Thanks to Netanyahu, Israel support turns into a political football

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It’s the speech that keeps on giving! There are more signs that thanks to Benjamin Netanyahu’s highly-anticipated speech to Congress this coming Tuesday we are starting to get an actual robust debate in this country about Israeli policies.

First, friends are passing around this great cartoon in the New York Times, by Patrick Chappatte, which is pegged to Netanyahu’s speech. Netanyahu wants to build a settlement on Pennsylvania Avenue! So Netanyahu’s big moment is triggering a conversation about Israel’s unending occupation. Trita Parsi:

Not long ago, this carton in NYT was inconceivable. Thanks to Netanyahu’s overeach, it’s a reality now

Next, here’s  a crazy ad from the Emergency Committee for Israel that paints Obama as a glowering madman — “holding secret talks with Iran” — and Netanyahu as a teddy bear/supreme leader. The ad’s target is Hillary Clinton.

“Obama and anti-Israel Democrats are boycotting him… Where’s Hillary Clinton? Does she support the boycott? Or is she too afraid to stand up to them?”


Once again, I’d note that this avowedly-alarmist group is Republican neocons. But ECI has influence over Hillary Clinton, and why? Not because she is seeking money from Christian Zionists, but because she is seeking money from the Jewish community and, as progressive Rep. Jan Schakowsky tells us (in skipping the speech), if you’re Jewish, supporting Israel is in your DNA.

Notice the boycott refrain in the ECI ad. It would seem to anticipate the day when the broader nonviolent movement to isolate Israel– Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)– is debated openly in the US mainstream.

Next, the new center is forming around this column by Robert Kagan in the Washington Post, “At What Price, Netanyahu?” that challenges the prime minister for damaging the power of the Israel lobby.

I will leave it to the Israeli government and people to worry about what damage the prime minister’s decision could have on U.S.-Israeli relations going forward, and not just under this administration. Those Americans who care most about that relationship will also have to weigh whether the short-term benefits of having Netanyahu speak will outweigh potential long-term costs. Looking back on it from years hence, will the spectacle of an Israeli prime minister coming to Washington to do battle with an American president wear well or poorly?

Despite Kagan’s professed detachment, this is the chief concern of AIPAC and J Street, too, that Netanyahu has politicized a stance that heretofore was not politicized: America loves Israel.

For his part, Kagan says he is writing out of concern for an American interest, that the Netanyahu invitation sets a precedent for other foreign leaders to be invited to Congress to contest the president’s foreign policy:

today, bringing a foreign leader before Congress to challenge a U.S. president’s policies is unprecedented. After next week, it will be just another weapon in our bitter partisan struggle.

Really? This strikes me as a form of obfuscation. Let’s stay in the moment. This speech is happening uniquely for a unique reason, because of the Israel lobby’s influence in our political process. Kagan, a neocon-in-rehab, refuses to acknowledge the fact that rightwing Jews (yes and Christian Zionists) have such power.

Rami G. Khouri in the Daily Star is more honest about what’s happening: In “An obnoxious Netanyahu divides America,” he describes the unique influence of Israel in U.S. politics, and the debate about it at last:

These [new political] dynamics are about what happens when Israeli leaders’ actions go so far that they test whether bipartisan support for Israel across the American political spectrum is stronger than what the American president deems important for the national interest of the United States.

This kind of test almost never happens, so members of Congress can routinely support everything Israel does or wants, without paying any political price at home. That pattern has now been disrupted…

[T]hat we are now seeing such strong, public criticism of Netanyahu from the belly of the Israel-loving beast that is Congress suggests that a significant political and historical marker has been passed.

It remains to be seen if this is mostly fleeting anger against a particularly obnoxious and insensitive man who happens to be Israel’s prime minister, or whether it reflects deeper concerns among some Americans that their Middle East policies on strategic issues such as Iran are being publicly manipulated by a foreign country.

More boycott talk. Yousef Munayyer writes:

If members of congress even boycotted Mandela who fought against apartheid they can boycott Netanyahu who supports it

Munayyer links a 1990 article saying that some rightwingers stayed away from Mandela’s speech to a joint session of Congress.

Thanks to John Whitbeck, Peter Voskamp, Adam Horowitz, and Scott Roth.

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Oh, it escalates even more. Now the WH are going to offer their rebuttal to him, too http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/28/world/middleeast/white-house-offers-rebuttal-before-netanyahus-speech-on-iran.html Obama is doing more than merely standing up against Bibi after all these years. He is paving the way for future presidents. Everyone remembered James Baker in 91 and how Bush the… Read more »

It’s all noise. As we speak Israel is lobbying congress for 300 million for iron dome. Ultimately even those who boycott the speech will fall in line the day after. Unless Amerucan pride is hurt ( and it seems to need a lot to hurt it) there will be no… Read more »

Kagan attempting to divert the real issue by saying the problem is that BB’s visit now opens the door to the possibility that other world leaders will be invited to speak before congress with out Presidential approval is not going to happen. Kagan’s concern like so many is the Israel/U.S… Read more »

That Emergency Committee for Israel is a clear warning to Hillary…you are either with us or against us. Do you want the money for your campaign or not?

Will Hillary walk in to Aipac etc holding Bill Kristol’s hand or not?

Where is the evidence that Kagan is becoming a reformed Neocon? His wife, Victoria Nuland, orchestrated a coup in Ukraine just last year for goodness sake.