State Dep’t says Netanyahu speech is not inappropriate, disrespectful, humiliating or embarrassing

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Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to both Houses of Congress to rebut President Obama’s Iran policy is a full-on fiasco. It keeps stirring things up and getting attention. Opposition to the speech is mounting on Capitol Hill, say both the US Campaign to End the Occupation and Jeffrey Goldberg. And any reasonable person has to wonder, Wait, why are the warmongering Israelis messing in our negotiations? Where did a rightwing foreign prime minister derive the power to take on the president on equal terms?

Here are some developments.

First, the US Campaign to End the Occupation and Jewish Voice for Peace are calling on Congresspeople to “boycott” Netanyahu’s speech, planned for March 3. The US Campaign reports that opposition to the speech is “mounting” on Capitol Hill:

Can you believe it? The day after President Obama’s State of the Union address, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress in a bid to undermine US efforts to broker a deal with Iran on its nuclear capabilities.

If you are as outraged as us that Congress would invite a foreign leader to scuttle the president’s attempts to resolve this issue with Iran peacefully, then take action right now…

Wouldn’t it be great to see lots of empty seats in Congress as Netanyahu war-mongers and justifies Israel’s oppression of Palestinians?

We know what you’re thinking: this is futile. Last time he addressed Congress in 2011, Netanyahu got 29 standing ovations! Well, things are different this time around. We’re already hearing from Congressional offices that opposition to his speech is mounting on Capitol Hill.

Here JVP’s message, by Cecilie Surasky:

Unless we raise our voices now, Prime Minister Netanyahu, who continues to obstruct progress towards a just peace, will be handed a high-profile platform on March 3 to promote war—using his usual bigoted rhetoric, deception and outright lies.

Surasky dismisses all the etiquette/protocol issues and gets at the real reason this speech is dangerous:

Join us—and our partners at RootsAction and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation—in raising our voices to protest Netanyahu’s speech, not merely because it’s a partisan snub, nor because the date is close to the Israeli elections, but because Netanyahu is going to Washington to undermine diplomacy with Iran.

Instead of letting diplomacy work, Netanyahu wants the US to impose harsher sanctions on Iran, all but ensuring that talks collapse and the necessity of military action.

Equally troubling, Netanyahu will also generate hysteria about Iran and the “war on terror”, as he has for years, to distract U.S voters from the truth: under Netanyahu’s leadership, the Israeli government has ramped up illegal settlement building, increasing the population of Jewish settlers by over 23%, made the biggest land grab in a generation, committed countless human rights abuses and killed thousands of civilians in the West Bank and Gaza, and done everything possible to maintain the status quo of Israeli occupation and domination.

Raise your voice now and tell Congress to boycott Netanyahu’s speech.

The petition at also emphasizes the war question:

Further, he will advocate for additional harsh sanctions on Iran that will undermine the diplomatic process and possibly lead to war. We call on all members of Congress to refuse to attend Netanyahu’s speech before Congress and to send the message that anyone who promotes war over peace is not welcome.

Netanyahu surely regrets accepting this assignment. His ambassador Ron Dermer is trying to walk the deal back. The matter got kicked around at the State Department yesterday. A little comic relief:

QUESTION: Is it not appropriate for [Netanyahu] to be speaking on this issue–

State Department spokesperson Jen PSAKI: I don’t think I or anyone else said it was inappropriate for the prime minister of Israel to talk about Iran…

Question: Ambassador Dermer, with whom Secretary Kerry had a meeting last week in which he expressed – after which he expressed surprise that he was not told of the potential or impending visit by the prime minister – said in a speech on Sunday night that it was not the prime minister’s intention to embarrass or humiliate or somehow denigrate the President of the United States.  Do you accept that explanation

PSAKI: I don’t think anyone said we were embarrassed or humiliated, so I’m not sure why they used those terms.

QUESTION:  They didn’t use those terms…. the Ambassador said it is not the Prime Minister’s intention to show disrespect to the President of the United States on this trip.  Do you accept that explanation?

PSAKI: I think we’re not losing much more sleep about this particular issue.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  And then the other thing that the ambassador said was that – was also not the prime minister’s intention to somehow interfere in the American political process.  Do you believe that?

PSAKI: I don’t think I have any more to add on this, Matt.  We’ve discussed and debated this quite a bit.

QUESTION:  And just one more, then.  Do you believe that the invitation was given with a political motive in mind?

PSAKI: I’ll let others evaluate that question.

MJ Rosenberg opines that Congresspeople will not skip the speech. He also points out that those who are trying to blame House Speaker John Boehner for the fiasco are cutting the Israelis and the Israel lobby a break:

How do u know a member of Congress or pundit is owned by the lobby? He blames Bibi speech disaster on Boehner, not Netanyahu.

Watch how carefully some (far from all) media types avoid blaming Netanyahu. Very telling. Boehner is an insignificant tool in all this.

This is the beauty of the scandal in my view. The naked overreach by Israel supporters is pulling the curtain back on the power of the lobby to incite war. In the end, it will call attention to that earlier deadly combination of US neoconservatives and Netanyahu: when Richard Perle, Doug Feith and David Wurmser drafted “A Clean Break” for Netanyahu in ’96 calling for regime change in Iraq, and the next thing you knew Perle, Feith and Wurmser were working for the US government and we were invading Iraq.

More. The former Iraq war-campaigner Jeffrey Goldberg has a column up called the “Netanyahu disaster,” angrily listing everything Netanyahu is risking. Goldberg rues the fact that Israel support has been politicized. An elected official texted him over the weekend to say that “the damage Netanyahu is doing to Israel’s relationship with the U.S. may be ‘irreparable.’”

Goldberg reminds Netanyahu that you’re supposed to play the U.S. in “discreet” and “respectful” ways, i.e., behind closed doors, not make Israel support a public issue.

unfortunately for Netanyahu, it is incumbent upon the junior partner in the Israel-U.S. relationship to maintain an even keel in the relationship. Netanyahu, grappling with a fear that Obama will go wobbly on Iran, could have tried a long time ago to create a discreet, continuous, and respectful dialogue in advance of the conclusion of negotiations, in order to try to shape the president’s thinking, and—this is important—to work with Obama on issues that interest the United States (advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, for instance, by taking the initiative once in a blue moon) in order to make the American side understand that his government is interested in giving, not merely in taking…

Goldberg even gets out the lobby playbook: maintaining US support is an “existential” issue (as I used to say, the lobby leaders sincerely believe they hold the breathing tube for Israel by maintaining US political support):

Israeli prime ministers, in fact, have two main tasks. The first is to protect their country from existential threats. The second: To work very hard to stay on the good side of the president and people of the United States. Success in accomplishing this first task is sometimes predicated on achieving this second task.

Israel has been, for several decades, a bipartisan cause in Washington. Bipartisan support accounts for the ease with which Israeli prime ministers have historically been heard in Washington; it accounts for the generous aid packages Israel receives; and it also explains America’s commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.

Now Netanyahu’s hubris potentially alienates Democrats and American Jews:

[It] puts American Jewish supporters of Israel in a messy, uncomfortable spot, and it is not in Israel’s interest to place American Jews in a position in which they have to choose between their president and the leader of a Jewish state whose behavior is making them queasy.

Exactly. If you tell American Jews you have to choose allegiance to Israel or allegiance to the U.S., overwhelmingly they will say the U.S. This is an old issue. From the beginning Zionism was plagued by its apparent contradiction to the patriotism of Diaspora Jews. Louis Brandeis resolved the contradiction by saying it was OK to pull for two teams, that’s an American tradition. Now Netanyahu is reestablishing the contradiction by demonstrating that national interests are so different.

And why has he done it? I believe because he’s a simple and hubristic soul. In 2001 Netanyahu said that the U.S. was something that can be easily moved. He does not believe that Israel is the “junior” partner in the relationship. He’s helping everyone wake up from a very bad dream.

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Well done, Phil.

“He’s helping everyone wake up from a very bad dream.”

For that, I thank him.

I really hope folks are calling their reps and the WH. The phones should be ringing off the hook, and the email boxes should be overflowing.

This is the beauty of the scandal in my view. The naked overreach by Israel supporters is pulling the curtain back on the power of the lobby to incite war. You are exactly right on this, Phil. This is why I am an ardent fan of Netanyahu getting re-elected – his words and actions will do more to expose the power of the Lobby than if he is replaced by someone more diplomatic and less… Read more »

Where did a rightwing foreign prime minister derive the power to take on the president on equal terms? Come on now you’ve seen the Hill and Politico. He didn’t take on the president on equal terms. The Speaker of the US House of Representative, the co-chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a majority of both houses of congress and a substantial chunk of the public however can take a president on, on equal terms.… Read more »

“WATCH: Bill O’Reilly, ‘It’s important for all Americans to know what Benjamin Netanyahu knows’ Fox News host defends Israeli prime minister’s decision to speak before the U.S. Congress saying, ‘The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, is one of the best in the world, so Netanyahu has information about Iran.’ … Now, the bigger picture — Americans are in danger. We’re all in danger from Islamic terrorists and from the nation of Iran. Some estimates say Iran… Read more »

She said, while wiping the spittle from her face, and smiling a phony smile, reminiscent of the abused woman trying to change the subject and hide the bruises at the same time, unwilling yet to face the elephant in the room.

Time for intervention.