This morning at AIPAC, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power both cracked jokes about the prime minister’s planned speech to Congress tomorrow, and both avowed that support for Israel here is bipartisan. “The U.S.-Israel relationship transcends politics and it always will,” Power said. While Netanyahu said, “The last thing that anyone who cares about Israel wants, the last thing that I want, is for Israel to become a partisan issue. I regret that some have misperceived my visit as doing that.”
In fact, bipartisan unity on U.S.-Israel policy has been shattered by Netanyahu’s planned speech tomorrow. US politicians are now openly divided on partisan grounds over what to do about Iran. Republicans are on Netanyahu’s side and Democrats are on Obama’s side.
And though Netanyahu tried to make nice about his relationship to the White House — “My speech [to Congress] is not intended to show any disrespect for President Obama and the esteemed office that he holds, I have great respect for both” — that die too is cast. The relationship between Netanyahu and the Obama administration is a wreck. On CNN this morning Dana Bash said that anyone who has to say that he means no disrespect for the office of the presidency has already lost the game in Washington. While Jim Sciutto tweeted archly:
Not exactly the less combative speech #Netanyanu advisors had teed up this morning.
“They really cannot bear each other,” New Yorker editor David Remnick says. “[Netanyahu] thinks Obama is preposterously naive when it comes to the Middle East.” Thus Netanyahu’s scare-terror map of the world he put up today:
Both sides are in the battle of their lives for a good reason. The White House and Israel are divided, and the Republicans and Democrats, too, over a real issue, how to deal with the Iranian nuclear program. In days to come, the American press will be talking about the negotiations with Iran as never before. And Obama will surely gain support for his negotiations policy from an American public that doesn’t want another Middle Eastern war.
One reason we are getting this open argument is that the Israel lobby itself is divided. AIPAC’s entire program for its policy conference is to block a deal with Iran. It is pushing further sanctions legislation on the Hill; and every other speaker at the podium says the words “Never again”– and says Iran is bent on annihilating Israel or wiping it off the map.
But liberal Zionist organizations are opposed to AIPAC and Netanyahu. Americans for Peace Now has been doing hard work to show why the Iran talks are in everyone’s interest. J Street is tweeting the view that the Netanyahu speech will only push Iran to get a bomb, while the negotiations will prevent a nuclear bomb. And last night after AIPAC’s Bradley Gordon said that the lobby’s members might be meeting congresspeople who will say, You are going to start another war in the Middle East, J Street’s chief lobbyist riposted:
Only ’cause it’s true
The liberal Zionist organizations are representing Democratic Party views. NBC reports:
For those worried that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Tuesday is making Israel/Netanyahu a partisan issue — between Democrats and Republicans — anNBC/WSJ poll released yesterday shows that’s exactly what’s happening.
Republicans have a positive view of Israel by 66 to 12 percent. But among Democrats the positive/negative split is a lot closer: 29 to 21 percent. No wonder Dianne Feinstein told Dana Bash on CNN yesterday that Netanyahu is arrogant in his claim to speak for all Jews:
Fiery Feinstein: ‘Arrogant’ Netanyahu doesn’t speak for me
The divide could not be clearer. President Obama believes he has the support of the American people and of liberal Jewish organizations in pushing for a deal with Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu thinks he has the support of the Congress and of the leading Israel lobby groups.
The battle will only escalate tomorrow. The drama will assure that everyone is watching, to see who is in the House chambers and how they respond. And maybe this time American public opinion will guide our policymakers.
Update: JTA reports that AIPAC can’t escape “speechgate.” And notice how its CEO reaches out to Democrats. Too late.
Speaking to attendees Sunday at the launch of the largest-ever annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, CEO Howard Kohr acknowledged the elephant in the room head on.
“There’s no question that the way this speech has come about has created a great deal of upset among Democrats,” Kohr said.
“It frankly may have upset people in this room,” he said. “All of us should be concerned [who] care about the bipartisan nature of the relationship.”
Thanks to Adam Horowitz.