White House national security adviser Susan Rice’s comments that the Netanyahu speech is “destructive” of the special relationship between Israel and the U.S. are rocketing around news sites today. They are a big story at the Times and at Associated Press and on National Public Radio. Here is the segment of the interview with Charlie Rose last night:
Here’s a transcript:
Rice: The relationship between Israel as a country and the United States as a country has always been bipartisan and we’ve been fortunate that the politics have not been injected into this relationship. What has happened over the last several weeks by virtue of the invitation that was issued by the speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks in advance of his election is that on both sides there has now been injected a degree of partisanship. Which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship, and it’s something that–
Rose: It’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship–
Rice: Well, Charlie, take my point, it’s always been bipartisan, we need to keep it that way. We want it that way. I think Israel wants it that way, want to keep it that way. I think Israel wants it that way, the American people want it that way. When it becomes injected or infused with politics that’s a problem.
Rose: Do you think he’s coming here because he wants to influence the election in Israel?
Rice: I’m not going to ascribe motives to the prime minister. Let him explain for himself. But I think the point is, We want the relationship between the United States and Israel to be unquestionably strong, immutable, regardless of political seasons in either country, regardless of which party may be in charge in each country. We’ve worked very hard to have that and we will work very hard to maintain that “
This is obviously a big moment in the history of the “special relationship” between the countries, and specifically in the life of the Israel lobby. Maintaining support for Israel as a non-political question in policymaking is the essence of the Israel lobby’s work, and Rice claims here that the White House is on board with that policy and wants to keep things that way. I don’t think the White House actually does want to keep things on that footing. Netanyahu opened the door of making Israel support partisan, and now Obama has rushed through, using this opportunity in countless ways to politicize the relationship– VP Joe Biden and Sec’y of State John Kerry are in essence boycotting the Netanyahu visit– and thereby to foster a discussion by the American people of whether Israel’s policy on Iran should be ours. (And other questions follow in train: Are Americans in favor of Israeli colonies in defiance of the Arab Peace Initiative and world opinion? Are we in favor of no vote for Palestinians?)
In days to come, we will see J Street struggling to maintain a Democratic Party line in support of Israel and the special relationship. That is why Democrats offered to have a special meeting with Netanyahu– an offer the PM rejected. The Dems were giving Netanyahu an out from his speech. No, he wants to give the speech and force the Dems to come. Many will show up, but the Obama administration will boycott. And so we are seeing three camps forming. Hardline support (almost all Republicans, and some Schumer-Menendez-Engel Democrats too), J Street Democrats (the center of the Dem Party now, pushing for a Labor victory in Israel) and the Obama/Congressional Black Caucus/leftleaning Dems refusenik bloc. This couldn’t be better for the American people. I don’t think Humpty Dumpty lobby can be put back together again.
Alan Dershowitz is trying to keep the lobby whole. He has a piece up at the Wall Street Journal, now linked on Netanyahu’s Facebook account in the most approving way, along with the little poster at left, saying that it’s “appalling” that anyone is thinking of “boycotting” the speech. Dershowitz suggests that the Congress has a constitutional responsibility to hear Netanyahu, and that skipping the speech is a far worse breach of “protocol” than the invitation to Netanyahu (the White House had called that a breach of protocol).
Whether one agrees or disagrees with Speaker John Boehner ’s decision to invite Mr. Netanyahu or Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to accept, no legal scholar can dispute that Congress has the power to act independently of the president in matters of foreign policy.
Actually some legal scholars would dispute that. The House of Representatives has no role in making foreign policy, but the Senate does. Some have argued that House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu was unconstitutional.
P.S. Haaretz published a seriously inaccurate transcript of Rice’s remarks.
Update: Wolf Blitzer just had a discussion of the matter on CNN, as a “hornet’s nest” in which Netanyahu “thumbed his nose” at the president and Democrats. Gloria Borger said that Rice would not have made her comments without the “explicit” direction of the president. Obama is obviously “annoyed” and “angered” by Netanyahu’s intervention. And the controversy will only ratchet up next week during the speech and its aftermath.
Ron Brownstein of National Journal put his finger on the issue, saying that such an intervention in our politics by a foreign leader has not happened in modern times. Earlier breaches between US presidents and Israeli leaders (Shamir/Bush 1, Netanyahu 1/Clinton) were not so rancorous.