The report that a “senior” Obama administration official called Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu “a chickenshit” for destroying the peace process continues to roil the political and diplomatic waters. Here’s a wrapup of some commentary on the revelation, including Netanyahu’s defiant speech addressing “attack” from anonymous sources in the Obama administration yesterday:
our supreme interests, first and foremost security and the unity of Jerusalem, are not the top priority of those same anonymous sources that attack us and me personally.
The report is no laughing matter to American supporters of Israel. Here’s a dialogue between Jeffrey Goldberg, who broke the story in the first place, and neocon Bill Kristol in which they compete for who is more supportive of Israel:
.@JeffreyGoldberg With all due respect, this is chickenshit.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) October 29, 2014
The quotes are extremely concerning to the Israel lobby groups. The Jewish Federations leader calls the comments “outrageous.” While the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’ Malcolm Hoenlein and Robert Sugarman leap on the quotes:
“We are deeply concerned by a number of recent public and private criticisms, personal insults and inappropriate characterizations emanating from official sources. These often anonymous, but no less harmful, declarations undermine the common interests of the United States and Israel on the critical issues which face both countries and the real extraordinary cooperation on the security, intelligence, political and other levels. It is the common efforts of these two great democratic allies to address the threat of Iran becoming a threshold nuclear state, the rise of ISIS and other extremist Islamist groups, the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Libya, and the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge, among other issues of vital significance to both countries, that is of primary importance. It is only natural that there may be disagreements on issues, but we believe those should be discussed privately between the leaders of both countries and there should be no place for personal attacks which undermine mutual confidence and support so essential to advancing the interests of both the United States and Israel.
J Street agrees: “that such ad-hominem attacks have no place in relations between close allies.” Though it points out that many in D.C. were silent when Israeli officials criticized Obama administration officials; and besides, J Street says, the report points to the damage Israel has done with its “reckless” settlement policy.
Will American Jews take Obama’s side? CNN’s Jake Tapper says on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show that the comment will affect the mid term elections:
Hewitt: What surprises me is that it’s a week before an election in which the Jewish vote might indeed make a difference in a place like Florida, or a Senate race like New Hampshire, or a Senate race in Colorado. And these are not large numbers of voters who are motivated primarily by the American-Israel relationship, but they’re not insignificant, either. And this President has done repeatedly over the last three weeks things that Democratic candidates must be banging their head….
JT: Well, I completely agree with you that Rick Scott and others in tight races, where there is a significant vote of people who support Israel, not just Jews, but Evangelicals, will be making huge hay out of that comment. And I bet it becomes a big issue in those Israel-supporting communities, absolutely.
Noah Pollack of Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel fingers Ben Rhodes for the comment, while Adam Horowitz issued a clever challenge to Rhodes:
— Mondoweiss (@Mondoweiss) October 29, 2014
Horowitz, who did the artist’s composite in the above tweet, also pointed out the other slams on Netanyahu in the original report:
Buried in hoopla over "chickenshit," WH has also referred to Netanyahu as obtuse, blustering, pompous & “Aspergery" http://t.co/8a61kTfFYO
— Mondoweiss (@Mondoweiss) October 29, 2014
“Aspergery” has concerned the Ruderman Family Foundation, an organization focused on “advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout the Jewish community and fostering a more nuanced understanding of the American Jewish community among Israeli leaders”, which issued a statement condemning the administration for using that word as an insult:
“While it is perfectly acceptable for people to be critical of each other, it is unacceptable to use a term of disability in a derogatory manner. The term “Aspergery” was used in a manner that is insulting to the millions of people around the world with Asperger Syndrome. It is never OK to insult someone by referring to them by using disability in a negative manner.”
The comments were also seen as a threat to the Israel lobby. Netanyahu’s finance minister has used the flap to remind American Jews that Obama is no friend of Israel, and that they owe loyalty to that state:
If what is written is true, then the current administration intends to throw Israel under the bus….Israel is stronger than any disparager. The Prime Minister is not some private individual. He is the leader of the Jewish State and the Jewish world as a whole. Vulgar remarks directed against an Israeli Prime Minister are hurtful to the millions of citizens of Israel and Jews worldwide.
Netanyahu seems to believe this, too; he says that the U.S. and Israel have a “moral covenant.” Here are portions of his speech yesterday. Very defensive, angered by the anonymous sniping. Four times he refers to the “attack” on him.
When Israel is pressured to make concessions regarding its security, it is easiest to give in. We receive applause and attend ceremonies on lawns, but later the rockets and tunnels come.
As Prime Minister, I stand firm with regard to Israel’s security. I care about the lives of each and every citizen and each and every soldier. I have been on battlefields many times. I risked my life for this country, and I am not prepared to make concessions that will endanger it. And it must be understood, our supreme interests, first and foremost security and the unity of Jerusalem, are not the top priority of those same anonymous sources that attack us and me personally. I am being attacked only because I am protecting the State of Israel. If I did not protect the State of Israel, if I did not stand up decisively for our national and security interests, they would not attack me. And despite the attacks I face, I will continue to protect our country; I will continue to protect the citizens of Israel.
I would also like to add that I respect and appreciate our deep connection with the United States. Since the establishment of the country, we have had disagreements with the US and we will have disagreements in the future as well. However, they are not at the expense of the close relationship between our peoples and our countries. We have seen time and again, this year as well, that support for the State of Israel is ever increasing among the American public, and this support reached an all-time high. The strategic alliance and the moral covenant between our countries continues and will continue.
Netanyahu focused on the criticism that he destroyed the peace process by allowing settlements. But he seems to bridle at another aspect of Goldberg’s piece, the suggestion that he is chickenshit for not attacking Iran, which is Goldberg’s unprosecuted agenda of more than four years standing.
During the briefing at the State Department yesterday, Matt Lee of AP used the euphemism “chicken salad” to ask about the quote. State says it does not reflect U.S. leadership opinion:
Lee: I’ll try and keep this family-friendly by using the phrase “chicken salad” rather than the other word: What is going on here? Why are there senior Administration officials running around trashing the prime minister of Israel?
JEN PSAKI: Well, let me first say on your first question, even though it wasn’t a real question, the U.S.-Israel relationship remains strong, our security bonds have never been greater, and the ties between our nations are unshakeable. We remain fully and firmly committed to Israel’s security. On the comments, we think such comments are inappropriate and counterproductive. I spoke with Secretary – the Secretary about this this morning, and he certainly feels strongly that a war of words is not productive from either side. Obviously, we believe that moving forward, it’s in the best interests of both sides to address any issues that may arise appropriately and respectfully and not through personal attacks…
QUESTION: Are you trying to figure out – is the Administration trying to figure out who made these inappropriate and counterproductive comments?
MS. PSAKI: No….
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that the comments attributed to the anonymous U.S. official were authorized?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t. No.
Jerry Slater brings the matter back to the political realities in the U.S., and the possibility of the comment reflecting if not affecting the vote. He writes at his blog that the comment actually reveals Obama’s cowardice, and his beholdenness to the Jewish community, and in turn the beholdenness of that Jewish community to rightwing Zionism:
[T]he real “political coward” is Obama, not Netanyahu. In this morning’s Haaretz, the indispensable (and amazingly courageous) Gideon Levy writes that the real political coward is Obama, who by abandoning the Palestinians and continuing all forms of support to Israel is going against his real views, whereas Netanyahu is at least acting according to his real views.
The problem with the argument that Obama is a political coward… is that it doesn’t address the other other level, which creates a terrible dilemma: it isn’t Obama that would suffer political consequences if he exercised real pressure on Israel, but the rest of us. Meaning that as long as a large majority of the American Jewish community will not support serious U.S. pressures on Israel, the electoral consequences of defying that community–i.e. losing Jewish money and votes–could be an even stronger Republican majority in Congress, for that matter even in a close Presidential election. And that’s not an Obama disaster, it’s our disaster.
The dilemma cannot be resolved without a major change in the views of the American Jewish community, which is why I have always regarded that community as the most important audience for critical analyses of Israeli policies.
Thanks to Adam Horowitz.