Netanyahu speech scandal blows up, and ‘soiled’ Dermer looks like the fall guy

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In the last 24 hours the controversy over the planned speech by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to both houses of Congress on March 3 to rebut the president’s policy on Iran has blown up to a new level. Muted outrage over the invitation has turned into open rage. The opposition to the speech by major Israel supporters across the political spectrum, liberal J Street, center-right Jeffrey Goldberg, and hard-right Abraham Foxman, all of whom say the speech-planners have put the US-Israel relationship at risk by making it a political controversy in the U.S., has been conveyed to the Democratic establishment.

The New York Times and Chris Matthews both landed on the story last night, a full week after it broke, to let us know what a disaster the speech would be if it’s ever delivered. So these media are acting to protect the special relationship by upping the pressure to cancel the speech.

With even AIPAC washing its hands of the speech, it sure looks as if Israel supporters want an exit from this fiasco. Jettisoning Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer or cancelling the speech would seem like a small price to pay in the news cycle next to a spectacle in which leading Democrats are forced to line up against Netanyahu in Washington, even as they file in and out of the AIPAC policy conference and praise Israel to the skies.

Here are the developments. First, the New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis has a report of unleashed White House fury over the invitation. The story contains the signal that Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador, will be the fall guy for the scandal:

The outrage the episode has incited within President Obama’s inner circle became clear in unusually sharp criticism by a senior administration official who said that the Israeli ambassador, Ron Dermer, who helped orchestrate the invitation, had repeatedly placed Mr. Netanyahu’s political fortunes above the relationship between Israel and the United States.

The official who made the comments to The New York Times would not be named, and the White House declined to comment….

So: The White House gets to appear as if it is protecting the special relationship between the countries from that shmendrick Dermer. The message to Dermer is delivered in scatological terms by former ambassador Dan Kurtzer, a liberal Zionist:

“He has soiled his pad; who’s he going to work with?” Mr. Kurtzer said.

Dermer’s felony was politicizing the relationship between the countries. Hey, no one wants this politicized? The neoconservatives do; they want a battle over Iran policy. So did Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, when he said Obama was taking his talking points from Tehran. The left surely wants the matter politicized; that way our politicians can come out against Israeli settlements and massacres. But the centrist elements of the lobby have cohered over this issue, saying the speech is a big problem, and Obama must keep Israel supporters happy in order to get the prize here: freedom to negotiate with Iran.

Even AIPAC is trying to steer clear of the wreckage. Ron Kampeas reports:

Alan Elsner of J Street has savaged Dermer in Haaretz, “Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. is planting a rotten seed.” Elsner wrote that Dermer has placed Israel’s most essential protection at risk:

At a time of growing diplomatic isolation, Israel only has one firm ally that it can depend on – the United States. Does it really want to further narrow that base of support by depending entirely on Republicans, as Dermer seems to want to do?

The Times echoes the point, saying the last thing Obama wants is for Americans to start arguing about the special relationship:

White House officials were at first wary that Mr. Dermer would politicize relations between Washington and Jerusalem, but over time cultivated a working relationship with him after concluding that there were advantages in his closeness to Mr. Netanyahu.

The last week has borne out their initial concerns.

The Israelis are reportedly enraged about it too. The Times also published the story that Michael Oren has called on Netanyahu to cancel the speech. Short term political gain at the risk of the entire US-Israel relationship.

Is there a conspiracy of folks trying to protect the US-Israel relationship from any robust debate? Yes. Chris Matthews led off his broadcast last night with the story. This after ignoring it the day it broke last week. Matthews slyly wondered who was at the bottom of the invitation, but then went on to praise Tzipi Livni, Isaac Herzog, Michael Oren, and Abe Foxman as wonderful people. Talk about covering your bases. David Corn seemed to echo J Street when he explained that an Israeli prime minister had two jobs, keeping his country safe and protecting the relationship with the United States. But gosh, that’s Israel’s problem. Where is the American interest? Maybe it would be a good thing if the issue were open to the American voters. They’d get to discuss how they feel about Israeli expansion and massacres and nuclear weapons, and their feelings would be echoed by politicians. We would have a deal with Iran in no time; and there’d be huge pressure on Israel to end the occupation.

Corn said the battle is for “Jewish voters.” This is not true; Jewish voters are in safe states, with the exception of Florida. It’s about Jewish donors and Jewish friends of Israel all over the establishment. Matthews said again that no president could be elected or reelected if he/she allowed Iran to get a nuclear weapon. To his great credit, Corn disagreed. While emphasizing that it is not evident that Iran even wants a nuclear weapon, Corn seemed to express the view that we can contain a nuclear Iran. It’s about time that realist view was expressed in the MSM. The establishment wants this scandal to end in a hurry, but it continues to yield benefits.

Thanks to James North.

Update: National Iranian American Council organizes a campaign to stop the speech. It has three Congresspeople on board.

It is unbelievable that some in our Congress would provide a foreign leader with an official platform to attack our President and start a war. If sanctions pass and diplomacy collapses, Americans could be sent to die in a war with Iran. That is not Bibi Netanyahu’s decision to make.

So some in Congress are taking action to stop Bibi’s speech. Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Steve Cohen (D-TN) are organizing a letter to demand that House Speaker John Boehner (who made the invitation) cancel Bibi’s invite.

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Dermer trained under Frank Luntz. Explains a lot

This is why I’ve been torn about telling my representative to avoid the speech. More people need to see that our so-called “special relationship” is the relationship of a tail that wags the dog. It’s time to lift the taboo against asking hard questions about how we relate to Israel.

1. Abe Foxman is not hard-right, and you know that. He’s firmly in the center. 2. “Maybe it would be a good thing if the issue were open to the American voters. They’d get to discuss how they feel about Israeli expansion and massacres and nuclear weapons, and their feelings would be echoed by politicians. We would have a deal with Iran in no time; and there’d be huge pressure on Israel to end the… Read more »

I say let Nietanyahu make his speech.Let Americans hear what he has to say. Then pounce on him and the traitorous Israel firsters .It is time Dick and Jane who provide the 3.5 billion dollars each year to this pip squeak tin pot nation who considers them as morons to be used in the pursuit of a racist, oppressive and ethnocentric criminal nation that sticks it,,s fingers at democratic principles, get to know the facts.They… Read more »

“…Maybe it would be a good thing if the issue were open to the American voters. They’d get to discuss how they feel about Israeli expansion and massacres and nuclear weapons, and their feelings would be echoed by politicians…” -Phil’s article is good, but this particular passage strikes me as wishful thinking. It’s just not how things work in the US. The sad truth is that US voters play virtually no role whatever in determining… Read more »