusual woman, but she was also immature and difficult; she was twice married and divorced, both times to foreigners. This is one reason Barack so badly needs America as his idealized mother. Bibi also had to contend with a difficult mother, who jealously protected her husband and his scholarly work against any intrusion from her three sons, and who was no less punitive and as critical than his father, as well as with an elder brother, Yoni (an affectionate nickname for Yonatan or Jonathan), who was his father’s favorite, and who was killed in the Entebbe rescue operation of 1976, becoming an Israeli national hero.
What do Barack Obama and the United States mean in Bibi’s unconscious mind? Does Obama represent his father, or perhaps his elder brother, to him? Does America represent an idealized mother who is dominated by a bad father?
In October 2015, during a wave of murderous Palestinian Arab attacks on Israeli Jews, Netanyahu publicly told the 37th World Zionist Congress meeting in Jerusalem that it was Mohammed Amin al-Husayni (died 1974), the Arab Muslim Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during the British Mandate in Palestine (1920-1948), who had talked the German Nazi Führer, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), into “burning the Jews.” While it is true that the meeting between the two Jew-haters had occurred on November 28, 1941, shortly before the infamous Wannsee Conference at which “the Final Solution of the Jewish Question” was decided upon, by that time the European Jews were already being mass-murdered by the Germans, and the Mufti had said no such thing (see http://www.timesofisrael.com/full-official-record-what-the-mufti-said-to-hitler/). The Israeli historians, the colleagues of Bibi’s father, decried the patent falsehood of Bibi’s statement and his apparent exoneration of Hitler’s from his responsibility for “the Final Solution,” Barack Obama was amazed and upset, some Israeli journalists pointed out that Bibi’s blunder could not be explained in the terms of conscious psychology alone, and I, for one, wondered what burning feelings against his own father, what blind hatred of the Arabs, what unconscious projections and denials, and what destructive and self-destructive emotions could make the Israeli PM fan the flames of the terrible conflict and make himself look so dangerous and ridiculous in the world’s eyes.
Bibi’s war on Barack went on. In early November 2015, a few days before he was due to visit the White House again after a long freeze, Bibi picked as his new PR chief a forty-two-year-old Israeli who had insulted both President Obama and U.S. State Secretary John Kerry in his online posts. After an outcry both and home and broad, Bibi “reconsidered” his choice. During the U.S. presidential election campaign of 2016, Netanyahu clearly favored the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, over Obama’s choice to succeed him, Hillary Clinton. In Israel, Bibi’s numerous foes schemed to topple him from power, but he outfoxed them by allying himself with his bitterest foe, Avigdor Liberman, the leader of the right-wing Russian-speaking Israelis, who had called Netanyahu an incompetent fool; Bibi made Liberman his defense minister. Malignant narcissists, however, are their own worst enemies; Bibi himself could make the fatal decision that would bring about his downfall (see http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/06/world/middleeast/ran-baratz-israel-netanyahu.html).