Update: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is offering no alternative but the “military option” against Iran, the White House press secretary said this afternoon. Josh Earnest said that Netanyahu has “not presented an alternative” to the negotiations that the U.S. is undertaking, and that military action won’t work. It will only “steel” Iran’s resolve to develop nuclear weapons and end an inspections regime that the Iranians have accepted as well as break up the international coalition that the U.S. has put together to talk to Iran.
As the excitement mounts towards the Netanyahu speech to Congress in four days, more dissident Congresspeople are announcing that they won’t be going. Marcia Fudge of Cleveland, Ohio, just said she’s not going, citing the foreign interference issue: “Inviting a foreign head of state to address the Congress is a clear breach of protocol and practice, and undermines the U.S. Presidency.”
Betty McCollum of Minnesota also refuses to advance a “clear effort to undermine the president.” Jan Schakowsky of Illinois doesn’t want a war with Iran. Reps. Jim McGovern and Katherine Clark of Massachusetts announced they’re skipping yesterday. This Florida political blog lists 30 Democrats who won’t show.
An aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Warren thinks the speech should be postponed. The aide would not say whether Warren planned to attend or not. The aide said Warren is a strong supporter of Israel and met with Netanyahu in Israel in November. But she is disappointed that Boehner is trying to politicize American support for Israel.
Warren must be feeling financial pressure not to alienate the Israel lobby. That’s surely the angle of these neoconservative Republicans who are pressing Hillary Clinton to attend the speech; she can’t build a campaign warchest without the Israel lobby.
But the Chicago Sun-Times urges all members of Congress to skip the speech, emphasizing the most important angle: “military action has a way of going horribly wrong in the Middle East.” In the Miami Herald Ahmad Abuznaid hits the warmongering angle, too:
the government of this so-called best friend is determined to push us into a war with Iran that many, perhaps most, Americans don’t want.
At the Weekly Standard, Elliott Abrams says that Obama’s obdurate line against seeing Netanyahu next week is a sign that he has cut his ties with Israel:
Israeli officials have complained to me for several years about the lack of contacts and communications with the White House…. the problem is not just bad chemistry at the top; it is an administration that has decided to create a tense and negative relationship from the top down.
It’s a smart piece. Abrams says that Obama is playing the confrontation for all its worth for three reasons: to seal a deal with Iran, to harm Likud in the Israeli elections, and to change US policy vis-a-vis Israel– “to use the current tension to harm Israel’s support in the United States permanently.”
All opinion polls in the last several years show a partisan edge in support: overall support for Israel is steady and high, but its composition is changing. More and more Republicans support Israel, and the gap between Democratic and Republican support levels is growing. President Obama acts as if he sees this as a terrific development, one that should be enlarged as much as possible before he leaves office…. Support for Israel would become less of a bipartisan matter and more a divisive issue between the two parties. It is not hard to envision Obama in retirement joining Jimmy Carter as a frequent critic of Israel, pushing the Democratic party to move away from its decades of very strong support for the Jewish state.
Palestine of course became a cause for Carter; and he got ostracized from his own party. But as Abrams seems to acknowledge, that’s not going to happen again. Do you hear that, Liz Warren and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney?
But centrist Israel supporters are alarmed by the speech. Jeffrey Goldberg blames Netanyahu for setting the special relationship with the U.S. “on fire”– in order to keep his premiereship in the upcoming elections.
For decades, it has been a cardinal principle of Israeli security and foreign-policy doctrine that its leaders must cultivate bipartisan support in the United States, and therefore avoid even the appearance of favoritism. This is the official position of the leading pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, AIPAC, as well, which is why its leaders are privately fuming about Netanyahu’s end-run around the White House. Even though AIPAC’s leadership leans right, the organization knows that support for Israel in America must be bipartisan in order for it to be stable. “Dermer and Netanyahu don’t believe that Democrats are capable of being pro-Israel, which is crazy for a lot of reasons, but one of the main reasons is that most Jews are Democrats,” one veteran AIPAC leader told me.
In Israel, cynicism about Netanyahu’s intentions is spreading.
The news [of the speech] struck AIPAC heads like a thunderbolt. They had not been briefed about it before or after. They didn’t know about it, and they didn’t believe such a thing could happen to them. “This is AIPAC’s Day of Atonement,” one of the heads of the organization told me in a private conversation after the invitation was publicized. “This is the lowest point we have ever reached.”..
AIPAC prepared a detailed presentation that was given to Netanyahu with all the negative repercussions they believe would result from the controversial invitation to Congress and the cumulative damage. On Feb. 25 behind closed doors, one of the heads of AIPAC said, to paraphrase: All the things we warned him of, are materializing. We foresaw the domino effect that took place, the boycott by more and more Democratic Congress members, the significant deterioration in relations with Democratic legislators, the talks about boycotting the AIPAC convention (that is also being held at the beginning of March) by the administration. We protested, we warned. And who wasn’t impressed? Netanyahu. He’s coming.
Liberal Zionist J Street is angry at AIPAC for not doing more to cancel/postpone the speech.
And of course the left is working this split. “What does Netanyahu really think of the U.S.?” asks the US Campaign to End the Occupation in this great video. Answer: He thumbs his nose at us.
But Netanyahu’s wife Sara says in this reported phone call that her husband is a leader for the world:
“He [Binyamin Netanyahu] is one of the most veteran leaders in the world. In the United States they say that if he had been born in the US, he’d have been elected president there.”
Doing its part, Israel’s embassy to the U.S. retweeted this photo of Iranian forces blowing up a mockup of a US Navy ship in a military exercise, so as to demonstrate what US interests are. Not a smart move: Do Americans remember that Israel blew up a real Navy ship, in 1967 — the USS Liberty?
Yesterday Robert Siegel of National Public Radio interviewed two congressmen about Netanyahu’s speech. One is going– Steve Israel of Long Island — and one isn’t — John Yarmuth of Kentucky. Both are Jewish; Siegel informed us of this fact again and again.
Well, we’re going to hear from two Democratic members of Congress, both Jewish, both strong supporters of Israel.
Siegel explained that the Jewishness of the members was an important factor in the politics of the moment:
SIEGEL: You think that attendance of most, I gather, of the 19 Jewish members of the House of Representatives, all but one of whom are Democrats – that their attendance will be used as a signal in Israel to show – look, they all support Bibi Netanyahu?
Yarmuth dismissed that, making the important political point that this isn’t about Jews, it’s about Americans. “Well, I think the entire speech is going to be used to create that impression.”
Right, the pressure is on all Congresspeople from the Israel lobby. So why isn’t NPR talking to non-Jewish members? They count just as much in Congress as the Jews.
I think NPR’s approach is indicative of an attitude everyone in the Establishment quietly shares: Jews count more on this issue than non-Jews. When the New York Times ran Tony Judt’s article in support of Walt and Mearsheimer in 2006, they made Judt identify himself as a Jew. When Jan Schakowsky of Illinois announced that she was skipping the speech, she said, “As a Jew, support for Israel is in my DNA.” (I happen to disagree with that idea, but clearly there are more Jan Schakowsky’s in the Jewish community than people like me.) But if it’s so important to point out that Jewish public figures have a special relationship with Israel, then aren’t we allowed to ask Jewish members of the media how they feel about Israel? I always thought so. That’s one thing I admire about Roger Cohen and Peter Beinart. They dropped the pretense and said, I’m a Zionist, Israel matters more than anything to me. So did Bill Kristol, for that matter. Paul Krugman is the opposite. He knows about the question, but ducks it.
H/t Dylan Williams’s twitter feed.