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The nails that may cause the undoing of Netanyahu and Obama

January 18, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–You have heard the story of the nail that was lost, that hampered the horse, lost the battle and the empire.

In both countries that I follow there is danger of a lost nail. Where they impact is too early to know, but they are cause for worry, or maybe only amusement.

The nail here is Mrs Sara Netanyahu, the wife of  . . . In the most recent story that suggests she is the nation’s first harridan, is a suit alleging mistreatment and underpayment of wages by her former housekeeper.

This is one of those items that provokes the recall of other tales that have been passed around for years about the Netanyahu household. Some have made their way to the media, and have figured in police investigations about corruption and one successful charge of libel against a newspaper. So far the first lady has emerged clean from the allegations, and this time the prime minister’s office has rushed to her defense. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1143035.html

The prime minister has done well politically despite what is said about his wife and his outspoken father, Ben Zion, still vital at more than 100 and more conservative than his son. Bibi has a substantial coalition, held together not by the reputation of his family, but by his skill at juggling domestic and international demands. He has dealt with personal embarrassments before. During his first term he gave more attention to his wife and children than he has done this time, and he has seldom mentioned his father in public.

Barack Obama’s nail is concerned not with his family, and may be more serious.

His threat comes from Joseph L. Kennedy, no relation of the famous family, but a candidate for the late Edward’s Senate seat. The present Kennedy is a Libertarian, and given no chance of winning, but might draw enough votes in the Kennedy-soaked state to cause the Democratic candidate to lose in a close race. That could be the missing nail that topples the horse that causes the defeat of the president’s health initiative in a Congress where every vote is important.

This will not be the first time that people in my native state gave their votes to a Kennedy on name alone. John F(rancis) Kennedy was a nobody who served as the elected State Treasurer from 1955 to 1961. I remember his candidacy from my senior year in high school. One person was quoted as saying something like, “I don’t know how he can serve as United States Senator and State Treasurer at the same time, but he will have my vote.” 

Obama will not lose an empire if this Senate election goes the wrong way, but it would be a considerable blow to a presidency that depends on a health bill–no matter how unhealthy some think it is–to rescue a record that is tottering. His initiatives in foreign policy have brought ridicule from both Israelis and Arabs, as well as raising doubts about his wisdom with respect to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Guantanamo.The problems are long standing and severe. No one should accuse Obama of not trying, but early signs are the his rhetoric and advisers are not up to the tasks.

Consider this a heads up to watch the news. Both Sara Netanyahu and Joseph Kennedy will have some media space over the next few days, and who knows what will come of waves they generate. They may only provide a story of the triviality in politics. But like that other son of Massachusetts (Tip O’Neill) said, “All politics is local.”

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

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