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Netanyahu speech was ‘very dark day for American democracy’ — Matthews

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The Netanyahu speech is fostering backlash, as such a shocking event ought to. The good news is that it might even solidify U.S. support for the deal with Iran.

Chris Matthews was excellent last night, expressing outrage at the congressional effort to “displace” Obama with Benjamin Netanyahu as the maker of U.S. foreign policy. He said that Netanyahu was “behind” the U.S. war in Iraq and that he is now “treating us like rubes” on Iran and wants a U.S. war against Iran. Some of his comments on the Iraq war:

Here’s Bibi Netanyahu, he was running us into Iraq. And it turns out Iraq becomes the conquest of Iran. Then he goes on the TV yesterday, goes into the House of Representatives and say, ‘Look at the big hell that broke loose, Iran got control of Baghdad.’ Well he pushed that! He pushed the Shia overthrow of the government there. He was behind it all and saying it was going to help bring down Iran, cause an explosion there. An implosion. Totally utterly wrong as a visionary. Now he’s giving us advice.

[Guest says, that was the decision of the U.S. government]

He was pushing it!

Then Matthews said Netanyahu is pushing war with Iran:

I’m afraid the issue here is war and peace…  I didn’t hear him once offer a sound proposal besides war. Because all he said was you can’t cut a deal, any deal is bad. He basically said that. You can’t get a better deal! He treats us like rubes. You don’t think we’re not trying to get the best possible deal, come on!…

Why would they [Republicans] salute Iron Dome and vote down Homeland Security. Help me out here…

Why would they vote against US security and vote for the Iron Dome? Their point of view is very strange here. Security is OK for other countries but not ours…

I think it was a terrible precedent. I tell you, This is going to be remembered. This is going to be remembered as a very dark day for American democracy when you bring a foreign leader in to try and displace the American leader. Obama sets our foreign policy, not Netanyahu.

Bill Kristol is doing his utmost to get that war, citing a Fox News (i.e. dubious) poll:

Stunning poll results on Iran: 65% willing to use force to stop Iran from nukes, 84% call Obama-type deal bad idea.”

Peter Beinart has a very good realist column about the speech, describing it as hysterical.

For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel always faces the same enemy. Call it Amalek, call it Haman, call it Nazi Germany – it seeks the same thing: The destruction of the Jewish people.

Beinart says it’s all about the power balance: Israel faces a competitor in the region that wants to break “Israel’s nuclear monopoly.”

“Iran’s nuclear program seeks to create a nuclear duopoly in the Mideast that would reduce Israel’s power,” writes [Aluf] Benn. “This is why we’re fighting it.”But Iran is doesn’t seek Israel’s destruction.

Here he quotes Trita Parsi on the shifting dynamics of the two regional powers’ relations:

In the 1980s, Iran was even more rhetorically bloodthirsty than it is now. And yet Israel sold Iran weapons to fight Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, whose greater proximity to the Jewish state made it – in Israeli eyes – the greater danger.

In his book, “A Single Role of the Dice,” Trita Parsi quotes David Menashri, who runs the Center for Iranian Studies at the University of Tel Aviv, as saying, “Throughout the 1980s, no one in Israel said anything about an Iranian threat – the word wasn’t even uttered.”

As Parsi notes, Israeli leaders began focusing on the Iranian threat in the 1990s, not because of a change in Iranian rhetoric or behavior, but the Soviet Union’s collapse and Iraq’s Gulf War defeat left Saddam far weaker. Iran, and its nuclear program, now represented the primary danger on Israel’s eastern front.

That danger is real. But it is the danger posed by a nasty regional competitor, not by what Bibi has called a “messianic apocalyptic cult.”

Gary Sick makes similar realist argument urging the U.S. to stay the course, and ignore Netanyahu’s “unicorn” arguments:

All the major countries of the world are co-negotiators with the United States, so a U.S. congressional intervention that killed the deal will not only affect us but all of our major allies. If we stiff them, there is no reason to believe the international sanctions will hold for long. No mention…

Netanyahu … also claims that this all-conquering regional power [Iran] is also such a vulnerable state that it will quickly concede if we impose more sanctions. He carefully avoids mentioning that we refused a deal with Iran in 2003 that would have capped its centrifuges at about 3000 and started imposing more and more sanctions. Ten years later Iran had 20,000 centrifuges and a highly developed nuclear power program. Don’t mention that, and don’t mention that Netanyahu predicted in 1992 — more than 20 years ago — that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in 3-5 years.

He emphasized that Iran cannot be trusted. Agreed. But when you make an agreement with an enemy (think SALT agreements with the USSR) you do not trust, you verify. And that’s what the current negotiations are intended to produce.

His only alternative is the unicorn option: walk away from the table and Iran will cave in and agree to eliminate its entire nuclear capability. Our 36 years of dealing with Iran suggest that this is truly fantasy land. It may appeal to politicians trying to look tough, but there is no way that it will actually get Iran to modify or reduce its nuclear program.

Reality: We walk, Iran resumes all of its previous enrichment policies, we have to intervene militarily, Iran builds a bomb. But don’t say that. It detracts from the message.

This was great political theater. But it insulted the intelligence of anyone who has been paying attention to the issues.

Here’s a funny mashup video of the speech that Ynet posted from the Israeli journo Noy Alooshe.

And it looks like Ari Shavit is praising Netanyahu speech but saying the prime minister failed because he used Jewish terms like the Purim story rather than stories that would appeal to “Joe the Plumber” in the U.S. to get Joe to want to fight Iran. “When it came to Iran, Netanyahu told the truth and failed.”

(Shavit’s support for Netanyahu’s view of Iran is no surprise if you actually read his book, My Promised Land, and read Nathan Thrall and Jerome Slater on the book, rather than listen to the host of liberal Zionists falling over one another to praise it a year back.)

Back to Matthews’s dark day comments. David Bromwich made the same point ahead of time in a great piece at Huffpo describing the speech as Netanyahu’s “takeover bid” and saying he and his supporters represent an “existential threat” to American independence in foreign policy. I have to believe this awareness is sinking in with many Americans:

Brute loyalty often plays reckless games with morality, and an unsuspecting confidence between separate nations is ill-advised for exactly the reasons George Washington gave in his Farewell Address of 1796. We ought, said Washington, to avoid “permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others,” because “the nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.”

As if he anticipated the strange moment in which we find ourselves — when a foreign leader who asked us to fight one disastrous war now commands us to fight another on his behalf — Washington said:

“A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”

When Netanyahu addressed Congress on May 24, 2011, to embarrass President Obama and cut down American criticism of the most recent illegal Israeli settlements, Congress gave him 29 standing ovations. That was a gesture of thoughtless servility, and a mistake that should not be repeated. The difference between George Washington and Benjamin Netanyahu marks a real choice. In the matter of the proper judgment of American interests, Washington and Netanyahu stand at opposite poles. They cannot both be right. On March 3, before awarding Netanyahu another 29 standing ovations, or 19 or even one, let the members of Congress ask themselves whose advice they will heed on the danger of “passionate attachments” and “inveterate antipathies.” Netanyahu and his backers in Congress are an existential threat to the independence of American foreign policy.

On that note, I’d shift to the very heart of the Israel lobby, Bill Kristol. He wrote a very sincere piece about watching the speech in the congressional gallery “as a Jew.” You will see how the demonstration of Jewish power and sovereignty thrilled him and moved him to an openness I have rarely seen in his writing:

At the end, as I joined in the sustained standing ovation, I thought of one sentence in the 1956 letter by the political philosopher Leo Strauss, in which he tried to convince the editors of the recently launched National Review that conservatives should be pro-Israel: “Political Zionism was the attempt to restore that inner freedom, that simple dignity, of which only people who remember their heritage and are loyal to their fate, are capable.” One felt, watching the prime minister of Israel speak, whatever other challenges await, that in this task political Zionism has been successful.

I think Kristol is wrong as to political outcomes. Zionism created a polity that has never stopped ethnic cleansing and that relies on the dual loyalty of American Jews to corrupt US foreign policy so that the Jewish state is never held to account. But notice how emotional Kristol is. For him, cheering for Netanyahu is about Jews’ recovering their dignity after the helplessness of the Holocaust. Any compassionate person must acknowledge the profound injury to the collective psyche even 70 years later — and yet abjure Jews not to become so monstrously self-involved.


Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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21 Responses

  1. peterfeld on March 5, 2015, 12:35 pm

    One more great followup piece: Jim Lobe on how Mitch McConnell’s ineptitude wrecked the supposed momentum from Netanyahu’s speech and probably derailed the attempt to fast-track sanctions or the Corker bill to require Congressional approval for a deal:

    But the effort backfired when all ten Democratic and independent co-sponsors of the Corker bill, notably led by Robert Menendez, objected, arguing: a) that the issue should first be considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and b) that it was premature to act at all given the fact that a deal has yet to be completed.

    Even Sen. Mendacious is “outraged”!

    Mr. President, I come to the floor to express my disappointment that the Majority Leader is asking to Rule 14 the Bipartisan Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act—I repeat—the bipartisan nuclear review act.
    I ask the Majority Leader, what happened. Where is the bipartisan part? Where is the bipartisanship that we have expressed, and that I expressed this morning on this floor and last night at AIPAC?

    A letter from the 10 Dem/Ind sponsors of the Corker bill “clearly kills the likelihood of Congressional action before March 24”:

    The rebuff of McConnell must be quite frustrating to both Netanyahu and the Republican leadership which clearly hoped they could gain a veto-proof majority in Congress against a deal even before it was signed. The administration also now has more time to persuade the Democratic and independent co-sponsors that the Corker bill, as presently drafted, is almost certain to sabotage any deal.

    Moreover, McConnell’s aborted effort would tend to confirm the worst fears of AIPAC…that Israel is fast becoming a partisan issue as a result of the machinations of Netanyahu…

    What is remarkable is how quickly the momentum created by Netanyahu’s speech has dissipated on Capitol Hill by McConnell’s clumsiness. “I think the bill—barring what happened yesterday—was headed for a veto-proof majority,” Sen. Angus King…told The Hill Wednesday. “I think yesterday derailed that to some extent.”

  2. pabelmont on March 5, 2015, 1:00 pm

    “Zionism created a polity that has never stopped ethnic cleansing and that relies on the dual loyalty of American Jews to corrupt US foreign policy so that the Jewish state is never held to account. ”

    Well, true, Zionism has never stopped its crimes against the Palestinians (and Syrians and Lebanese) and it does depend on the dual loyalty of someone — but not of “American Jews” so much as of a very, very small number of very, very rich American Jews.

    I have never read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but I imagine them to be a description of evils alleged to have occurred because of the manipulations of a very, very small number of very, very rich Jews — possibly described more simply as “The Jews”.

    Even if a majority of American Jews support Israel in a my-country-right-or-wrong fashion, the Congress does its thing because of $$$, and the American Oligarchy includes, notably, Big Zion (AIPAC etc); and it is the power to corrupt of Big Zion rather than of The American Jews that matters where USA’s support of Israel is concerned.

    • JWalters on March 5, 2015, 7:01 pm

      I agree the money is the fundamental force in operation, in all political corruption. And some of that totality of big money comes from non-Jewish sources, so ultimately it’s not a Jewish issue.

      Where Phil’s point comes in, it seems to me, is that the Big Zion money depends on wide Jewish support to give it “moral credibility”. If most American Jews came to the conclusion that this was corrupt, war profiteering money, it would lose that credibility. Then it could even be politically dangerous to accept that money.

      Adelson reminds me of Scorsese’s film Casino, based closely on a true story. A casino is an excellent front for a big, corrupt slush fund. Given Adelson’s key role as a money pipeline, I wonder if he’s a front for bigger bosses.

  3. Stephen Shenfield on March 5, 2015, 1:10 pm

    “Any compassionate person must acknowledge the profound injury to the collective psyche even 70 years later.”

    No. Why does a compassionate person even have to acknowledge that there exists such a thing as a Jewish “collective psyche”? Unless he or she happens to believe in the constructs of Jungian psychology. Let us talk about the real psyches of individual human beings.

    We have already repeatedly discussed on this site the methods by which the appearance of a collective Jewish psyche is sustained over the generations. Shouldn’t that make us aware that it is indeed only an appearance? Phil, you thoughtlessly surrender to the key concept of tribal collectivism, then you hasten to add your “and yet” — but too late. It is as though you open the treasure house of the Enlightenment to the marauding tribalists and then beg them: please don’t take everything, leave a little bit behind.

    • Keith on March 5, 2015, 6:20 pm

      STEPHEN SHENFIELD- “Why does a compassionate person even have to acknowledge that there exists such a thing as a Jewish “collective psyche”?

      You raise an interesting point. To the degree a “collective psyche” (loosely defined) exists, it is a product of group ideology. The “Holocaust Religion” and the cult of victimhood are mechanisms of establishing internal cohesion among Zionist Jews which received great emphasis after the Six Day War in 1967. Somewhat similar to jingoistic patriotism in the US and the cultivation of irrational fear following 911. And while the phenomenon may exist as a part of group think, I am not sure what “compassion” has to do with our understanding of the manufacture of group solidarity.

      • Mooser on March 6, 2015, 11:36 am

        Phil, I would timidly venture, is being somewhat ironic. Notice he links “the profound injury to the collective psyche” to Kristoll’s article. So I guess that article must be evidence for the “profound injury”. Works for me.

      • Keith on March 6, 2015, 2:09 pm

        MOOSER- “Phil, I would timidly venture, is being somewhat ironic.”

        Phil ironic? Egads, the possibility never occurred to me. Perhaps I should have actually read the article before commenting on Stephen’s comment. You know, Moose, if I have to actually read these articles before commenting it could be quite time consuming!

    • RoHa on March 6, 2015, 4:38 am

      Well said, both Stephen and Keith.

  4. eljay on March 5, 2015, 1:29 pm

    Any compassionate person must acknowledge the profound injury to the collective psyche even 70 years later …

    “Profound injury to the collective psyche” of Jewish people did not justify the creation of an oppressive, colonialist, expansionist and supremacist “Jewish State” in Palestine almost 70 years ago, and it did not and does not justify the “Jewish State’s”:
    – past and ON-GOING (war) crimes;
    – refusal to honour its obligations under international law;
    – refusal to accept responsibility and accountability for its past and ON-GOING (war) crimes; and
    – refusal to enter into sincere negotiations for a just and mutually-beneficial peace.

    • peeesss on March 5, 2015, 4:07 pm

      What of the “collective psyche” of the Palestinian people”70 years later”. The racist and violent strain of political Zionism , acknowledged In the words and actions of leading Zionist social, political , religious , leaders does not denote a philosophy of compassion, morality and decency. Philip. I believe Kristol’s ” cheering” for Netanyahu may be emotional for him as a Jew but most hypocritical for a decent human being. Cheering for Netanyahu is cheering for him and all previous leaders of the Zionist State to complete the eradication of Palestine , its people and its history. Will the “profound injury to the collective psyche” of Jews due to the Holocaust now be replaced by their support of political Zionism causing the destruction of Palestine.

  5. In2u on March 5, 2015, 3:07 pm

    What do you think of sending a link to the above “Stand! Sit!” Video to the senators that was actually there?

    They might see from our point of view.

    • oldgeezer on March 5, 2015, 6:08 pm

      Best summary of his speech that i have read. And a fairly accurate visual representation given the allocated for adulation.

      Since the days of clinton and lewinski republicans have always been in the forefront of making the us a laughing stock. I wonder what’s next on their plan. Yes yes i know the dems were there as well.

      One suggestion… trained seals are cheaper

  6. W.Jones on March 5, 2015, 3:38 pm

    Regarding Matthews, why do you think he used the Log Cabin Republicans’ spokesperson to support the Republican position on Netanyahu’s speech.

    I have a good guess.

  7. Walker on March 5, 2015, 5:10 pm

    It’s astonishing that people like Kristol get away with the things they say in public.

    Can you imagine the Pope coming to Congress against the President’s wishes to lay down the law about foreign policy? Can you imagine somebody like Gary Wills then saying how proud he felt “as a Catholic” to see such a display?

    Actually Wills is a poor example. There is no Catholic commentator with as much raw political clout as Kristol. And Kristol doesn’t have that clout because he’s so smart – far from it.

  8. Pixel on March 5, 2015, 5:34 pm

    I never thought I’d live to see the day that Chris Matthews said ANYTHING — and — it seems as though he’s not going to let go of it.

    A Patriotic Pit Bull.

    Rachel Maddow, on the other hand, is a sniveling coward.

    She jumped on the “BREAKING! Hillary Uses Hotmail!” bandwagon even before the clapping for Bibi had stopped.

    For her, it was manna from heaven. I think she even beat Fox to it!

    ANYTHING to save her from having to say _anything_ about Bibi’s “address” / Israel / Palestine / Zionism / Israeli Lobby / …

  9. JLewisDickerson on March 5, 2015, 6:06 pm

    RE: “For him, cheering for Netanyahu is about Jews’ recovering their dignity after the helplessness of the Holocaust . . .” ~ Weiss

    SEE: “Israel’s Defense Chief OK’s Hundreds of Israeli Deaths”, By Ira Chernus,, 11/11/11

    [EXCERPTS] “If we take out the Iranian nuke facilities, sure, they’ll strike back at us,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said yesterday. “But if every American stays in their home when the Iranian rockets start falling, well, it will be uncomfortable. It won’t be a picnic. But we won’t have 220,000 Americans killed. Not even 22,000. So let’s stop the fear-mongering. We’ve got vital interests to protect.”

    No, of course Panetta didn’t say that. It would be unimaginable. But Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak did say much the same thing in a radio interview just the other day.

    “Not 500 dead” in Israel, Barak assured his people, which translates proportionally into 22,000 Americans. The words “stay in their homes,” “uncomfortable,” “no picnic,” “fear-mongering,” and “vital interests” were Barak’s. And he clearly implied that a few hundred Israeli deaths would be perfectly acceptable. . .

    . . . An essential motive of Zionism from its beginning was a fierce desire to end the centuries of Jewish weakness, to show the world that Jews would no longer be pushed around, that they’d fight back and prove themselves tougher than their enemies. There was more to Zionism than that. But the “pride through strength” piece came to dominate the whole project. Hence the massive Israeli military machine with its nuclear arsenal.

    But you can’t prove that you’re stronger than your enemies unless you’ve also got enemies — or at least believe you’ve got enemies — to fight against. So there has to be a myth of Israel’s insecurity, fueled by an image of vicious anti-semites lurking somewhere out there, for Zionism to work. Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, Iran has gradually risen to the top of Israel oh-so-necessary enemies list. Iranophobia is rampant in Israel, as one Israeli scholar writes, because “Israel needs an existential threat.”

    Anyone who has grown up in Israel, or in the U.S. Jewish community (as I did), and paid attention knows all this. . .


    P.P.S. ALSO SEE – “Iranophobia: The Panic of the Hegemons”, by Ira Chernus, Tikkun Magazine, November/December 2010
    LINK –

  10. JWalters on March 5, 2015, 6:49 pm

    I agree on Matthews. He is showing some awareness that things are grotesquely amiss. In contrast, Joe Scarborough is over the top in his slavish exhortations of the standard, blind Zionist line. I can imagine him one day saying, “I’m shocked, shocked to find Israel has been massively lying all this time, slaughtering innocent Muslims and stealing their land!”

  11. DaBakr on March 5, 2015, 9:06 pm

    As usual…PW gets overly worked up about the “shocking” [!] Netanyahu speech/event and all the supposed “backlash” is generating yet I can barely find even a small mention of it a day later in any f the US msm internet/news sites. Even in Israel- the big ‘event’ is mostly over. and most surprising of all-right-wing ‘kooky-but-often-correct’ DebkaFile reports that Obama’s Iran policy is paying “dividends” via Iran making a major overt push to retake Tikrit back from IS.

    • annie on March 5, 2015, 9:25 pm

      ho hmm. i think chris matthews is very msm. just because you’d like all this to go away doesn’t mean it has. today i was in a bank, and the bank person, whom i had never met before, started talking to me about the speech! we’re just getting started really, the american people that is. this is not going away any time soon.

      • Mooser on March 6, 2015, 11:43 am

        Gee, it was only two days ago DaBakr was lauding the speech, and bragging about Nettie’s ratings. Ah, the blessings of Ziocaine Syndrome Amnesia!

  12. hophmi on March 6, 2015, 10:53 am

    “Bill Kristol is doing his utmost to get that war, citing a Fox News (i.e. dubious) poll:

    Stunning poll results on Iran: 65% willing to use force to stop Iran from nukes, 84% call Obama-type deal bad idea.””

    The poll is not exactly dubious; the spinning is. Most Americans have favored using force to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon for years now, but the question basically presumes that an Iranian nuke is a foregone conclusion. The 84% number is in response to a question about whether Americans think that allowing Iran to get nukes after the supposed 10-year period ends is a good idea. Obviously, most think that’s bad idea.

    The polling on this issue has really been very consistent over the past few years. Most Americans support negotiating with Iran. Most support using force to stop Iran from getting a nuke if Iran is close to a nuke. Most Americans are pessimistic that negotiating will yield an agreement. So, Americans don’t want a nuclear Iran. They would use force if it were clear that Iran was about to have or had a nuclear weapon. They want to try negotiating, even though they’re pessimistic that it will work.

    Although I was against Netanyahu coming here, I don’t share Matthews’ view that this will really establish a precedent; the situation is really too unique, and it took a confluence of a lot of different political dynamics to make it happen. Netanyahu spoke before Congress for a number of reasons. First among them is that he speaks perfect American English; if he did not, no one would ever suggest that he was competing with Obama. Churchill wouldn’t have spoken before Congress three times if instead of English, he spoke French. This sort of thing is unlikely to happen again unless we’re talking about a British Prime Minister or another Israeli Prime Minister who speaks English as Netanyahu does or as Golda Meir did.

    The notion that Netanyahu is a threat to the independence of American foreign policy is silly. At the end of the day, Obama will do what he wants, and at the end of the day, Congress will do what it wants. And the reality is that the hyperpartisanship that led to Netanyahu’s invitation is the threat, not Netanyahu. And I think just about everybody, outside of the antisemitic types who think that the Jews control the world, understand that. The notion that Congress has never taken on the President in the foreign policy realm is ahistorical, and indeed, it’s somewhat ironical to see leftists complaining that Congress is attempting to undermine a sitting US President when they’ve called for years for Congress to reign in the President in the realm of foreign policy.

    As far as war with Iran, I think at some point you guys have to admit that you’ve been beating this horse for a long time, and so far, it hasn’t happened. This blog is a foil of sorts for Netanyahu’s oft-repeated claim that Iran was close to a nuke; you guys always claim Israel is close to going to war.

    The reality is that Israel doesn’t want a war and America doesn’t want a war; if Israel wanted a war, it would have happened by now. What Israel wants is the same thing Winston Churchill wanted in 1952 – a harder line, which means tough sanctions, and no centrifuges. In order to get that, Netanyahu plays bad cop. But a war is just not going to happen. Israel isn’t close to united enough to support such a war, and Americans will not support it either.

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