Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress last week has blown up on him in one huge way: it is consolidating support for President Obama’s negotiations with Iran. Today’s news is the outrage over a letter to Iranian leaders signed by 47 Republican senators seeking to undermine the Obama deal. The president just blasted the senators who signed, saying they had made an “unusual coalition” with “hardliners in Iran” who are trying to break up the agreement. And he expressed confidence in the US public’s support.
I think it’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran. It’s an unusual coalition. I think what we’re going to focus on right now is actually seeing whether we can get a deal or not. And once we do — if we do — then we’ll be able to make the case to the American people, and I’m confident we’ll be able to implement it.
A former AIPAC staffer says that the letter has all the earmarks of a letter drafted by AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading Israel lobby group. Let’s see how many media go after this angle. (Matt Taibi is the latest to ignore the lobby angle in the MSM.)
The good news is that Netanyahu’s attempt to interfere in U.S. policy was so shocking that leading Democrats and liberal Zionists are stating their support for the Iran negotiations. Yesterday Senator Dianne Feinstein cut down Netanyahu in stating we “have to do a nuclear agreement” on Meet the Press:
I think we have to do a nuclear agreement to protect from a breakout, and I think that, you know, what Prime Minister Netanyahu did here was something that no ally of the United States would have done. I find it humiliating, embarrassing and very arrogant because this agreement is not yet finished. To trash it before you have the final period on it, before you know what it is, I think is a huge error in judgment for our number one ally in that area.
Politico has a piece by former Iran negotiator Gary Sick savaging Netanyahu’s appeal to Congress as irresponsible and leading to war:
The entire U.S. intelligence community and most of our allies — apparently including Israel — have concluded with high confidence that Iran has not made a decision to build a bomb. The second round of multilateral negotiations with Iran is approaching the finish line. The details have not been announced, but the outlines of an agreement seem to be emerging. Netanyahu’s cartoon bomb has been drained. It is now empty of 20 percent enriched uranium, and all indications point to the fact that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will be severely limited for the foreseeable future…
[I]f this agreement is rejected, as the Israeli prime minister and many in Congress are proposing, we go back to the early days of 2013: heavy sanctions, a rapidly increasing Iranian nuclear program and a looming threat of war. That is surely something no responsible statesman or politician would wish to see.
The issue only got more rancorous with the release of the letter from 47 Republican senators to Iran’s leaders instructing them that President Obama’s word is meaningless. Any deal he makes is “nothing more than an executive agreement,” subject to approval of the Congress, the senators said.
The Israel lobby is divided over the letter. The Emergency Committee for Israel loves it.
Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now says the letter violates the Logan Act and urges journalists to look into that. “A United States federal law that forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. It was passed in 1799 and last amended in 1994,” per Wikipedia.
The National Jewish Democratic Council says the Republicans should be “ashamed” of their attempted “sabotage,” and that the letter hurts the US relationship with Israel.
The Hill reports that the letter is generating outrage on Capitol Hill and at the White House:
White House press secretary Josh Earnest was unusually blunt in ripping the Senate GOP, saying “it’s surprising to me there are some Republican senators who are seeking to establish a backchannel with hardliners in Iran to undermine an agreement with Iran and the international community.”
At Salon, Jim Newell writes that the letter is the work of the Tea Party (no lobby in sight) and Netanyahu only solidified Dem support for a deal.
we can largely thank Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu for inadvertently knocking Democratic Senators back to their senses. The Obama administration and fellow P5+1 negotiators can now spend the next couple of weeks tidying up that framework without having to worry about meddling from “the most important legislative body in the world.”
A realist site says the letter is reckless:
It is clear: When the hawks that are steering congressional Iran policy try to derail the talks, they are consciously and intentionally guiding the United States towards another preventive war in the Middle East.
While George Perkovich of Carnegie says the results of this letter could be isolation of the U.S. and Israel:
“[I]f there is no deal, there will be a contest over who is to blame. If Iran wins that contest among key audiences, by blaming Israel and the U.S. Congress, the situation could become more dire than it has been in many years.”
Some will blame the Jewish organizations for this letter. “No one would have dared writing treason letter without AIPAC,” says former AIPAC staffer M.J. Rosenberg. He put up a blogpost on why he believes AIPAC wrote it.
The purpose of the letter is to sabotage negotiations, enabling Israel to proceed to consider other ways to deal with the possibility that Iran will develop nuclear weapons, i.e. through war not diplomacy.
Because the letter seems at least borderline treasonous, some question whether AIPAC was involved in drafting it. After all, the 47 Republican senators will, we know from experience, do anything to harm President Obama’s initiatives without regard to niceties like the law or the Constitution. But AIPAC? Would they go that far.
The answer is simple.
On all matters relating to Israel and the Middle East in general, AIPAC writes the legislation, letters, resolutions, etc., which are then handed over to legislators to drop in the hopper, gather cosponsors, and get it passed. Not only that, the ideas for these laws come out of AIPAC rather than (as is usually the case with lobbies) starting with the Member of Congress who then asks the lobby for help with drafting. AIPAC does it all, from soup to nuts.
Of course famously in days gone by, AIPAC could get 70 Senators’ signatures on a napkin inside of 24 hours. So we should be pleased that this one has only 47 signatures. Weekly Standard:
Tom Cotton, the Republican senator from Arkansas who led the effort on the letter, invited all U.S. senators and presidential candidates (including Hillary Clinton!) to sign the letter to the leaders of Iran.
Let’s see who does the lobby angle. Jews continue to play an outsize role in the domestic politics of the issue. That is the achievement of the Netanyahu speech: Jewish Democrats are supporting their president bigtime. Eric Yoffie at Haaretz says the speech has alienated American Jews because Netanyahu “bullied” the president:
Had it ever happened before, [a Jewish friend] asked, that a foreign leader spoke to our Congress and launched a direct attack on the American administration? I told him that, to the best of my knowledge, it had not.
A couple I know with more or less the same Jewish commitments and political views responded similarly. They had watched the speech and felt that members of Congress were being bullied by a foreign leader. True, the leader in this instance was from a place they love dearly, have visited often, and advocate for vigorously. And yes, they are concerned about the dangers posed by an Iranian bomb. But Netanyahu’s high-handed reprimand seemed out-of-place to them and the adoring responses more political than sincere. They saw the whole spectacle as an affront to American dignity. An American Congress with any self-respect, they said, should not tolerate being lectured in this manner.
And these were the Republicans. The Jewish activists who are Democrats that I spoke to – and most Jews are Democrats – were much tougher…
Yoffie says that American Jews worry about “severe” repercussions.
The organized Jewish community is desperate to move beyond the speech and the divisions it generated. As noted by the Forward, Jewish organizations now want to unite the community by focusing on the substance of the Iran deal, rather than the breach of protocol that marred Netanyahu’s visit.
But, from all that I have seen and heard, American Jews are not yet ready to move on. They are unsettled, uneasy and personally distressed. They are worried that the speech will generate repercussions that have yet to be felt and that could be severe. They are especially concerned that the partisan atmosphere that the speech has sparked and legitimized will drive away Democrats and progressives who have always been a mainstay of the pro-Israel coalition.
I think Jews are not just worried about the breakup of the Democratic coalition for Israel, but worried about the ways that dual loyalty issues could hurt Jews. A year ago a liberal Zionist rabbi raised just this issue, of the Iran negotiations and dual loyalty, at a Washington Jewish panel. Melissa Weintraub said it was important to raise the issue:
Are Israeli interests and American interests actually aligned here? If our American interests do diverge from Israeli interests, what then for us as American Jews, how do we navigate that?… There are several positions that have been articulated in the American Jewish community around this agreement, one of which is that this was the ultimate dual loyalty test actually because what arose here was actually a divergence between American and Israeli interests, in which the agreement helped America avert a war and did place Israel in existential danger. I think it’s a very important question whether the phrase itself is repugnant because it brings up anti-Semitic slurs around our loyalty…
The importance of the phrase [dual loyalty] is that it gets at something that has been articulated in those terms by many Jews whether we use those terms or not, which is a sense of real competing interests….a real sense of being torn. Because there are those who think that American and Israeli interests don’t align here.”
Most Jews want nothing to do with such a charge. That is what Netanyahu catalyzed last week; and that’s why the Iran deal looks stronger than ever.