Netanyahu’s disaster: speech cost ‘omnipotent’ lobby a veto proof majority for Iran sanctions

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Here’s the latest on the Netanyahu speech disaster. It never goes away, it just keeps piling up headlines. The Hill calls it likely the most controversial speech ever by a foreign leader to a joint session of Congress. It lists 15 Congresspeople and 3 Senators who are not going to attend. But Bill Kristol wants to drive Hillary Clinton there to sit in the gallery with him.

Haaretz has picked up a poll showing that by 47-30 percent, Americans don’t think Netanyahu should have been invited to speak to both house of Congress. The poll emphasizes the sharp political differences among Americans over the speech:

According to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll published Wednesday night, 47% of Americans think that Netanyahu’s invitation was inappropriate and only 30% believe it was appropriate.

The poll, conducted among 1000 Americans over a four day period from February 4-8, highlights the sharp partisan – and racial – divide in attitudes towards the speech. A clear majority of 50%-29% among Republicans think the House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu was appropriate, compared to 72% of Democrats who say it was not appropriate. Among independent voters, 41% say it was inappropriate and 31% that it was.

The poll also points to distinct differences to the speech based on race and ethnicity: among whites, disapproval of Boehner’s invitation runs at 47%-30%, but it climbs to 55%-12% among Hispanic Americans and 67%-12% among African Americans. 47% of African Americans do not want their Congressional representative to attend the speech, compared only 16% who do. And African Americans are also the only group that does not support Obama meeting with Netanyahu during his visit.

Notice that the speech is speeding the breakup in the traditional Democratic support for Israel that we’ve seen in polls in the last year, Hispanics, blacks, women checking out. This of course damages the lobby, which has counted on a somnolent accepting public.

Both Peter Beinart in Haaretz and Nathan Guttman in the Forward say the biggest casualty of the speech has been the power of the Israel lobby– the “normally omnipotent pro-Israel lobby and its allies in the Jewish community, who have seen their credibility and political power severely shaken,” per Guttman.

Major players in centrist lobby orgs (Guttman surely means the Conference of Presidents, AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federations) are enraged by the speech but are saying nothing lest they further the carnage. This leaves open division between liberals (J Street and Americans for Peace Now), which call for the speech to be postponed, and rightwingers (Bill Kristol and Zionist Organization of America), who want to call out the politicians who don’t show up.

One great detail in Guttman’s story: Anonymous Israel lobbyist says that AIPAC had a veto-proof majority in the Senate for more Iran sanctions till this speech disaster. Then Netanyahu blindsided them. A ‘huge error.”

Speaking of the right, Bill Kristol, the head of the neoconservative Emergency Committee for Israel, put out a tongue-in-cheek letter to Hillary Clinton offering her to drive her to the speech. Notice Kristol’s swagger. It’s like he’s got Hillary in the rumble seat.

I understand from an article in Politico that you’ll be in Washington, D.C. on March 3rd. What good luck and great timing! For, as you may have heard, your friend and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is scheduled to speak to Congress that day. I write, as Chair of the nonpartisan Emergency Committee for Israel, to urge you to attend the speech.

I imagine that, as a longtime supporter of Israel, you’ll want to be in attendance to show support for the U.S.-Israel relationship. You’ll surely want to show that you have no sympathy for the unfortunate boycott by some politicians of the Prime Minister’s speech, a boycott that plays into the hands of the enemies of the Jewish state. You’ll certainly want to be there to show solidarity at this historic moment when Israel, and Jews, are under assault.

I’m sure that, as a former secretary of state, you’d have no problem getting a ticket to the speech — but if there’s some problem, do let me know and I’d be happy to put in a word with the Speaker. Please let me know if we can do anything to help facilitate your attendance at the speech (the Emergency Committee would, for example, be happy to provide a car and driver).

I look forward to seeing you in the House gallery on March 3rd along with other staunch friends of Israel.

Big surprise: the JTA reports that Hillary is distancing herself from Obama on the Netanyahu relationship.

[An anonymous] Democratic operative with ties in the Jewish community said Jewish voters would be able to handily distinguish Hillary Clinton from Obama.

“She has to find ways to distance herself from the Obama administration of which she was a huge part” because of Obama-Netanyahu tensions that pro-Israel groups blame on both leaders, said the operative…

Finding those avenues should not be difficult, the person said, because of Clinton’s pro-Israel record in the Senate and her association with her husband, President Bill Clinton, who is still held in high regard in the pro-Israel community.

“She’s not Obama, she’s not perceived in the community as Obama,” the operative said. “Republicans will try and paint her that way, but she’s exceptionally well liked in Israel and by American Jews.”

But Hillary’s team seems to think that the center can still hold, that Everyone in the Democratic Party can still love Israel, though polls show the base breaking up over the question. The JTA quotes longtime Clinton adviser Ann Lewis, saying she will be headlining a panel on reaching out to progressives at the AIPAC annual conference next month.

“The reason you look at polls is to figure out what to do next,” she said, and what’s next includes aggressive pro-Israel campaigning among young progressives…

But that left-right divide in the lobby is getting corrosive. J Street is confidently mining the hatred for Netanyahu that now exists in the Democratic Jewish community (I know; I talked to my mother’s boyfriend last night, he can’t stand the man). J Street is circulating a petition to condemn Netanyahu for saying that he is coming to Washington as the representative of the Jews:

Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said… he’s coming to Washington “not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people.”

…[H]e certainly cannot claim any mandate to speak for Jews in the United States.

Add your name. Help us let his Ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, know that–as an American, as a Jew–Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t speak for you.

The ADL slams J Street’s appeal as “inflammatory and repugnant”:

J Street’s petition campaign that attempts to distance itself and American Jews from Israel’s duly elected prime minister is inflammatory and repugnant and exacerbates an already heated and politicized moment for U.S. Israel relations at a critical juncture in the West’s negotiations with Iran.

Let’s remember what is at stake: Preventing extremist Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel’s very existence.  In that goal, Mr. Netanyahu surely does represent not only Israelis but American Jews as well.

More hubris. Netanyahu says he’s speaking in order to break up the Iran deal. And notice his swagger about Congress:

[T]he offer that has been made to Iran.. would enable Iran to threaten Israel’s survival.

This is a regime, Iran, that is openly committed to Israel’s destruction. It would be able, under this deal, to break out to a nuclear weapon in a short time, and within a few years, to have the industrial capability to produce many nuclear bombs for the goal of our destruction.

This is not a personal disagreement between President Obama and me. I deeply appreciate all that he has done for Israel in many fields.  Equally, I know that the President appreciates my responsibility, my foremost responsibility, to protect and defend the security of Israel.

I am going to the United States not because I seek a confrontation with the President, but because I must fulfil my obligation to speak up on a matter that affects the very survival of my country.

I intend to speak about this issue before the March 24th deadline and I intend to speak in the US Congress because Congress might have an important role on a nuclear deal with Iran.

Back to the breakup of the old Israel lobby base. As the Hill reports, politicians in districts with lots of black people are much more able, politically, to boycott the speech, because their own constituents see it as a dis to the president. Charles Rangel tweets a slightly pugnacious foto of himself and adds:

Bibi: If you have a problem with our POTUS’s foreign policy meet me at AIPAC but not on the House floor.

Rangel challenges Netanyahu
Rangel challenges Netanyahu

Jeffrey Goldberg responds to the Rangel: “This tweet captures the essence of Netanyahu’s Democratic Party disaster.”

Wait: it’s Israel’s Democratic Party disaster, not Obama’s.

Another political question is whether Netanyahu’s error will become an issue in the Israeli elections in March. The man who alienated our most important relationship. Both Gershom Gorenberg and Mikhael Manekin, Israeli experts speaking to liberal Zionist organizations in the last week, said that the news has not yet penetrated the Israeli campaign. But both suggested that with the right messaging about US media, the speech could become an issue helping the Israeli Jewish liberal-center.

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Another political question is whether Netanyahu’s error will become an issue in the Israeli elections in March. Washington Post headline: Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress now dominates Israeli elections. The leaders of most of Israel’s political parties have pummeled the prime minister for endangering Israel’s relations not only with the Obama White House — which is furious over House Speaker John A. Boehner’s inviting Netanyahu without consulting it, as well as the prime minister’s… Read more »

A question??.

The P5 is made up of the following !. United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany.

Will Nietanyahu be addressing the parliaments of the other members of the P5.Surely he cares about the safety of his “Subjects”, in those Nations who are about to give Iran the ability to develop the Bomb.

Natanyahu’s ploy to stymie the 5 plus one talks are not so much about nuclear weapons because all US Intellegence Agencies say Iran does not have the capabilities nor the will to acquire them. Rather Israel sees Irans conventional missile capabilities as the main threat, some analysts reckon there are 100.000 missiles aimed at Israeli cities and vital infrastructure from both Iran and Hezbollah. That is why the US are trying to include these missiles… Read more »

Netanyahu has gone too far with this. It happens to all ideologies. It’s such a bitch that life doesn’t work like messianism. Meanwhile Purim is coming up Purim is an ancient Jewish holiday and there is a tradition of sending gifts (mishloach manot) as a way of celebrating hidden miracles, past and present Lin’s farm have a taste of the holy land gift box which features 500 g of Jewish bile 400g of dried Palestinian… Read more »

phil, really fantastic round up. as an aside, something that has occurred to me from the beginning that i’ve yet to mention. the timing of this whole speech affair reminds me so much of the good fortune of the whole sodastream-scarlett fiasco in that it allowed for a long long time frame which guaranteed the fiasco would – not only not die down – but ensured an escalation and perfect opportunity to inform and let… Read more »