Martin Indyk, the former peace negotiator for the State Department, says that the invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress and rebut Obama’s policy on Iran threatens to drive a wedge between Obama and “the Jewish lobby,” turning the battle into “the President versus Israel and its supporters.”
After all, the president has taken on the Cuba lobby, Indyk said. So this is the true danger of the invitation, that it will turn Israel lobby in the U.S., which Israel needs for its survival, into an open political issue in the U.S.
Indyk made his comments on Day 1 of the scandal, in a January 21 conversation with New York Times columnist (and author) Roger Cohen at the 92d Street Y in New York. Indyk, a longtime supporter of Israel who served under Obama, already saw that the invitation was generating rage in the White House, and this was a terrible strategic error by Netanyahu, endangering the “precious” US-Israel relationship:
So it’s an approach which is bound to create a good deal of anger in the White House. So why would you do that? I mean the president is going to be there for two more years. He’s just taken on the Cuba lobby. And he’s basically saying that I’ll veto any effort to impose new sanctions. So there’s a potential here for him to take on the Jewish lobby. Because I assume that AIPAC and the pro-Israel community will get behind the Prime Minister. And so we’re going to move from a kind of what was– a Democrat versus Republican argument with some Democrats supporting the Republicans on this issue of sanctions, to the President versus Israel and its supporters, and that’s not a place where we want to be. Anybody who cares about the Israel US relationship should not want to be there.
This is the wisest analysis I’ve seen about the fiasco. “Anybody who cares about the Israel US relationship should not want” this speech. It is why so many segments of the lobby, centrists, liberal Zionists, even neocon Robert Kagan now in the Washington Post, have thrown themselves into opposing the speech. The only ones who want the speech are diehard neocons who seem to think this is the only way to get a war with Iran– and the left and national interest types, people who want the speech to come off so that America will have to watch as the Congress jumps up and down to give repeated standing ovations to a foreign prime minister who opposes our president, so that America will ask why? As Scott Horton tweeted:
Dang. After reading Robert Kagan this morning, I’m afraid Netanyahu will cancel and all those terrible consequences won’t happen.
At Haaretz, Barak Ravid reports that Nancy Pelosi called Netanyahu urging him to put off the speech, and a group of congresspeople have launched a campaign to get Boehner to postpone the speech till April. The last thing that the liberal Zionists want is the fracture that Indyk described. It politicizes the special relationship, and invites progressive candidates to run against the Israel lobby in U.S. races. Notice that Democrats are now lining up behind Obama on sanctions. Ravid:
The 10 Democratic senators who were considering supporting the sanctions are now toeing the White House’s line
Ravid has the best detail on the story yet. The White House is seething. There’s a rupture between Kerry and Netanyahu. Obama may never meet with Netanyahu again (after 12 times in first six years).
Senior Israeli and American officials say the White House is seething with anger against Netanyahu. Following the trick he concocted with Republican leaders in Congress, Netanyahu is said to be “toast” as far as Obama is concerned. An Israeli official said the strong words he heard American officials use against Netanyahu convinced him that even if Netanyahu is elected on March 17 for another term, Obama wouldn’t meet him before he leaves the White House in a little less than two years.
Another man to whom Netanyahu is “toast,” at least temporarily, is Secretary of State John Kerry… Netanyahu’s maneuver over the Congress speech was the last straw for Kerry.
He felt personally affronted. His announcement that he wouldn’t meet Netanayhu in Washington was perhaps even more significant than the president’s. For Obama, such a move was almost self-evident. With Kerry it reflected a real rupture.
Indyk said much of this at the 92d Street Y last week: that Netanyahu has contempt for his relationship with Obama, and Kerry has been incredibly close to Netanyahu.
He speaks to Secretary Kerry every other day, sometimes twice, three times a day…. And [Netanyahu] didn’t tell Kerry [about his plans], he didn’t tell the White House.
Two or three times a day. Did you hear that, Americans?
I expect Chris Matthews to keep up the drumbeat against the speech tonight. Last night Matthews asked again with a wicked smile, Who came up with this idea? Matthews seems to be hinting at some conspiracy that would drag the (rightwing) Israel lobby down. But Barak Ravid says the answer is in plain sight:
White House officials think Dermer was the one who concocted the invitation of Netanyahu to Congress, together with the Republicans.
Then Ravid urges Dermer to walk the plank:
The damage Dermer has done to himself and to U.S.-Israel relations is irreparable, as long as he runs the embassy in Washington.
More from Indyk last week. At 26:30, Roger Cohen asks if we are on the “eve” of a very big clash between the US and Israel. And Indyk speaks frankly of the importance of American support and, implicitly, about the lobby, before he comes out and calls it the “Jewish lobby.”
I worry about that a lot. I believe that the US Israeli relationship is critically important to Israel’s future… A strong US Israel relationship is Israel’s second line of defense. It’s Israel’s force multiplier when it comes to deterring those that would seek to destroy Israel. And it’s just critically important for Israel’s survival.
So it’s precious. It needs to be nurtured by both sides, since both sides have an interest in it. And it needs to be protected. And I worry a great deal about what we’re about to go into now as a result of this invitation…. behind the back of President Obama.
Indyk then says that the Congress will give the Prime Minister “repeated standing ovations,” and this will be Netanyahu’s way of signalling to Israelis, Everything’s fine with my relationship with the U.S. The Congress has my back. But in fact it will damage the precious relationship by pitting the White House against the “Jewish lobby.”
By the way, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel got in a lot of hot water for calling it the Jewish lobby. Everyone told him that not all Jews are in the lobby, etc. But Indyk is Jewish, so he can get away with that phrasing.
Indyk suggests that the speech could be a Trojan horse for an Isaac Herzog-Labour-led government in Israel. 1, Netanyahu has so damaged the “precious” relationship that Israelis will reject him. 2, Israeli president Reuven Rivlin is Netanyahu’s real opponent. It is Rivlin’s job post-election of asking someone to form a governing coalition. Rivlin could well turn to Labour. So hope springs eternal among liberal Zionists! Though as Indyk notes, most of Israel’s fragmentary parties are right wing. So it is hard to imagine a government committed to abandoning the colonies across the Green Line.
Back to the issue of the Israel lobby. I’d point out to you that Martin Indyk states, “both sides have an interest in” that special relationship. But he never actually describes what the U.S. interest is here. If you read his statements, the relationship really only flows one way. The U.S. supports Israel. What does Israel do for the U.S.? Except destroy our reputation across the Arab world, and kill Rachel Corrie and the 34 men of the USS Liberty, etc? Don’t Americans get to make that assessment? If Americans actually questioned the precious relationship, according to Indyk’s analysis, Israelis would turn on a dime toward actual reform.
Robert Kagan is guilty of the same logical error as Indyk. He writes in the Washington Post that Netanyahu should back out of the invitation to speak, because it will hurt Israel and the U.S. But actually again, the damage is to Israel, and to the lobby, by politicizing the issue:
It will damage Israel’s image in the United States. Israel enjoys a great deal of sympathy among Americans, but there is such a thing as overplaying a hand. Even among those who may be enjoying the spectacle of Obama being defied (and, by the way, patriotic Americans should not be enjoying that spectacle, no matter how they feel about Obama), when all is said and done, Netanyahu’s visit may leave a sour taste…
It is not good for Congress. Congress already suffers from an image of excessive deference to Israel on matters of foreign policy. But Israel has no monopoly on strategic wisdom…
This issue isn’t going away. When will Netanyahu dump the speech?
I say, On Super Bowl Sunday, when everyone is distracted by The Beast and Gronk, Katy Perry and Tom Brady.