The plans by the Israeli Prime Minister to address both Houses of Congress in March in order to rebut the President’s call for negotiations with Iran is finally drawing the outrage it deserves. It was condemned in the last day by The New York Times, leading pundits, liberal Zionist organizations, and implicitly, in the Israeli press. Some fear that the speech could lead to war– Chris Matthews, Susan Milligan, Jonathan Capehart and the New York Times express this fear.
More parochial voices worry that it could divide the Israel lobby, the monolithic coalition that supports Israel inside American politics, or blow up Israel’s influence in the United States.
First, some of the juicy bits. Haaretz says the White House is angry; Netanyahu “spat” in Obama’s face by accepting the invitation from the Republican leadership. Times of Israel:
The White House’s outrage over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to speak before Congress in March — a move he failed to coordinate with the administration — began to seep through the diplomatic cracks on Friday, with officials telling Haaretz the Israeli leader had “spat” in President Barack Obama’s face.
“We thought we’ve seen everything,” the newspaper quoted an unnamed senior US official as saying. “But Bibi managed to surprise even us.
“There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price,” he said.
So Israel will suffer. Other unnamed US officials:
“It will be difficult to trust Netanyahu in the future,” unnamed senior US officials told [Israel’s] Channel 2. “At a critical juncture that requires close cooperation on strategic matters, he preferred to advance his political interests while disrupting the correct working relationship” between the two governments.
On Chris Matthews’ MSNBC show Hardball last night, Susan Milligan of US News & World Report said that the Republicans are trying to submarine Obama’s negotiations with Iran. Matthews agreed, and said that the effect of the maneuver would be to force the “worst case scenario,” in which Iran develops nuclear weapons:
Matthews: [Republicans] don’t care if the talks completely break down… Then we’re faced with the two terrible options. The one I know we’re going to have to do, which is blow them up–
Matthews: And that means a war. And we’ll have to do it at some point, if we go that course. Because no president can get reelected– elected in this country, who doesn’t deal with a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranians. That’s a fact.
Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post: And if that happens, the American people need to understand who’s responsible for the president… having to make that decision.
I think Matthews is wrong about this, that if a nuclear weapon is a real eventuality (though many experts say that Iran has not sought to develop a nuclear weapon), and the issue were actually framed for the American people, they’d support containment of Iran. But of course that choice won’t be framed. It will be the subject of lobby pressure, out of sight. Which Matthews actually acknowledges when he says there is no choice in the matter.
The New York Times editorializes, and, like Matthews, warns that Congress is “playing politics on Iran” in a “hostile” manner; and this could lead to war.
A move by Congress to pass legislation proposing new sanctions could blow up the talks and divide the major powers that have been united in pressuring Iran. Given an excuse to withdraw from talks, Iran could accelerate its nuclear program, curbed for a year under an interim agreement, and force the United States or Israel to use military action or a cyberattack to keep Tehran from producing nuclear weapons.
The Times can’t say a straight word about the lobby. All hinting:
Domestic politics are also at work. Republicans apparently see value in trying to sabotage any possible success for Mr. Obama, even if it harms American interests.
Yes and when do domestic politics harm US interests? Why isn’t that a huge scandal to be investigated? That’s more dangerous than the gun lobby, you’d think.
The Times says that Netanyahu is taking a great risk with the US coalition that supports Israel. Secretary of State John Kerry just went to bat for him against the Palestinians.
Even Mr. Kerry, who recently called almost 50 world leaders in an effort to block the Palestinians’ attempt to join the International Criminal Court, is losing patience with Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to “play politics,” according to his aides. Can Mr. Netanyahu really afford to dismiss such allies?
He called 50 leaders! Wow.
E.J. Dionne is also shocked by the political effrontery, speaking on National Public Radio:
Bibi’s coming to speak against the president’s policy. There’s no easy analogy because Israel has a particular place in the hearts of a lot of Americans, but I was thinking gosh, if the Democrats had invited Jacques Chirac to address Congress about the Iraq war – in other words, this is somebody who opposes President Obama’s policy. I don’t think there’s any precedent for this. The White House is clearly furious.
My own analogy: inviting Vladimir Putin to come speak against the Cuba opening.
On the same radio segment, David Brooks expressed the fear that this bold move will fracture the Israel lobby.
I guess I don’t blame Boehner for inviting him. I’d certainly blame Bibi for accepting. It’s just stupid. It’s not good for two countries – it’s bad for them to be feuding in public. It’s really bad when you do it on the soil of one of the two countries.
Brooks, who has said he’s “gooey-eyed” over Israel and whose son now serves in the Israeli military, also said “Bibi’s a better speaker” than Obama. I wonder how that’s going to go down in the next Obama off-the-record meeting with columnists; this is the kind of thing that stings the president’s pride.
For another thing, Brooks, Dionne, David Corn and Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street all refer to the Israeli prime minister in their commentaries as “Bibi.” Ben-Ami refers to the two leaders as “Bibi and Obama.” Bibi is an affectionate name for a rightwing militant occupying leader who coordinated a massacre last summer. James North deplored this long ago.
Corn said on Hardball that Netanyahu is the loser in the deal. By accepting John Boehner’s “nearly traitorous invitation to speak,” he is alienating the White House, which will have a lot of power over policy in two years.
You don’t go after the king unless you can kill the king….
There is no reason for him to tick the president off.
By the way, if you can call Boehner “nearly traitorous,” why not say that the Israel lobby has dual loyalty? Oh, because Boehner is a Republican, and the lobby is part of the blue state establishment.
J Street and Peace Now are all fearful of dividing the Israel lobby. Both liberal Zionist orgs call for Congress to delay the speech. Peace Now says “the timing of the invitation and its manner are outrageous. They are inappropriate and irresponsible.”
Americans for Peace Now (APN) calls on Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner (R-Ohio) to re-issue his invitation for the prime minister of Israel to address Congress for a later date, after the deadline for negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, and following the elections in Israel, after a new government coalition is formed. Peace Now is worried that the move is “divisive”; Americans will start debating our support for Israel:
this move uses Israel, yet again, as a wedge issue in internal American politics. Speaker Boehner’s invitation – both its timing and manner – is therefore a disservice to US national security interests and to Israel’s.
J Street has a similar message, that this “shocking stunt” will divide the Israel lobby: “Making Israel a partisan issue weakens the US-Israel relationship.” Boo hoo. Though to its credit, J Street emphasizes the U.S. policy piece: the speech could derail ongoing negotiations with Iran. Jeremy Ben-Ami writes:
Traditionally, the executive branch — President Obama — leads on foreign policy. Boehner inviting a foreign leader, even a close ally, without even a simple “heads-up” to the president or his Democratic counterparts is a serious breach of standards.
This invitation looks like a thinly-veiled attempt to scuttle the critical negotiations taking place right now aimed at ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. Bibi and Obama disagree on how to deal with Iran, and that’s fair. But a foreign leader lobbying Congress (from the same spot where the President delivered his State of the Union address just days ago!) is inappropriate.
Bibi and Obama.
But of course the neoconservatives are happy; they want our Iran policy scuttled by a foreign leader. So we are beginning to see open division between Zionists in the Establishment. Here is Bill Kristol trashing Chuck Schumer for not being a “shomer” or guardian of Israel in Hebrew (a role that Schumer has bragged he has because of his name). Kristol:
Schumer no Shomer? @SenSchumer, co-sponsor in 2014 of Kirk-Menendez when it had no chance of coming to floor, is reportedly now opposed.
Rosie Gray says that’s not true, Schumer is for sanctions:
Schumer’s office says it’s not true and that he “intends to cosponsor the bill”
Neocons upping the ante. Here is a rightwing publication saying that former White House officials, including two who worked under Obama, say that the president is not tough enough on Iran. This means war, huh? To be continued.
Update: More outrage in the US press. In the Boston Globe, Michael Cohen writes that Netanyahu has damaged his own agenda, of sanctioning Iran, with this bumptious move:
First, you can pretty much put a fork in Iran sanctions legislation. With Republicans controlling Congress, the bill will likely be passed, but the possibility of a congressional override of an almost certain presidential veto seems remote. Democrats were already wavering about the possibility of going against their president, but now that Netanyahu and Boehner have nakedly politicized the issue, it will give Democrats even more reason to stick with Obama. … This latest action will only increase the partisan divide, and weaken Democratic support for Israel under Netanyahu’s leadership.
And that frayed American support will hurt Netanyahu’s hopes for remaining prime minister:
From all appearances, Israelis are increasingly concerned that the US-Israel bilateral relationship is in crisis — and they believe that Netanyahu is partly responsible. Undermining that relationship only weeks before a national election may have the perverse effect of reminding Israelis why another term for Netanyahu could be so dangerous for the country.
Chris Wallace on Fox calls the deal “wicked,” done behind John Kerry’s back:
“For him [Netanyahu] to come here, to ignore the president, to not even let him know he was coming, to sneak in, to come to talk to Congress with the president’s opponents,” Wallace says– that’s a shocking violation of protocol.”
And anchor Shepard Smith brings up the endless expansion of the settlements. Good: now the settlements are in play!
Thanks to Jeff Klein.