The Israel lobby has overreached at last. John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress and rebut President Obama on Iran is turning into a political scandal that could reduce the power of the Israel lobby inside US politics.
It could do so by fracturing the lobby: by forcing pro-Israel Democrats to side openly with the American people’s interest over Israel’s interest. There are already reports that some Democratic hawks want to give Obama time on Iran rather than imposing new sanctions.
What will those Democrats do when Netanyahu thunders in the House chamber in March that the U.S. must not cut a deal with Iran? Will they give him a standing ovation, or sit on their hands?
The Boehner invitation may have done what no other naked exposure of the lobby’s influence has done before it: force the American press and politicians to speak out on the difference between the US people’s interests and the Israelis’. It could be the “Fellate-a-Donkey” breakthrough moment those of us who believe in the lobby theory of policymaking have always hoped for: a shocking demonstration of the lobby’s power that leaves our commentators no choice but to describe the influence of the lobby inside our political institutions.
Here is the evidence for my assertions.
First, last night Chris Matthews took on the scandal, and all but stated that the Israel lobby is a mighty force in American politics. He called the invitation stunning and unprecedented, “ferocious” politics. “I have seen a lot of politics in all these years. And I’ve never seen anything so in-your-face as this.” To take on the president using an “adversarial” rightwing foreign leader, addressing the Congress in the middle of negotiations with a foreign country so as “to put his thumb on the scale… I’m stunned by this kind of political performance.”
Matthews said that Democrats will be openly torn, and hurt by the maneuver. He all but named the Israel lobby:
This puts the Democrats behind the eight ball. We all know the politics, the role of the Jewish community and the Christian right. We all know the politics and sensitivities. For any Democrat to come out and complain about what Netanyahu says, is trouble right there.
PS: Democrats are not intimidated by the Christian right. They’re intimidated by the rightwing Zionist Jewish community. Let’s force Chris Matthews to say what he knows about that power, huh?
Matthews said that the Republicans are doing this in part to overcome the negative fallout from House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s flirtation with the Ku Klux Klan years ago. That alliance had put the Republican Jewish Coalition in an awful position, Matthews said. Now Matt Brooks, the head of the RJC, has the greatest job in the world: “We’re going to host Netanyahu.”
But some of the Dems will side with the President over Netanyahu. Politico quoted east coast Democratic senators saying they were listening to Obama, including Richard Blumenthal, Mark Warner, and Chuck Schumer.
In interviews Wednesday, several Democrats who had supported a previous version of Iran legislation sponsored by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said they are reconsidering their positions. Meanwhile, a previous version of an Iran bill offered by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) did not have any Democratic co-sponsors.
Neoconservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin promptly trashed Chuck Schumer for indications that he would stand with Obama and not Israel:
As is invariably the case, Democrats such as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) who fancy themselves as great defenders of the Jewish state are above all partisans who will not cross the president. There is no significant benefit for them to stand up to him in a party that is increasingly indifferent to Israel.
This is just what J Street has warned against, a debate that makes support for Israel a “political football,” (and a deflated one) rather than an American article of faith.
This is the last thing Netanyahu wants. His tweets on the invitation say that he and the Democrats are on the same page.
PM: This invitation reflects the special friendship shared by Israel and the US and the strong bipartisan support for Israel across America.
And he and Obama are on the same page, even though Obama won’t meet with him.
Last week I discussed with POTUS the common challenges we face from Islamist extremism.
At the very least this drama could force some Democratic congresspeople to come out forcefully against Netanyahu, and thereby unleash a debate over the American interest versus Israel’s interest that will reverberate through the 2016 presidential campaign. If that debate is unleashed, then folks like Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul will be able to argue that the American people don’t want another Middle East war– and force that decision, against war, on the party standard-bearers.
If that debate is unleashed, we may at last see a rancorous division over Israel inside the Democratic Party, with liberals actually talking about the Israeli occupation as a threat to American national security.
But wait, the NYT doesn’t want a debate! Here is the New York Times coverage of the scandal, “Obama not planning to meet Israeli premier,” making the flap out to be a tactical power struggle between Obama and Boehner:
“The Boehner-Netanyahu gambit has taken the relationship at the top to a new low,” Mr. [former ambassador Dan] Kurtzer said. “It has put Netanyahu into an anti-Obama camp, a Republican camp. He may think that he gains a political advantage by showing that Congress is on his side.”
Yes and what is that political advantage? The Times says nothing about the underlying politics of the matter, or the policy consequences either. The Times may feel burned because last week it reported that Obama was warning Democratic senators not to bow to donor pressure, in an anonymous quotation that drew rage from the Israel lobby, because such a line hints at Jewish influence (the sensitivities that Chris Matthews touches on but can’t address). But this latest Times article says not a word about who is pushing our politicians to listen to a rightwing foreign leader. As James North says:
The Times couldn’t find a single expert who would say, “This is extremely dangerous, because Israel is continually trying to maneuver the U.S. into taking armed action against Iran, which is not in our national interest and jeopardizes our security?”
They couldn’t find some congressman or woman who wouldn’t say, even anonymously, “We’re getting a lot of heat from the lobby?”
Some other developments in the story.
Yesterday we noted that Secretary of State John Kerry had quoted an unnamed Israeli intelligence official saying that more sanctions against Iran would “throw a grenade” into the ongoing negotiations with Iran. Well the Israeli intelligence service the Mossad issued a highly unusual public statement, saying, Nope it’s in line with Netanyahu on Iran sanctions. We need more!
The Mossad Chairman pointed out that the negotiations with Iran must be conducted using ‘carrots and sticks,’ and the ‘sticks’ are currently missing. The Mossad Chairman pointed out that without strong pressure, it will not be possible to bring about significant compromises on the Iranian side.
The Mossad Chairman did not relate to the use of the term ‘hand grenade’ with respect to the imposition of sanctions, because in his eyes, these are the ‘sticks’ that will help to obtain a good agreement.
David Drucker of the Washington Examiner: “Right now, senators who favor #Iran sanctions bill think they have a veto-proof majority.”
Update: At the White House press briefing today, spox Josh Earnest was put on the defensive about why Obama will not meet with Netanyahu when the prime minister comes to Washington in March. The White House rationale is that the meeting is too close to the Israeli elections, March 17, for an American president to seem to interfere with that process. The “close proximity doctrine” was all-but-mocked by one reporter who pointed out that Obama himself as the putative nominee of the Democratic Party did a big European swing in July 2008 and met European heads of state.
Earnest responded that in that case the election was more than three months off, thereby nullifying the “close proximity doctrine.” He said the White House did not object when Mitt Romney went to Israel in July 2012 during the US presidential campaign, also three months ahead of the election.
P.S. Here’s Senator John McCain from his visit to Israel and occupied Jerusalem last weekend: