Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benjamin Netanyahu

AIPAC Focuses on Iran, Not Israel

The 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference–the largest conference in AIPAC’s history–opened yesterday at the Washington Convention Center, in a hall extending the length of three football fields, the space necessary to accommodate more than 16,000 delegates (including 3,000 college students from 586 campuses, of whom 277 are the student government presidents). During the conference, AIPAC expects that more than half the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives will attend.

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The 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference–the largest conference in AIPAC’s history–opened yesterday at the Washington Convention Center, in a hall extending the length of three football fields, the space necessary to accommodate more than 16,000 delegates (including 3,000 college students from 586 campuses, of whom 277 are the student government presidents). During the conference, AIPAC expects that more than half the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives will attend.

This morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the conference, a day before he addresses a joint meeting of Congress, and it is beginning to dawn on those who spent the last month lambasting him for his alleged breach of protocol that a very bad deal is in the works–now the focus of attention primarily because the Israeli prime minister decided that calling it out was more important than his (non-existent) personal relationship with the U.S. president.

Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote last month that Netanyahu’s decision to speak to Congress made “absolutely no sense” and was a “tone deaf ploy” that left Goldberg “unable to understand his thinking,” yesterday wrote that he expects a strong speech to Congress, because:

Netanyahu has a credible case to make. Any nuclear agreement that allows Iran to maintain a native uranium-enrichment capability is a dicey proposition; in fact, any agreement at all with an empire-building, Assad-sponsoring, Yemen-conquering, Israel-loathing, theocratic terror regime is a dicey proposition. [Emphasis added.]

Goldberg is not only worried about the “sunset” clause that would permit Iran to become a nuclear power once the agreement expires, but worried even more “that the Iranians will find a way to cheat their way out of the agreement even before the sun is scheduled to set.”

In a panel yesterday at the AIPAC conference, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who has supported Netanyahu’s speech from the time it was announced, told a large audience “why the speech has to be given now, despite the consequences that will go down for the next 22 months”:

Number one, a deal is about to be signed and so this is the last opportunity just before an election the timing of which Bibi did not set [and] an election that Bibi didn’t want … and this isn’t timed for politics–although God forbid a politician should be guilty of committing politics. It was timed in connection to the negotiating timetable which was, in fact, established by John Kerry and his partners.

Secondly, representatives and senators ought to hear directly from the prime minister why this deal, which is terrible for the United States, is potentially fatal for Israel. And all these members of the House who pat themselves on the back as they vote for Iron Dome funding–as if that is the sole credential for being pro-Israel–ought to be put on record that this is the moment that counts … a final opportunity for Israel to make a case to the United States to act before Israel, I fear, will have to act irrespective of what the United States wants …

And, by the way, what is Bibi doing? He is giving a speech. He’s not hurling thunderbolts from Congress. He’s giving a speech! I would hope that in the spirit of democracy, civility, and–by the way–congressional self-respect for a co-equal branch of government, that every Democratic member, whether they agree with Bibi or not, will do him the courtesy of hearing him out.

Stephens noted that the administration is not only “not checking Iranian moves throughout the region–we are facilitating the rise of Iranian power”:

And I say this–I’m almost shocked to hear myself say this–but the deal we are going to strike isn’t that we’ve moved from a policy of prevention to containment: we are actively facilitating Iran’s bid to become a regular nuclear state … By the way, South Korea: we deny them the right to enrich. So, the South Koreans can’t enrich, according to this administration–we’re pressuring them not to enrich–but Iran, because it’s such a marvelous, wonderful regime, in 10 or 15 years, they’re going to get the bomb. We are facilitating this. We have facilitated their ability to maintain client regimes around the Middle East.

It is one of the reasons why we have not fulfilled the president’s other unmet promise of going after the Assad regime, and we now have a de facto pro-Assad policy in Syria. It’s one of the reasons why we have no strategy to speak of to prevent the Houti militia, who are not some tribal militia–they’re the Hezbollah of Yemen–from seizing [Yemen’s capital] Sana’a and then throwing out our client government. …

So, now the Iranians makes the boast–I’m sure all of you are familiar with this–that they have four Arab capitals in their hands: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sana’a, and you might add Gaza City, if you consider that one. And that’s correct, and we have done nothing to stop it. We have no strategy to speak of, except accepting a new status quo on the hope that one day, the Iranians will change the nature of their regime and they’ll be nice to us. Good luck.

A “bad deal” does not begin to describe the strategic disaster the administration is attempting to conclude in secret, without informing Congress of the details and allowing a free and open democratic debate. The administration opposes even the new Corker-Menendez bill, introduced on Friday, which would prevent any deal from taking effect for 60 days, after Congress finds out what it is.

After AIPAC members listen to Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, its thousands of delegates will lobby their representatives to urge them to support Corker-Menendez–bolstered by the speech of a prime minister who decided an existential threat to his country (the principal U.S. ally in the region) deserves to be fully considered by the representatives of the American people, before it is too late, not only for Israel but the United States.

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Obama Sabotaged AIPAC, Not Netanyahu

The AL Monitor website gained a lot of attention yesterday with a story that alleged that AIPAC was opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to a joint session of Congress next week on the Iranian nuclear threat. The conceit of the piece was that the controversy over the speech was undermining the lobby’s ability to maintain ties with both major political parties and that its leaders had pulled out the stops in private efforts to persuade Netanyahu to change his plans. In response to the article, today AIPAC officials spoke out and declared that they never opposed the speech and are, in fact, working hard to try and persuade wavering Democrats inclined to boycott the event in solidarity with President Obama’s position to show up for it. So did AL Monitor get the story wrong in a malicious attempt to undermine Netanyahu?

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The AL Monitor website gained a lot of attention yesterday with a story that alleged that AIPAC was opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to a joint session of Congress next week on the Iranian nuclear threat. The conceit of the piece was that the controversy over the speech was undermining the lobby’s ability to maintain ties with both major political parties and that its leaders had pulled out the stops in private efforts to persuade Netanyahu to change his plans. In response to the article, today AIPAC officials spoke out and declared that they never opposed the speech and are, in fact, working hard to try and persuade wavering Democrats inclined to boycott the event in solidarity with President Obama’s position to show up for it. So did AL Monitor get the story wrong in a malicious attempt to undermine Netanyahu?

Whatever the motivations of those who published the piece — and the website is quite hostile to Israel’s government — the answer is clearly no. The current dustup is obviously a disaster as far as AIPAC is concerned. But as much as Netanyahu deserves some of the blame for their dilemma, the second story was just as true. Whatever their feelings about the wisdom of the decision to go to Congress in this manner, AIPAC activists who will be descending on Washington next week aren’t in any doubt about who’s the one who is working to undermine the alliance and the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus: President Obama.

Those inclined to defend both AIPAC and Netanyahu should concede that the basic conceit of the AL Monitor article actually captured a basic truth about the lobby’s purpose and the way it operates. Contrary to the allegations that have been hurled against it by its critics and the left-wing J Street lobby, AIPAC isn’t a creature of the right or slanted toward Republicans. It backs all Israeli governments, whether led by figures of the right or those of the left. And its great achievement over the course of the last 40 years is to have created a truly bipartisan, across-the-board coalition in favor of Israel in Congress and the nation.

So it is hardly surprising that the perception that the Netanyahu speech was a plot cooked up with Republicans to embarrass or insult a Democratic president would create a problem for AIPAC. That’s the way the speech has been treated by most of the mainstream media and the incessant and increasingly bitter attacks on Netanyahu by senior figures in the Obama administration has made AIPAC’s task of smoothing the way for support for both the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions bill much more difficult.

It’s also true that, as AL Monitor gleefully reported, leading American Jews have tried to persuade Netanyahu to back off on his plans and that figures in Israel’s defense establishment — many of whom have always disliked and tried to undermine the prime minister’s stands on security issues like Iran for political motivations of their own — have been not so quiet about their dismay about his decision.

Much as those who are rightly up in arms about President Obama’s dangerous concessions to Iran in the nuclear talks are eager to hear Netanyahu, there’s no getting around the fact the speech gave the White House the opportunity to change the subject from the administration’s push for détente with Iran to that of an alleged breach of protocol and the injection of partisanship into the discussion of the issue. This was nothing more than transparent political spin but that doesn’t mean that Netanyahu and his advisers didn’t make a mistake. For weeks, even as news broke about astonishing concessions being offered Iran in the form of a sunset clause that would give Tehran carte blanche to gain a weapon after ten years, Washington has been debating Netanyahu’s chutzpah and the president’s hurt feelings instead of the negotiations or the need for more sanctions. As a result, the odds of a veto-proof majority in both Houses of Congress in favor of a sanctions bill that would have had a chance to hold the administration accountable on the issue is far less likely than it was before the announcement of the speech. That’s because the White House has been able to pick off Democrats who don’t feel comfortable taking sides with Netanyahu against Obama. Can anyone blame AIPAC officials for being frustrated about the Israeli government’s unwillingness to listen to their advice about the consequences of the speech?

But the focus on AIPAC is a sidebar to the real story here.

Though Netanyahu deserves to be criticized for walking into Obama’s trap, the only player in this drama who has consistently sought to inject partisanship or to sabotage the U.S.-Israel alliance has been the president.

It was Obama who discarded his 2012 campaign promises (repeated in his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney) about ensuring the end of Iran’s nuclear program and instead embarked on a path of appeasement whose goal is a misguided effort to make the Islamist regime a partner on a whole range of political and economic issues. The price for this entente cordial with the ayatollahs is acquiescence to their long-term nuclear ambitions as well as their plan for regional hegemony that is scaring the daylights out of America’s moderate Arab allies.

The decision to turn the Netanyahu speech into a cause célèbre was rooted in the White House’s belief that the only way to derail a new sanctions bill that already could count on massive bipartisan support was to turn Iran into a partisan football. And that’s just what the administration has done by piling on Netanyahu while disingenuously claiming to be defending the alliance.

At this point friends of Israel understand the argument about Netanyahu’s speech is now largely irrelevant. With an Iran nuclear deal that would sink any chance of stopping the Islamist regime from becoming a threshold nuclear power and eventually the owners of a bomb now perhaps only weeks away, the time has ended for recriminations about the way the invitation to Congress was handled. The only thing worth discussing now is what, if anything, Congress and the pro-Israel community can do to derail Obama’s betrayal of principle.

The number of those who boycott the speech will be a barometer of how much success the White House has had in undermining the pro-Israel consensus. Democrats who claim to be friends of the Jewish state and opposed to an Iranian nuclear weapon need to forget about false arguments about partisanship and join with fellow Democrats as well as Republicans in listening to Netanyahu. More importantly, they must help pass the Iran sanctions bill before it is too late to stop the president’s plans for détente with a terror-supporting, anti-Semitic Islamist regime.

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If European Jews Must Live in Fear, Why Was Netanyahu Wrong?

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu took a pasting from pundits and even some Jewish leaders when he reacted to the attack on Copenhagen synagogue by repeating his call for European Jews to “come home” to Israel. Many people were uncomfortable with the prime minister’s open advocacy for Zionism. But the problem goes deeper than that. Despite the recent violence against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen, denial about what even the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism still exists. But yesterday’s comments by a German Jewish leader advising fellow Jews not to identify themselves by wearing yarmulkes while walking in certain sections of the country is yet more confirmation that what Europe is experiencing is a revival of Jew hatred that can’t be ignored. If Jews must live in fear even in a country that supposedly has learned the lessons of the Holocaust, then what hope is there for Jews on the Continent other than to seek protection elsewhere.

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Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu took a pasting from pundits and even some Jewish leaders when he reacted to the attack on Copenhagen synagogue by repeating his call for European Jews to “come home” to Israel. Many people were uncomfortable with the prime minister’s open advocacy for Zionism. But the problem goes deeper than that. Despite the recent violence against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen, denial about what even the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism still exists. But yesterday’s comments by a German Jewish leader advising fellow Jews not to identify themselves by wearing yarmulkes while walking in certain sections of the country is yet more confirmation that what Europe is experiencing is a revival of Jew hatred that can’t be ignored. If Jews must live in fear even in a country that supposedly has learned the lessons of the Holocaust, then what hope is there for Jews on the Continent other than to seek protection elsewhere.

A new Pew Research Center study shows that Jews were harassed or oppressed by their governments in 77 of the 198 countries covered by the survey. That includes a frightening total of 34 out of 45 countries in Europe. Yet the problem with accepting the reality of European anti-Semitism arises from a reluctance to place the blame for this prejudice on the haters rather than the victims.

One example came this week from “Science Guy” Bill Nye, the popular science educator and television star. On Bill Maher’s HBO show Real TimeNye said that the problems of European Jews stem from their reluctance to make friends with those who hated them. Attacking Netanyahu’s Zionist stand, Nye said the answer was that Jews should do more “to get to know their neighbors,” as if the roots of centuries of European anti-Semitism was the unwillingness of the victims to undertake outreach to anti-Semites.

That was offensive enough, but an even better example of the mentality that tolerates this new wave of anti-Semitism came from a British Jews. Harry Potter Actress Miriam Margolyes told the Guardian, “I don’t think people like Jews” but blamed the current outbreak on Israel since it gave Britons an excuse to vent their true feelings because of anger about the Gaza war. Like most British artists Margolyes blamed Israel for defending itself against Hamas terrorism and said the backlash against Jews was therefore somehow understandable, if deplorable. Her stance was both uninformed and illogical but it reflects the attitudes of English and other European elites who have, in a strange confluence of opinion, come to share the prejudices of Muslim immigrants who have helped revive traditional Jew hatred on the continent.

Blaming the Jews for being clannish (the conceit of Nye’s bizarre comments) sounds more like 19th century anti-Semitism, but even if we only focus on the way anti-Zionism has allowed traditional hatred to undergo a revival, there is no longer much doubt about the fact that it is becoming open season on Jews on the streets of Europe. A viral video of a Jewish journalist strolling through Paris wearing a kippah being abused by passersby is one more confirmation of a trend that can only be denied by those with ulterior motives.

European Jews may still prefer to think of themselves as safe, free, and prosperous and the political leaders of their countries may often say the right thing about anti-Semitism. But if Jews can no longer walk the streets of Europe’s capitals while identifying themselves with their faith or fear to speak out in defense of Israel lest they face opprobrium, then they cannot pretend to be truly free. The choice whether to stay or to go is personal, and it is difficult for anyone to pick up and leave their homes even under duress. But, as it did throughout the 20th century, history continues to vindicate the cause of Zionism. The Jews of Europe cannot pretend to be secure or to be confident that worse is not in store for them. Netanyahu was right to speak up about them having a haven where they will be able to defend themselves. Those inclined to denigrate his remarks should stroll about Europe’s streets while identifying themselves as Jews before they speak.

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The Anti-Bibi Offensive Reaches the Point of Diminishing Returns

Taken in isolation, it’s hard to fathom exactly what was going through Secretary of State John Kerry’s mind when he attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Seeking to discredit the Israeli’s critique of the administration’s efforts to strike a bargain with Iran over its nuclear-weapons program, Kerry dipped back into history and cited Netanyahu’s support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq as proof of his questionable judgment. Netanyahu’s 2002 testimony before the same committee doesn’t qualify him for the title of prophet. But one wonders why no one among the posse of yes-men and flatterers that follow the secretary about on his travels thought to remind him that as lacking in prescience as Netanyahu’s remarks might have been, it was he, in his capacity at that time as a U.S. senator, who actually voted for the war a few weeks after the Israeli’s testimony. But his foolish eagerness to join the administration’s gang tackle of Netanyahu tells us more about the administration’s desperation and the counterproductive nature of its effort to discredit the Israeli than anything else.

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Taken in isolation, it’s hard to fathom exactly what was going through Secretary of State John Kerry’s mind when he attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Seeking to discredit the Israeli’s critique of the administration’s efforts to strike a bargain with Iran over its nuclear-weapons program, Kerry dipped back into history and cited Netanyahu’s support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq as proof of his questionable judgment. Netanyahu’s 2002 testimony before the same committee doesn’t qualify him for the title of prophet. But one wonders why no one among the posse of yes-men and flatterers that follow the secretary about on his travels thought to remind him that as lacking in prescience as Netanyahu’s remarks might have been, it was he, in his capacity at that time as a U.S. senator, who actually voted for the war a few weeks after the Israeli’s testimony. But his foolish eagerness to join the administration’s gang tackle of Netanyahu tells us more about the administration’s desperation and the counterproductive nature of its effort to discredit the Israeli than anything else.

After several weeks of feuding over Netanyahu’s alleged breach of protocol in accepting an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress from House Speaker John Boehner, the breach between the two governments has now reached the stage where it cannot be dismissed as a mere spat. The administration’s commitment to a policy shift on Iran, in which the effort to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon has been set aside in favor of a push for détente with the Islamist regime, has created more than just a little daylight between Israel and the United States. But what is curious is the way leading figures in President Obama’s foreign-policy team, whether it be Kerry or National Security Advisor Susan Rice, have chosen to treat Netanyahu as a major threat to its objective rather than just the leader of a small, albeit influential, allied country who is not in a position to do anything to stop Obama from doing as he likes.

The most remarkable thing about the piling on the Israeli this week is the disproportionate nature of the attacks. That this treatment has been ordered from the top—which is to say, the president—isn’t doubted by anyone in the know. But in doing so, the administration is now running the risk of losing the advantage it obtained when it was able to use Netanyahu’s blunder about the speech to divert the national discussion from its indefensible position on Iran. Rather than damaging Netanyahu’s credibility and increasing his isolation (an absurd charge since few took notice of Netanyahu’s testimony on Iraq at the time), this all-out offensive is making him seem a more sympathetic figure that deserves a hearing.

Netanyahu has shown remarkably poor judgment in recent weeks that belied the supposedly deft understanding of Washington and American politics that has been his trademark and that of Ron Dermer, his ambassador to the United States. Accepting Boehner’s invitation without clearing it with the White House allowed Obama to make Netanyahu the issue rather than the administration’s opposition to a sanctions bill that would have strengthened its hands in the Iran talks. The prime minister compounded that mistake by then refusing an invitation to meet privately with Senate Democrats because he feared that might constitute an admission that he was colluding with the Republicans.

The administration ought to be wary of overplaying its hand on Netanyahu. After all, no matter how much applause he gets or doesn’t get when he gives his speech to Congress next week, none of that can prevent Kerry from cutting a disastrous deal with Iran if the ayatollahs are ready to make one at all. Given the president’s plans not to present any agreement to the Senate for approval as a treaty and the poor chances of an override of a veto of an Iran sanctions bill, he might be better off ignoring Israeli objections rather than jousting with him.

Though Obama has a reputation as a cold-blooded decision maker, he seems to have let his hatred for Netanyahu get the better of him and ordered his minions to launch a general offensive against Israel in order to crush the prime minister even before he opens his mouth in Washington. Why is he bothering?

The answer is that deep underneath the president’s cool exterior and his conviction that he and only he understands what is right for the country is a fear that Netanyahu’s powerful arguments against appeasing Iran will be heard and believed. That gives the Israeli more credit than he may deserve, but it also reflects Obama’s awareness that if openly debated, his string of unprecedented concessions to Iran can’t be easily defended.

After promising in his 2012 reelection campaign that any deal with Iran would ensure that its nuclear program be eliminated, the president is now preparing to not only guarantee its continued possession of a vast nuclear infrastructure but the phased portion of the current proposal on the table would implicitly grant the Islamist regime the ability to build a bomb after a ten-year period. Just as importantly, the U.S. now seems as indifferent to Iran’s support of international terrorism, its anti-Semitism, threats to destroy Israel, and its push for regional hegemony as it is to the prospect of it being a threshold nuclear power.

In pursuit of this agenda with Iran, the president has ruthlessly played the partisan card (while accusing Netanyahu of doing the same), pushing Democrats to abandon what was formerly a true bipartisan consensus against Iran and seeking to undermine the pro-Israel coalition in Congress. But as long as pundits are discussing or bashing Netanyahu, these issues have been marginalized. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing even when it comes to sniping at the Israeli leader.

Kerry’s absurd overreach against Netanyahu while lamely seeking to defend his current concessions to Iran shows that the administration has reached the point of diminishing returns with respect to the Israeli. Whether Netanyahu was wise to plan this speech is now beside the point. The more the administration seeks to shut him up, the more credence his remarks get. Whereas the address might have been just a Washington story had the White House not gone ballistic about it, it will now be treated as a major international event raising the stakes on the Iran debate just at the moment the administration would like to calm things down. The time has come for the administration to back down and let him talk lest the country listen to Netanyahu’s arguments and realize the president is selling them a bill of goods on Iran.

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Selling the ObamaCare of Foreign Policy

Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with significant skepticism at yesterday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, not only from Republicans, but Democrats as well. Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told Kerry “we’re hearing troubling reports on the scale and duration of the program that Iran may be allowed as part of a deal.” He noted “very disturbing” reports that the administration “would ease limits on Iran’s production during the later years of an accord … [as] an attempt to bridge the difference between the two sides over how long an agreement should last.”

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Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with significant skepticism at yesterday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, not only from Republicans, but Democrats as well. Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told Kerry “we’re hearing troubling reports on the scale and duration of the program that Iran may be allowed as part of a deal.” He noted “very disturbing” reports that the administration “would ease limits on Iran’s production during the later years of an accord … [as] an attempt to bridge the difference between the two sides over how long an agreement should last.”

Kerry did not deny those reports.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) asked Kerry whether he was “willing to accept an agreement in which the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] does not have the right to go anywhere on short notice to look at undeclared or potentially undeclared” nuclear sites. Kerry responded only that “we are negotiating for the appropriate standards.” Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) noted that the IAEA has “published 12 sets of questions about Iran’s past work and Iran has only partially tackled one of those issues.” He asked if Kerry could confirm that “any deal can only be agreed upon if it provides for anytime, anywhere inspections.”

Kerry managed to dodge that question too.

At the beginning of the hearing, Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) offered a devastating critique of the administration’s talks with Iran, as well as the administration’s entire foreign policy:

[T]he committee, as you know, has real concerns about the direction of these talks. I’m hearing less about dismantlement and more about the performance of Iran’s nuclear program. That’s particularly disturbing when you consider that international inspectors report that Iran has still not revealed its past bomb work.

This should be treated as a fundamental test of the ayatollah’s intention to uphold any agreement. Iran is failing that test. Also, it is still illicitly procuring nuclear technology. Recently, Iran was caught testing a new generation of supersonic centrifuges. To be frank, as this committee reads about us being on the brink of a historic agreement, you have a challenge in terms of congressional buy-in.

Meanwhile, Iran and its proxies are wreaking havoc throughout the region. … And in the Middle East, ISIS is on the march. The administration was tragically slow to react to ISIS’s rise, missing the chance to devastate them with airstrikes during the first eight months of ISIS moving from Syria into Iraq, town by town, taking these cities. Air power was not used to devastate these columns out on the open road as it should have been applied.

Today the Kurds are still severely outgunned, our training of the Syrian opposition isn’t off the ground, and Arab allies complain they don’t have the weapons needed. And while the administration is focused on the fight against ISIS in Iraq today, it’s still unclear what its plans are for Syrian tomorrow. … In the past half year, the [State] Department has had to evacuate staff from two U.S. embassies: Libya and Yemen …

It is beginning to dawn on Democrats–at least those on the House Foreign Affairs Committee–that the Obama administration is cooking up the ObamaCare of foreign policy: a deal that will be presented at the twelfth hour as a fait accompli, without debate or congressional oversight beforehand, nor even public disclosure of the basic concessions in the offers already made in the current negotiations, much less a vote by Congress before proceeding with an agreement more important than any treaty in decades. The administration’s repeated assurances that it won’t sign a “bad deal” sound as reliable as the assertions that people could keep their insurance if they liked it–or the “red line” for Syria, or the “reset” with Russia, or the “success” of the withdrawal from Iraq, or the “success” in Yemen, et al.

The administration appears virtually in meltdown mode because the democratically-elected leader of a frontline ally will address a co-equal branch of government at the invitation of the speaker of the House. At yesterday’s hearing, Kerry resorted to a gratuitous ad hominem attack on Prime Minister Netanyahu–the surest sign that it is neither protocol nor politics that concern the administration, but rather the substance of what Netanyahu will say about the pending deal with Iran. Some Democrats may boycott the address–like Iranian delegates who exit the UN rather than be present to hear Israel’s prime minister–but yesterday’s House hearing, combined with (a) the warnings last month from former secretaries of state Kissinger and Shultz, and (b) Michael Doran’s comprehensive Mosaic article, “Obama’s Secret Iran Strategy” (which has thus far attracted 220,000 unique visitors), suggest that the importance of the issue is belatedly drawing the necessary notice on Capitol Hill, after all the distractions regarding how Netanyahu’s speech was arranged.

At the eleventh hour, the prospect of Netanyahu’s address is focusing the attention of Congress on the on the distinct possibility that a very “bad deal” with Iran is in the works. The administration’s unseemly attacks on Netanyahu may, in the end, serve only to increase the attention that will–and should–be paid to his address by the Congress, the country, and the world.

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Who’s Destroying the U.S.-Israel Relationship? Obama Deserves the Blame.

It was President Obama’s first White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who said the administration never wanted to waste a crisis. The maxim appears to still be cherished by the president’s current advisors. The latest administration shot fired at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, this time by National Security Advisor Susan Rice in which she charged the Israeli with acting in a way that was “destructive” to the U.S.-Israel relationship, is best understood by Emanuel’s subsequent explanation of his much-quoted statement: “And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Netanyahu’s blunder in accepting House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to speak to Congress was an opening that the administration has used to change the discussion about Iran’s nuclear threat to its advantage. But it has also given Obama’s team the chance to do something they’ve been longing to do for six years: openly attack Israel’s government. Yet while they are enjoying doing that, no one should be under any illusions about the fault for the problems between Israel and the United States being solely the fault of Netanyahu.

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It was President Obama’s first White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who said the administration never wanted to waste a crisis. The maxim appears to still be cherished by the president’s current advisors. The latest administration shot fired at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, this time by National Security Advisor Susan Rice in which she charged the Israeli with acting in a way that was “destructive” to the U.S.-Israel relationship, is best understood by Emanuel’s subsequent explanation of his much-quoted statement: “And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Netanyahu’s blunder in accepting House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to speak to Congress was an opening that the administration has used to change the discussion about Iran’s nuclear threat to its advantage. But it has also given Obama’s team the chance to do something they’ve been longing to do for six years: openly attack Israel’s government. Yet while they are enjoying doing that, no one should be under any illusions about the fault for the problems between Israel and the United States being solely the fault of Netanyahu.

As I wrote earlier today, Netanyahu’s decision to turn down an invitation to speak to Senate Democrats is the latest in a series of unforced errors that have aided the administration’s efforts to distract the country from their string of unprecedented concessions to Iran on the nuclear issue. By choosing to accept an invitation from the speaker to speak to Congress in favor of a measure the president opposed—increased sanctions on Iran—Netanyahu allowed the White House to make his alleged breach of protocol the issue rather than the president’s indefensible appeasement of Iran in pursuit of a new détente with the Islamist regime.

That was a tactical error. But if we’re going to discuss who has done the most damage to the U.S.-Israel alliance, the notion that Netanyahu’s willingness to speak up about the administration’s drift to appeasement is the main factor tearing it apart means we’ve left the world of analysis and entered that of fiction. If you want to pin the blame for the decline in closeness, the fault belongs to President Obama.

Let’s remember that this is the same man who came into office determined above all to change one thing about U.S. Middle East policy: create more distance between the U.S. and Israel. At that time, the Obama team took it as a given that the reason peace had eluded the region was that George W. Bush had grown too close to Israel. President Obama did everything he could in subsequent years to change that perception, and he succeeded.

But years of pointless spats with Israel over Jerusalem (though Obama’s predecessors had never recognized Israeli sovereignty over its capital, this administration broke new ground by turning building projects in 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods into sources of tension), West Bank settlements (in spite of the fact that Netanyahu agreed at one point to a building freeze), and the terms of a final peace settlement brought the region not one inch closer to peace. That’s because no matter how much Obama tilted the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians, they were still uninterested in a peace deal. But not even Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas torpedoing peace talks by making a deal with Hamas and heading to the United Nations in violation of his Oslo Accords commitments could convince this administration that the fault for their failure was the fault of anyone but Netanyahu.

Though the Obama administration did increase security cooperation and funding for defense projects like the Iron Dome missile-defense system, it also sought to undermine Israeli self-defense against Hamas attacks at every step, even cutting off the resupply of ammunition during last summer’s Gaza war.

But it is on Iran, an entente with which seems to have become the chief obsession of the president’s second term, that Obama did most to damage the relationship. Though he had pledged that any deal would not allow Iran to keep its nuclear program, a string of concessions has now led to the point where it is clear an agreement would allow it to become a threshold nuclear power. The latest U.S. retreat is now an offer to allow Iran to do anything it likes with its nuclear toys after a ten-year freeze. Moreover, the president’s decision to acquiesce to Iran’s military moves in Iraq and the continuation in power of Tehran ally Bashar Assad in Syria have signaled a major U.S. policy shift. While moderate Arab nations and Israel are worried about Iran’s successful drive for regional hegemony, the administration appears to be encouraging it.

Just as important, it is the administration that has done most to make Israel a partisan issue by trying to break up the bipartisan coalition in favor of Iran sanctions on party lines. Throughout the last few months it has been Obama who has been playing the partisan card to stop Iran sanctions even though prominent Democrats like New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez were leading the charge against his dangerous policies.

It is these actions and not Netanyahu’s inept decisions that are truly damaging the relationship. Blame the prime minister all you want for allowing his speech to become the cause célèbre symbolizing the breakdown in relations under Obama, but it has always been the president who has been the prime mover in damaging the alliance.

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Another Unforced Error for Netanyahu

What was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu thinking when he rejected an invitation from Senate Democrats to speak to a private meeting of their caucus? Netanyahu’s rationale is that he only wants to speak to bipartisan groups rather than to meet with either Democrats or Republicans and thereby be drawn into America’s partisan disputes. But by publicly rejecting what seems like an olive branch from Democrats, he is doing just the opposite. Rather than uphold the bipartisan nature of the pro-Israel coalition in Washington, the prime minister’s refusal is being interpreted as another snub to President Obama’s party after his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress from House Speaker John Boehner without consulting with the White House. Just when you thought this story couldn’t get any worse for Netanyahu—at least as far as the way it is perceived in the United States—the Israeli leader dug himself and his country a slightly deeper hole in yet another unforced error.

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What was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu thinking when he rejected an invitation from Senate Democrats to speak to a private meeting of their caucus? Netanyahu’s rationale is that he only wants to speak to bipartisan groups rather than to meet with either Democrats or Republicans and thereby be drawn into America’s partisan disputes. But by publicly rejecting what seems like an olive branch from Democrats, he is doing just the opposite. Rather than uphold the bipartisan nature of the pro-Israel coalition in Washington, the prime minister’s refusal is being interpreted as another snub to President Obama’s party after his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress from House Speaker John Boehner without consulting with the White House. Just when you thought this story couldn’t get any worse for Netanyahu—at least as far as the way it is perceived in the United States—the Israeli leader dug himself and his country a slightly deeper hole in yet another unforced error.

As his official response indicates, it is likely that the prime minister’s office saw the invitation as a trap rather than an opportunity to counter the White House spin of his speech as the Israeli government taking sides with Republicans against the White House on the question of Iran sanctions. Since he rightly believes that speaking to Congress about the dangers from Iran’s nuclear program and the need for increased sanctions is an issue that transcends partisan loyalties, Netanyahu may have thought that accepting the invite from the Democrats would have been a tacit admission that he had erred in cooking up the speech with Boehner.

He may have been right about that. But, once again, the prime minister and his advisors—people who have a better grasp of Washington culture than most Israelis—have gotten so deep into the issue that they’ve lost sight of political reality. Rightly or wrongly, the speech to Congress is widely seen as a Netanyahu attack on Obama that is resented even by Democrats who agree with the prime minister and disagree with the president on Iran sanctions and the direction of the negotiations with Tehran. Rather than viewing the invitation from the Senate Democrats negatively, he should have taken it as an opportunity to prove that he had no interest in playing one party against another. If there were a problem with the perception of him meeting with one group of senators—something that is far from unprecedented—it wouldn’t have been too hard to persuade Republicans to meet with him too.

Instead, by stubbornly sticking to his narrative about the speech to Congress and ignoring the need to acknowledge that the story has gotten away from him, Netanyahu has done more damage to his reputation and, once again, assisted the administration’s efforts to brand him as a disruptive force within the alliance. Just at the moment when it seemed the discussion was shifting from one about the prime minister’s chutzpah to the latest dangerous round of concessions being offered to Iran by the president, we get another news cycle in which the focus is on Netanyahu’s incompetent management of relations with people who should be his allies in Congress.

Acknowledging this latest blunder doesn’t mean that Netanyahu’s position on Iran isn’t correct. The administration’s reported offer of a ten-year freeze with Tehran that would grant Western approval not only for Iran’s nuclear infrastructure but its eventual acquisition of a weapon is a betrayal of the president’s 2008 and 2012 campaign pledges on the issue. Though some were accusing Israel of making up stories about the talks in order to discredit the diplomatic process, it now appears that the worst fears about Obama’s push for détente with Iran are coming true. Rather than stopping Iran, the administration’s priority is making common cause with it to the detriment of the security of both America’s moderate Arab allies and the Jewish state.

This is the moment when the bipartisan pro-Israel community in this country should be uniting behind a push for more sanctions on Iran and opposition to appeasement of its nuclear ambitions. But by walking right into Obama’s trap, Netanyahu has reduced the chances of passing sanctions by a veto-proof majority. And by doubling down on this by refusing to meet with Senate Democrats, he has ensured that his speech will continue to be interpreted through a partisan lens rather than as a necessary cry of alarm that should be taken up by both parties.

It’s possible that, as I wrote yesterday, the duel with the White House may actually be helping Netanyahu in his reelection fight at home since it puts Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog in the unenviable position of being the Israeli ally of a president that is rightly viewed with suspicion by most voters in the Jewish state. But you don’t have to sympathize with either Obama or Herzog to understand that Netanyahu’s blunders are deepening the divide between Republicans and Democrats on Israel just at the moment when he should be redoubling his efforts to bridge them.

In the first six years of this administration, Netanyahu was roundly abused in the American press for his arguments with the president. But on the whole he conducted himself with dignity and strength and was rarely outmaneuvered. But in the last two months, Netanyahu has not been able to get out of his own way when it comes to managing relations with Congress or the White House. It may be too late for him to step back from the speech. But it isn’t too late to try and rectify the harm he is doing by rethinking his rejection of the Democrats’ invitation.

I don’t know exactly who is advising him to make these unforced errors but whoever it is, they should be fired or ignored in the future. Whether or not Netanyahu is reelected next month, the next prime minister of Israel is going to need both Republicans and Democrats in the years to come to maintain the alliance and to manage the growing threat from Iran that Obama is encouraging rather than stopping. Much to my surprise and others who thought him a brilliant political operator, Netanyahu seems to have forgotten that.

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Obama’s Uncomfortable Israeli Ally

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog stated the obvious when he noted today that both the Israeli government and its opposition agreed on the nuclear threat from Iran. But as much as he shares Prime Minister Netanyahu’s conviction that Israel cannot tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon, he wants no part of a joint trip to Washington with his rival. Herzog rejected the invitation from the Likud to join the prime minister when he goes to Congress in early March. But while there are good reasons for both Israelis and American supporters of the Jewish state to question the wisdom of Netanyahu’s decision to accept the invitation to address a joint session of Congress, Herzog’s unwillingness to play along with Netanyahu’s gambit demonstrates that a move that has actually worsened the chances of Congress passing more sanctions may be helping the prime minister politically at home more than it is hurting him. By forcing Herzog to declare himself ready to trust the Obama administration to do the right thing on Iran—just at a time when it appears to be making even more concessions that endanger the security of the West and Israel—Netanyahu could be ensuring his reelection next month.

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Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog stated the obvious when he noted today that both the Israeli government and its opposition agreed on the nuclear threat from Iran. But as much as he shares Prime Minister Netanyahu’s conviction that Israel cannot tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon, he wants no part of a joint trip to Washington with his rival. Herzog rejected the invitation from the Likud to join the prime minister when he goes to Congress in early March. But while there are good reasons for both Israelis and American supporters of the Jewish state to question the wisdom of Netanyahu’s decision to accept the invitation to address a joint session of Congress, Herzog’s unwillingness to play along with Netanyahu’s gambit demonstrates that a move that has actually worsened the chances of Congress passing more sanctions may be helping the prime minister politically at home more than it is hurting him. By forcing Herzog to declare himself ready to trust the Obama administration to do the right thing on Iran—just at a time when it appears to be making even more concessions that endanger the security of the West and Israel—Netanyahu could be ensuring his reelection next month.

With only three weeks to go before Israeli voters head to the polls, the race between Netanyahu’s Likud and the Zionist Union bloc led by Herzog is still too close to call in terms of which party will get the most Knesset seats. But the coalition math in which either party must negotiate deals with several smaller parties in order to get to a 61-seat majority and the right to govern still favors Netanyahu. In order to become the next prime minister, Herzog is going to have to finish first by a healthy margin and then put together a tenuous coalition including the religious and centrist parties but excluding the anti-Zionist Arabs.

Pulling off such a feat is possible but not likely. And the more Netanyahu is able to position himself as the sole figure standing up to American pressure on the Palestinians and fighting against appeasement of Iran, the worse Herzog’s chances look. Thus, it might have made sense to make some gesture of national unity that would have enabled him to steal at least some of Netanyahu’s thunder in Washington. But Herzog can’t do it. Why? Because the rationale underlying his candidacy is a critique of the way Netanyahu has messed up the alliance with the United States.

Herzog rightly understood that the invitation to join Netanyahu was a political stunt and that the Likud was hoping he would say no. The opposition leader isn’t wrong to view the speech as now having a lot more to do with Israeli domestic politics than an effective effort to stop an administration determined to cut a deal with Iran on any terms, even if its provisions virtually concede its status as a threshold nuclear power and will eventually allow the regime to build a weapon with impunity. But the problem for Herzog is not in diagnosing the futility of Netanyahu’s speech or the fact that it has helped President Obama pick off wavering Democrats and therefore prevent the creation of a veto-proof majority for increased sanctions on Iran. Rather, it is in being put in the position of being Obama’s man in Jerusalem just at a time when the president seems to be betraying Israel’s interests in the Iran talks rather than just engaging in another pointless spat with Netanyahu.

There’s no question that the White House will be holding its breath on March 17 and the days following the Israeli vote hoping that somehow Herzog and his ally Tzipi Livni can prevail. Herzog seems to appreciate this and is saying nothing to indicate that he will make trouble for Obama on Iran or any other issue.

But Herzog has to be worried about two things happening that would make Netanyahu’s congressional speech more than a campaign speech.

One is the very real possibility that the U.S. will cut a deal with Iran in the next couple of weeks that will give the Islamist regime the right to hold onto to its nuclear toys and give it a chance—whether by a breakout or waiting out a freeze period such as the one suggested by the U.S. this week—that will give it a nuclear weapon. If the president who is already deeply unpopular in Israel agrees to a deal that is widely seen as undermining Israeli security, Herzog will be hard-put to continue to claim that he can defend Israel’s interests more effectively than Netanyahu by warming up the relationship with Obama. At that point, he will be forced into a stance that will be a faint echo of Netanyahu’s full-throated opposition to an Iran deal and irrelevance.

But even if a deal isn’t struck before the speech or the election, Herzog still has to be concerned about the administration’s push for Iran détente becoming more overt. Indeed, the closer we get to a deal, whether or not it is signed, the steady stream of U.S. concessions to the Islamist regime makes Herzog’s position as Obama’s favorite in the elections more untenable than ever. Though Obama would like to help Herzog, the irony is that the harder he tries to achieve his main second-term foreign-policy goal—an entente with Iran—the worse Herzog’s chances may be. While Herzog is right to say that, if elected, he would, at least initially, be able to warm up relations with Obama, being cozy with someone who is getting cozy with Iran is a very uncomfortable place to be for a man who wants to be elected prime minister of Israel.

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Why the Fake Story About the Mossad Contradicting Netanyahu?

Yesterday the headlines in the Guardian and Al Jazeera trumpeted what seemed like a very juicy story. According to leaked South African intelligence cables obtained by Al Jazeera and shared with the Guardian, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad had come to conclusions that “contradicted” Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertions about Iran’s nuclear program in his 2012 speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations. The charge was repeated today in a story published by the New York Times. If true, then Netanyahu’s speech, best remembered for the cartoon bomb illustration he brandished, would be exposed as political hyperbole. But a closer look at the speech and the leaked cable shows that the headlines aren’t justified. In fact, they are downright false. That leads us to ask the question why major media outlets are seeking to discredit Netanyahu with misleading stories just at the moment when details about President Obama’s latest nuclear offer to Iran has become public. The answer reveals a great deal about both the bias of the press and the stakes in the Iran nuclear debate.

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Yesterday the headlines in the Guardian and Al Jazeera trumpeted what seemed like a very juicy story. According to leaked South African intelligence cables obtained by Al Jazeera and shared with the Guardian, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad had come to conclusions that “contradicted” Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertions about Iran’s nuclear program in his 2012 speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations. The charge was repeated today in a story published by the New York Times. If true, then Netanyahu’s speech, best remembered for the cartoon bomb illustration he brandished, would be exposed as political hyperbole. But a closer look at the speech and the leaked cable shows that the headlines aren’t justified. In fact, they are downright false. That leads us to ask the question why major media outlets are seeking to discredit Netanyahu with misleading stories just at the moment when details about President Obama’s latest nuclear offer to Iran has become public. The answer reveals a great deal about both the bias of the press and the stakes in the Iran nuclear debate.

Unpacking the assertions in the Al Jazeera/Guardian story isn’t difficult. As Mitch Ginsburg points out today in the Times of Israel, the crux of that story is that the leaked documents say that in 2012, the Mossad told its South African counterparts that, “Iran at this time is not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.” That led both papers (dutifully echoed by the Times a day later) to claim that Netanyahu’s “inflammatory rhetoric” and “alarmist tone” about the prospect of an Iranian bomb was not only unjustified but a lie made out of whole cloth.

That is damning stuff indeed. But what exactly did Netanyahu say in September 2012 while brandishing a picture of a Wile E. Coyote-style bomb?

By next spring, at most by next summer, at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move[d] on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks, before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.

Let’s be clear about this. Netanyahu did not say that Iran would have a bomb in a few months. He just said they were enriching enough uranium to create a bomb. That is not a minor distinction. And on that point, there was no disagreement between the Mossad and the prime minister. Which is to say this big story is no story at all. But the much-ballyhooed “contradiction” which was not actually a contradiction is still being reported throughout the world and on cable news networks as a flaw in Netanyahu’s arguments and a blow to his credibility.

It is true that the heads of Israel’s intelligence agencies have at times clashed with Netanyahu. That was particularly true in 2012 when rumors were rife that the prime minister and his former rival and then coalition partner Ehud Barak, serving as defense minister at that time, were thinking seriously about ordering a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The spooks were worried that such a plan couldn’t work, would alienate the United States and, more to the point, might be rendered unnecessary by covert activities such as cyber attacks on the Iranian program and assassinations of scientists. As it turns out, the spy agency and its American counterparts overestimated the damage that their Stuxnet attack on the Iranian computer systems could do. Though Tehran experienced a setback, all indications are that covert action conclusively failed to halt the Iranian program.

But the decision to go big with a story undermining Netanyahu this week is no accident. Yesterday we learned that Israel’s warnings that the U.S. was offering massive concessions to Iran in the nuclear talks were entirely true. The administration told the press that it was presenting the Iranians with a proposal that would not only allow them to keep most of their existing nuclear infrastructure and lift sanctions but that all they were asking them to do was to freeze their development for ten years after which restrictions would be lifted. Combined with the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency that showed the Iranians were continuing to stonewall efforts to inspect sites that would allow the UN body to discover how much progress had been made toward weaponization, and what you get is a picture of a negotiating process whose only aim is to foster détente between the U.S. and Iran, not one whose purpose is to spike their nuclear ambitions.

The weaponization aspect of that report is significant particularly in light of the attention given the Mossad’s 2012 conclusions. At that time it wasn’t clear whether the Iranians were close to a bomb. Neither the U.S. nor Israel knows the answer to that question today either. But what we do know is that Netanyahu’s predictions about Iran’s capabilities were not only vindicated but may well become accepted by the West in the wake of President Obama’s proposal.

Thus at this moment, damaging Netanyahu’s credibility, even if it means shading the truth or inventing a contradiction when there is none, has become vital for those who believe confronting Iran over its nuclear program is a mistake. No matter how many brickbats are hurled at him by the media or how many tactical mistakes he and his staff may make as they are being outmaneuvered in Washington by the White House, the fact remains that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a deadly threat to the security of the West and the moderate Arab nations as well as an existential challenge to Israel’s existence. But the president’s apologists will have to do better than a misleading Mossad story if they are to succeed in silencing the critics of Obama’s Iran appeasement.

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Don’t Blame Bibi for Decline in Democrats’ Support for Israel

Both Israeli and American pundits have spent the last month abusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress next month about the Iranian nuclear threat. The White House’s effort to spin the speech as a breach of protocol and an unwarranted interference in a U.S. debate about Iran has largely succeeded in rallying a significant number of congressional Democrats to back away from support of the sanctions bill co-sponsored by Senators Mark Kirk and Bob Menendez, as well as getting some to threaten to boycott Netanyahu’s speech. But while the speech is a blunder that has hurt the sanctions bill, the charge that Netanyahu has undermined bipartisan support for Israel is both unfair and untrue. As a new Gallup poll reveals, there is nothing new about Democrats being less likely to support Israel than Republicans.

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Both Israeli and American pundits have spent the last month abusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress next month about the Iranian nuclear threat. The White House’s effort to spin the speech as a breach of protocol and an unwarranted interference in a U.S. debate about Iran has largely succeeded in rallying a significant number of congressional Democrats to back away from support of the sanctions bill co-sponsored by Senators Mark Kirk and Bob Menendez, as well as getting some to threaten to boycott Netanyahu’s speech. But while the speech is a blunder that has hurt the sanctions bill, the charge that Netanyahu has undermined bipartisan support for Israel is both unfair and untrue. As a new Gallup poll reveals, there is nothing new about Democrats being less likely to support Israel than Republicans.

The poll, which was taken from February 8-11, just as the furor over the Netanyahu speech was gaining steam, should reassure Israelis and their American friends that the doom-and-gloom scenarios about the collapse of U.S. support for the Jewish state in what is proving to be a very difficult second presidential term for Barack Obama are, at best, overstated. The poll showed that even after the shellacking it took in the press last summer during the Gaza war and the opprobrium that has been directed at Netanyahu personally in the last month, a whopping 70 percent of Americans still view Israel favorably or mostly favorably. Considering that 72 percent gave the same answer in February 2014, it’s clear that strong public support for Israel has hardly budged in spite of a very difficult year. By contrast, only 17 percent of Americans view the Palestinians favorably or mostly favorably, a number that has declined two percent in the last year.

When the question is asked slightly differently, in terms of which side one sympathizes with–the Israelis or the Palestinians–the results aren’t much different. Since the Palestinians’ plight naturally evokes sympathy irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the conflict, you’d think the numbers would swing toward them. But that isn’t the case. The results show that 62 percent of Americans sympathize with the Israelis and 16 percent with the Palestinians. A year ago that result was 62-18 percent.

But the bad news for friends of Israel is the fact that the overwhelming backing for the Jewish state isn’t entirely bipartisan. Though both congressional parties are largely united in their approval for Israel, there is a marked difference when it comes to members of the public who identity with either the Republicans or the Democrats.

Republicans support Israel by an enormous margin with fully 83 percent of them aligning themselves with the Jewish state. By contrast, only 48 percent of Democrats are pro-Israel with independents at 59 percent.

It is true that Democratic support has dipped considerably in the last year. In 2014, 78 percent of Republicans were pro-Israel while 55 percent of Democrats viewed in favorably. That five-percent boost for the GOP and seven-percent dip for the Democrats might be attributed to the actions of Obama and Netanyahu. But before you jump to those conclusions, it’s important to put these numbers in the context of a decades-long trend that has showed a steady increase in GOP backing for Israel while Democrats have been consistently less enthusiastic about it.

In 1988, long before the current debates about Iran, disrespect for Obama, or Netanyahu’s chutzpah, only 42 percent of Democrats viewed Israel favorably while 47 percent of Republicans did so. Since then, the numbers have varied at times. But since 2001, Republican support has moved steadily upward to its current position above the 80 percent mark. At the same time, the figures for the Democrats have always lagged far behind. Though the Obama-Netanyahu dustup may have alienated some Democrats, put in the perspective of the last 25 years, it is barely a blip on the radar screen.

What causes more liberal voters who call themselves Democrats to think less well of Israel than conservatives and Republicans? That is a complex question to which there are no easy answers. Perhaps some buy in to the canard that Israel is a vestige of imperialism, rather than the expression of a national liberation movement for the Jews. It’s possible the views of Democrats are influenced more by the anti-Israel bias of the mainstream media than Republicans, who largely ignore the tilt of the press on most issues.

But whatever the reason, the lack of sympathy for Israel on the part of many Democrats is no secret. The appalling spectacle at their 2012 national convention when a clear majority of those on the floor expressed opposition to pro-Israel resolutions were being pushed through is just a tangible example of the hostility that many on the left have for Zionism. With intellectual elites in academia and the mainline Protestant churches embracing economic warfare against Israel in the form of BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—resolutions, it is little surprise that the party such groups have more influence over would see Israel in a bad light.

These numbers don’t negate the fact that a plurality of Democrats back Israel and that some of their stalwarts in the House and the Senate are its most able advocates. Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who personally stood up to President Obama to object to his slanders against pro-Israel members of Congress, is just one example.

But however you want to spin it, there’s no getting around the fact that Republicans are far more likely to be pro-Israel than Democrats and that this long predates any squabbles about the Netanyahu speech. If pro-Israel Democrats don’t like the notion that the Israelis seem to be more in sync with Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner than with the president, the fault lies with their party, not the Jewish state.

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An IAEA Report and Obama’s Zeal for a Deal

The decision by the Obama administration to cut Israel out of the loop when it comes to information about the secret nuclear negotiations with Iran has once again put the feud between the president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back into the spotlight. The decision was based on White House allegations that the Israelis were distorting the facts about the generous U.S. offer to the Islamist regime. But a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s refusal to allow inspectors to find out what’s really going on in their nuclear facilities puts this dispute in a very different light. With the Americans seeking to allow Iran the right to keep several thousand centrifuges and a nuclear stockpile, the stonewalling of the IAEA should cause observers to think carefully about the secrets the U.S. is keeping and whether they reflect the president’s zeal for a deal with Iran more than his past promises to stop them from gaining a nuclear weapon.

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The decision by the Obama administration to cut Israel out of the loop when it comes to information about the secret nuclear negotiations with Iran has once again put the feud between the president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back into the spotlight. The decision was based on White House allegations that the Israelis were distorting the facts about the generous U.S. offer to the Islamist regime. But a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s refusal to allow inspectors to find out what’s really going on in their nuclear facilities puts this dispute in a very different light. With the Americans seeking to allow Iran the right to keep several thousand centrifuges and a nuclear stockpile, the stonewalling of the IAEA should cause observers to think carefully about the secrets the U.S. is keeping and whether they reflect the president’s zeal for a deal with Iran more than his past promises to stop them from gaining a nuclear weapon.

The IAEA reported yesterday that Iran was continuing to refuse to answer questions or allow inspections of sites that would reveal the extent of their military nuclear research. This is a crucial problem because without the UN body knowing what work Iran has done on nuclear weapons and designs, any accord based on incomplete Western intelligence or untrustworthy Iranian admissions would be meaningless. More to the point, if, as President Obama seems likely to do, the sanctions on Iran are lifted after a deal is signed, the gaps in Western knowledge of the Iranian program may allow the Islamist regime to simply proceed toward a weapon with facilities and research about which the U.S. is currently unaware.

As the New York Times notes:

The report said the agency “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

Because Iran has not provided explanations for the agency’s questions about all nuclear-related work, the report said, “the agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”

The problems with negotiating with Iran are well known.

On the one hand, their negotiating tactics have always revolved around delaying tactics that seek to draw out the talks in such a way that their Western interlocutors are enticed to make a series of concessions in the hope that the Iranians will finally agree. Running out the clock in this manner both sweetens a potential deal for them—as Obama’s shocking abandonment of his past principles illustrates—as well as allowing their program extra time in which to get closer to their nuclear goal.

These tactics have exploited President Obama’s open desire for détente with Iran. But in the absence of credible intelligence on their ability to “break out” to a bomb, Washington is negotiating in the dark.

The outline of a deal with Iran is already clear. As numerous reports have already established, the U.S. is prepared to allow Iran to keep most, if not all of its nuclear infrastructure in exchange for promises that it has no assurances will be kept. That will make Iran a threshold nuclear power even if it doesn’t violate the terms of the agreement. Once sanctions are lifted, it will be difficult, if not impossible to put them back in place. No matter how weak the deal or how unlikely Iran is to keep its word, President Obama will seize on it as a major foreign-policy achievement and not be inclined to question anything the Iranians do.

Thus, the Israeli alarm about this act of appeasement is more than justified. But even if you doubt Netanyahu’s judgment, the stonewalling of the IAEA should worry even the most ardent supporters of the president’s policy. Without firm knowledge of Iran’s capabilities and research—something that is unlikely to be obtained given the secretive nature of the regime and its extensive and widely dispersed nuclear facilities—U.S. guarantees about stopping Iran long before a bomb can be constructed seem like hollow promises. Put in this context, Netanyahu’s sniping about U.S. policy seems less like the pointless spat depicted in the U.S. press and more like reasonable complaints about a dangerous and secret initiative that deserve to be treated seriously.

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Elie Wiesel and the Defense of Jewish Life

Like a lot of Jews, Peter Beinart says Elie Wiesel’s writings helped influence his development as a thinker and a writer. The same could be said of me. At this point, the Nobel Laureate Wiesel has made his mark on more than one generation of Jews who were raised on his novels and memoirs exploring both his experience in the Holocaust as well as Jewish traditions and the dilemma of modern Jewish life. But, as he writes in his latest Haaretz column, Beinart has no patience for Wiesel these days. Why? Because Wiesel has written a public letter, published as an ad in the New York Times and the Washington Post, supporting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about the nuclear threat from Iran.

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Like a lot of Jews, Peter Beinart says Elie Wiesel’s writings helped influence his development as a thinker and a writer. The same could be said of me. At this point, the Nobel Laureate Wiesel has made his mark on more than one generation of Jews who were raised on his novels and memoirs exploring both his experience in the Holocaust as well as Jewish traditions and the dilemma of modern Jewish life. But, as he writes in his latest Haaretz column, Beinart has no patience for Wiesel these days. Why? Because Wiesel has written a public letter, published as an ad in the New York Times and the Washington Post, supporting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about the nuclear threat from Iran.

According to Beinart, this is just one more example of Wiesel being “blind to the harm that Jews cause.” Whatever your opinion about the wisdom of Netanyahu’s decision to give the speech (and I’ve repeatedly questioned it), the notion that an Israeli leader speaking up to urge the world to stop Iran obtaining the ability to threaten or to carry out another Holocaust is causing “harm” is not only outrageous. It speaks volumes about the mindset of Beinart and others like him who view Jewish self-defense with more alarm than the continued efforts of those who seek to slaughter Jews.

I think Netanyahu made a terrible tactical mistake by choosing to inject himself into a debate over Iran sanctions that the side he supported was already winning. President Obama’s efforts to spike those sanctions was given a major boost when, fairly or not, Netanyahu’s alleged breach of protocol became the issue, diverting the nation from the administration’s indefensible efforts to promote détente with Iran. But since Netanyahu is determined to go ahead with the speech, his critics are not so much focused on his blunder as on their desire to silence all discussion about the Iranian nuclear threat so as to give more room for Obama’s push for appeasement.

Beinart claims Wiesel made two unsupported statements in his letter. The first is that the U.S. and Iran are on the verge of a “terrible” deal. The second is that an Iranian nuclear weapon could mean the “annihilation and destruction” of Israel. Yet there’s not much to Beinart’s objections here.

There’s not much dispute about the terms the U.S. is currently offering Iran. Discarding his 2012 campaign promise to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program, President Obama has already put on the table an offer that would allow the Islamist regime to retain thousands of centrifuges for enriching uranium as well as letting them keep control of their stockpile of nuclear fuel. Administration apologists claim that this is the best that the West can do in any bargain with Iran, but Beinart doesn’t even bother to make that weak argument but simply writes as if the much discussed terms of the negotiations are a mystery that will only be revealed at the signing ceremony. Such terms would not be much of a deterrent to stop Iran from building a bomb; the only question being whether a nuclear “breakout” would take a year or, as many intelligence sources insist, far less time. Nor does he deign to dispute that even if Iran initially abided by those terms, it would make Tehran a nuclear threshold state that would make this terrorist sponsoring government more powerful, aiding its drive for regional hegemony.

Even less convincing is Beinart’s claim that an Iranian nuke wouldn’t be an existential threat to Israel. Though he can quote some retired Israeli security officials downplaying the threat, he knows very well that the dispute in those circles is not so much about the danger but about the best way to counter it with many deprecating the possibility of an Israeli military strike.

Though Iran might not use such a weapon to destroy Israel, their possession of one does raise such a possibility for two reasons. One is that they are building ballistic missiles that could deliver such a bomb. The other is that leading figures of this unabashedly anti-Semitic regime have repeatedly stated their desire to annihilate Israel.

Put in that context, Wiesel’s assertions are unexceptionable. Indeed, if one goes back and reads many of President Obama’s statements about an Iranian weapon in his first term during which he pledged never to allow such a development to take place, Wiesel’s position actually seems in concert with that of the administration.

But Beinart’s real agenda here isn’t to make weak arguments in defense of the administration’s efforts to build a new entente with Tehran. Rather, it is to denounce Wiesel’s instinct to defend Israel’s government against efforts to delegitimize its attempts to defend the Jewish state. Because he thinks, or at least at one point thought, about the writer as a symbol of concern for human rights, Beinart is appalled that Wiesel thinks Israel shouldn’t be forced to make unilateral concessions or that Jerusalem should be divided. He thinks he should be in the forefront of those flaying Israel for its policies on the West Bank rather than defending its current government as he has its predecessors led by both Likud and Labor prime ministers.

But again, this tells us more about Wiesel’s grasp of the essence of the conflict than any alleged insensitivity to the sufferings of the Palestinians. To the contrary, Wiesel has always been outspoken about the need to respect the humanity and the rights of Palestinians. But at the same time he has celebrated Israel’s control over a united Jerusalem because that means for the first time in its history, all faiths have access to their holy places.

Moreover, Wiesel’s defense of Israeli efforts to defend its people against a continuing campaign of Palestinian terrorism isn’t insensitive to non-Jews. He grasps that it is the Palestinian national organizations that have perpetuated this conflict despite repeated Israeli offers of peace and independence that have been turned down flat by both Fatah and Hamas.

Beinart rightly senses that so long as an icon of humanity like Wiesel is willing to stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself and to not be forced into unilateral and suicidal concessions, non-Jews will understand that the Jewish state’s rights should be respected. Whatever one may think of the current government of Israel, the notion that its efforts to preserve the existence of the state and the security of its people “defile” Wiesel’s ideals is a monstrous distortion of the truth. For those who have wrongly come to view Israel as the villain in the Middle East conflict and who reflexively deny the Palestinians’ rejection of peace and coexistence, any defense of Israel is too much, even when it comes from someone whose bona fides as an authority on human rights dwarf those of a Peter Beinart.

In the context of the politics of either Israel or the United States, Wiesel is a not right-winger or an opponent of compromise, assuming that peace with the Palestinians were ever possible. He is, rather, a centrist who simply sticks to consensus issues like Iran and a united Jerusalem. But to the likes of Beinart, even those positions are anathema.

Beinart’s current niche in the secular media is as a Jewish writer who can be relied upon to denounce Israel’s government so it is little surprise that he would defend appeasement of Iran. But when he matches his puny stature as a critic of the Jewish state against Wiesel’s standing as an advocate of Jewish life, he is out of his depth. By bashing the famous survivor in this manner, he is doing more to damage his own tattered reputation than undermining that of Wiesel.

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Bibi’s Kitchengate and Israel’s Shifting Standards

Though foreign-policy pundits and Israel watchers have been obsessing over the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to speak to Congress on Iran sanctions, it’s possible that his electoral fate will be decided by something far more mundane. The State Comptroller’s scathing report about what is being represented as lavish expenditures at the prime minister’s residence was big news in Israel. His critics and political foes made a meal of the report and cited it as proof that Netanyahu had outlasted his welcome in office after six years (and nine overall) as the country’s leader. But though the timing couldn’t be worse for the Likud and it may have cost Netanyahu’s party a couple of seats in the most recent election polls, some canny observers think it won’t decide things. They’re right, and not just because the election ought to be decided on weightier issues. Unlike Americans who may see headlines about corruption and think the worst about the prime minister, most Israelis may understand the context and judge the situation accordingly.

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Though foreign-policy pundits and Israel watchers have been obsessing over the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to speak to Congress on Iran sanctions, it’s possible that his electoral fate will be decided by something far more mundane. The State Comptroller’s scathing report about what is being represented as lavish expenditures at the prime minister’s residence was big news in Israel. His critics and political foes made a meal of the report and cited it as proof that Netanyahu had outlasted his welcome in office after six years (and nine overall) as the country’s leader. But though the timing couldn’t be worse for the Likud and it may have cost Netanyahu’s party a couple of seats in the most recent election polls, some canny observers think it won’t decide things. They’re right, and not just because the election ought to be decided on weightier issues. Unlike Americans who may see headlines about corruption and think the worst about the prime minister, most Israelis may understand the context and judge the situation accordingly.

As Haviv Rettig Gur noted in the Times of Israel, had Netanyahu made the sort of concessions to the Palestinians that the left believes in, newspapers like Haaretz wouldn’t be treating the question of how many cigars or how much ice cream are consumed at chez Netanyahu at the public’s expense. As Gur also noted, the alternative to the PM in the election, Labor Party head Isaac Herzog, is also a wealthy man and is keeping conspicuously quiet about the affair. The story has resonance because the public is sick of Netanyahu after so many years in power. His wife Sara has been subjected to a lot of criticism too as tales told by disgruntled former employees made her seem like a cross between Joan Crawford and Lady Macbeth.

But lest we jump to conclusions about supposed corruption, let’s understand that what Netanyahu stands accused of doing are things that any American president would take for granted. After all, Netanyahu was roundly criticized for seeking to have a bed installed on an official plane used to take him on foreign trips. When you realize that Air Force One is a luxury hotel when compared to the vehicles that take Israel’s leader abroad, it’s easy to realize that Netanyahu is being judged by a standard that most Western leaders would think absurd. Indeed, not even President Obama’s most virulent critics think there’s anything amiss about how much food is being consumed at the White House, a place where we expect our commanders in chief to live comfortably.

Of course, many Israelis are old enough to remember their first generation of leaders who lived simply, both in and out of office. Both David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin were ascetics who eschewed grandeur and the trappings of their positions. Compared to men who retired to a shack in the desert and a small Jerusalem apartment, Netanyahu is a high roller. But his spending isn’t any more or less offensive that that of his recent predecessors such as Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ehud Barak. Compared to the man that he succeeded as prime minister—Ehud Olmert—Netanyahu is a veritable Abe Lincoln. Olmert, a man who was lionized and feted by American Jewish liberals up until the moment he was convicted on corruption charges, wasn’t just a lavish spender; he used his office for corrupt purposes, something that no one is accusing Netanyahu of doing.

Being more honest than Olmert or just as much of a spender as Barak, Rabin, or Peres is no great recommendation. With the plight of the country’s middle class and the cost of living a major campaign issue, having a prime minister who expects the taxpayers to pay for his sushi doesn’t look good. But few in Israel believe Herzog and his political ally, Tzipi Livni, would be any more circumspect about spending.

More importantly, Netanyahu still heads into the election looking like the most authoritative leader on war and peace issues. Even the polls that show the Likud trailing its Labor rival by a seat or two also tell us that Netanyahu is the first choice for prime minister and that most voters expect the center and right-wing parties to form the next government. In a Middle East torn by Islamist strife, Israelis still understand that their government’s primary obligation is to keep them safe. With Iran not only trying to assemble a nuclear threat but make a two-front war possible with its Hezbollah and Hamas allies, Sara Netanyahu’s treatment of the staff and the price of ice cream don’t look like that big a deal. That doesn’t mean that Israelis wouldn’t prefer to be led by another Ben-Gurion or Begin, but it’s doubtful that they’ll throw out Netanyahu on this basis.

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Obama’s Secret Iran Talks Deserve Scrutiny

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the exchange of secret letters between President Obama and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has resumed. The letters are believed to concern Obama’s offer of cooperation with Iran against ISIS terrorists if Tehran will agree to a deal on its nuclear program. These letters have clearly been a crucial element in the six-year administration effort to forge a new détente with the Islamist regime. But they must also be placed in the context of the ongoing dispute between the U.S. and Israel about the nuclear talks. Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chided the U.S. for attempting to hide the details about the negotiations from Israel. While the president doesn’t like or trust the prime minister, those concerned about a drift toward accommodation of Iran’s demands are not wrong to note that the secrecy about the negotiations undermines the credibility of the administration’s assurances that it can be trusted not to betray the Israelis or American security interests in a futile pursuit of good relations with Khamenei’s government.

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Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the exchange of secret letters between President Obama and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has resumed. The letters are believed to concern Obama’s offer of cooperation with Iran against ISIS terrorists if Tehran will agree to a deal on its nuclear program. These letters have clearly been a crucial element in the six-year administration effort to forge a new détente with the Islamist regime. But they must also be placed in the context of the ongoing dispute between the U.S. and Israel about the nuclear talks. Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chided the U.S. for attempting to hide the details about the negotiations from Israel. While the president doesn’t like or trust the prime minister, those concerned about a drift toward accommodation of Iran’s demands are not wrong to note that the secrecy about the negotiations undermines the credibility of the administration’s assurances that it can be trusted not to betray the Israelis or American security interests in a futile pursuit of good relations with Khamenei’s government.

For the past few weeks, concerns about the details of the terms the U.S. is offering to Iran in the nuclear talks have been obscured by the controversy about Netanyahu’s determination to speak to a joint session of Congress next month about Iran. As I’ve pointed out, accepting House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation was a tactical blunder on Netanyahu’s part since it allowed the president and his apologists to divert the discussion about Iran from his indefensible pursuit of an entente with a radical terror-sponsoring tyranny to one about the Israeli’s alleged breach of protocol. This was a no-win confrontation for Israel and its friends that may have made it harder for Congress to pass tougher sanctions on Iran with a veto-proof majority because of defections from Democrats concerned about not taking sides with a foreign leader against the president. But the Journal report reminds us that the stakes here involve a lot more than the personal animus between Obama and Netanyahu.

The decision of the U.S. to keep Israel out of the loop about the details of its talks with Iran makes sense only inside the White House bubble where Netanyahu—the democratically-elected leader of America’s ally—is perceived as an enemy and the theocrat tyrant Khamenei is viewed as the head of a nation that must be wooed and won over in an effort to forge an entente with Tehran. Diplomacy is always best practiced outside of public view, but the problem with the discussion about Iran is that the administration’s public stand about its desire to prevent the regime from getting a nuclear weapon is at odds with everything we know about the negotiations.

As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius pointed out yesterday, the White House continues to claim that its offers to let Iran keep much of its nuclear infrastructure are misunderstood. He writes that officials say granting Iran the right to keep several thousands centrifuges and a stockpile of nuclear fuel would actually be tougher than one that would give them only a few hundred newer machines and a larger stockpile. But this is a classic Obama false choice in which a straw man is set up for the administration to knock down. What the Israelis and concerned members of Congress who support the threat of more sanctions want is for the president to keep his 2012 campaign pledge that stated that any deal would involve the end of Iran’s nuclear program. The administration has abandoned that position in favor of one that gives Iran the ability to build a bomb but only under circumstances that would take more than a year for them to “break out” to a weapon.

The problem with the one-year breakout offer is that there is a good argument to be made by the Israelis and others that the breakout period would be much shorter. Moreover, the idea that U.S. intelligence in Iran is good enough to detect the breakout in time to do something to prevent is, to put it mildly, a dubious assumption.

American officials may be angry about the fact that the Israelis are doing their best to publicize the details about American offers to Iran that make it clear that, at best, the U.S. is prepared to acquiesce to Khamenei’s regime becoming a threshold nuclear power. But, like their much publicized hurt feelings about Netanyahu’s speech to Congress that they’ve used to pick off wavering Democrats from the ranks of supporters of more sanctions, their umbrage about the Israeli disclosures rings false. The more we know about Obama’s communications with Khamenei and the fine print in the Western offers in the nuclear negotiations, the more it seems certain that détente is the president’s goal, not putting an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Disputes with Israel are being used as a cover to shield a diplomatic offensive aimed at allowing Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. If the president expects the country and Congress to follow his lead on Iran, it’s only fair to ask where he is leading us before, rather than after, he signs a nuclear deal that endangers U.S. allies and puts American security in the hands of the supreme leader and his terrorist auxiliaries.

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The Copenhagen Attacks and Zionism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the attack on a Copenhagen synagogue last night by placing it the context of a rising tide of violent anti-Semitism. But, as he did after last month’s attacks in Paris, he said European Jews should draw conclusions from these events when he called on them to “come home” to Israel. In response the chief rabbi of Denmark criticized the prime minister saying that the statement was irresponsible and that terrorism wasn’t a reason to move to Israel. Some, especially Netanyahu’s many critics, view this exchange as yet another example of his seeking to take advantage of tragedies for the sake of boosting his poll ratings in a tight election race. But whatever you may think of Netanyahu, these attacks are both unfair and inaccurate. As the nation state of the Jewish people in their ancient homeland, Israel doesn’t exist solely as a refuge for Jews under attack. But the latest string of attacks on Jews in Europe, as the editors of this magazine wrote in our editorial in the February issue of COMMENTARY, do once again prove “the existential necessity of Zionism.”

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the attack on a Copenhagen synagogue last night by placing it the context of a rising tide of violent anti-Semitism. But, as he did after last month’s attacks in Paris, he said European Jews should draw conclusions from these events when he called on them to “come home” to Israel. In response the chief rabbi of Denmark criticized the prime minister saying that the statement was irresponsible and that terrorism wasn’t a reason to move to Israel. Some, especially Netanyahu’s many critics, view this exchange as yet another example of his seeking to take advantage of tragedies for the sake of boosting his poll ratings in a tight election race. But whatever you may think of Netanyahu, these attacks are both unfair and inaccurate. As the nation state of the Jewish people in their ancient homeland, Israel doesn’t exist solely as a refuge for Jews under attack. But the latest string of attacks on Jews in Europe, as the editors of this magazine wrote in our editorial in the February issue of COMMENTARY, do once again prove “the existential necessity of Zionism.”

Part of the pushback against Netanyahu’s statements and actions after both the Paris attacks and last night’s fatal shooting of a Jew guarding a Copenhagen synagogue stems from personal resentment of the prime minister who happens to be in the fight for his political life in the Knesset election that will be held next month. Here in the United States, supporters of President Obama and his effort to appease Iran have been bashing him relentlessly. In particular, the left-wing J Street lobby has initiated a campaign seeking to delegitimize Netanyahu, urging Jews to say that he “doesn’t speak” for them. Their stand is not only misguided on the issue of Iran; it also seeks to undermine the ability of the democratically-elected leader of the Jewish state to voice concerns about Jewish security in a way that only the person who holds that office can (something they won’t tolerate from the right if Netanyahu is replaced by someone from the left).

But Danish Chief Rabbi Yair Melchior was not engaging in that sort of attack. Rather, he seemed to view Netanyahu’s statement about the need for Jews to leave Europe as an attack on his community. As others said after the Hyper Cacher attack in Paris, the rabbi seems to believe that if Jews flee, the terrorists as well as the growing ranks of European anti-Semites win.

As the Times of Israel reported:

Rabbi Yair Melchior said, in response: “People from Denmark move to Israel because they love Israel, because of Zionism. But not because of terrorism.”

“If the way we deal with terror is to run somewhere else, we should all run to a deserted island,” Melchior said.

There is some truth to Melchior’s argument. Certainly Jews who immigrate to Israel from the United States are not fleeing injustice but are rather embracing Israel and Zionism. But does he really think the decline in the population of European Jews and the vast increase in aliyah in recent years is a statistical anomaly? As the Pew Research Center’s latest data reports, Jews are fleeing Europe. That is not just because of the alarming increase in violence against Jews but a product of the way anti-Semitism has once again become mainstream in European culture after decades of being marginalized, or at least kept under wraps, after the Holocaust.

Moreover, it is a plain fact that those who have made up every great wave of immigration to the Jewish homeland have been primarily motivated by necessity rather than an ideological commitment to Zionism. The logic of Zionism is not so much the very real appeal of its efforts to reconstitute a national Jewish culture and language but the need of the Jews for a refuge from the potent virus of anti-Semitism.

It would be nice to believe that in the enlightened Western Europe of our own day the fears about mobs crying “Death to the Jews” that motivated Theodor Herzl to write The Jewish State and found modern Zionism would no longer apply. But a Europe where the Jew-hatred of the Arab and Muslim world that was imported by Middle Eastern immigrants mixes with the contempt for Jewish identity and Israel that has become conventional wisdom among European intellectual elites is not a place where Jews can live safely.

Under these conditions, it is the duty of any prime minister of Israel to remind the world, as well as those faced with such a difficult decision, that Jews are no longer a homeless people that can be abused with impunity. The rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel not only gave the Jews a refuge that would have saved millions during the Holocaust. It also gave every Jew around the world, whether Zionist or non-Zionist, religious or non-religious, a reason to stand a little taller. Jews may choose to stay where they are, whether in an increasingly dangerous Europe or a place like the United States where, despite the existence of anti-Semitism, they can live in unprecedented freedom, acceptance, and security. But the existence of a home for Jews helps make them more secure. Anti-Semitism is, as we noted in our editorial, “a disease for which there is no cure.” But after Copenhagen, our conclusion is just as true: “The existential necessity of Zionism after Paris is not only a fact. It is a charge for the future.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu is right to note this fact. His critics, both in Europe and on the American left, should cease carping and seek to help him strengthen Israel against its enemies.

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Israelis Have Noticed Obama Is Still Interfering in Their Elections

One of the running jokes about Barack Obama’s practice of repenting for past American meddling in other countries’ affairs has been that Obama came to office opposing regime change everywhere but Israel. This was a case of it being funny (only) because it was true. Obama has continued to ally with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s electoral opponents, and Israeli voters, according to a poll released today, don’t think he’s being all that subtle about it.

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One of the running jokes about Barack Obama’s practice of repenting for past American meddling in other countries’ affairs has been that Obama came to office opposing regime change everywhere but Israel. This was a case of it being funny (only) because it was true. Obama has continued to ally with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s electoral opponents, and Israeli voters, according to a poll released today, don’t think he’s being all that subtle about it.

The Jerusalem Post reports that Israeli public opinion continues to show that Israelis are proficient observers of the American political scene, especially with regard to President Obama:

Sixty-two percent of respondents said the Obama administration is interfering, 31% said it is not interfering, and 8% did not know.

A majority of respondents, 56%, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is correct in principle in his desire to address Congress on the Iranian nuclear threat, while 36% said he is not right, and 8% had no opinion.

Nevertheless, only 41% said that the prime minister should actually deliver the address, while 36% said he should not go to Washington at all, 17% said he should go, but speak only at the AIPAC policy conference, and 6% did not know.

As Jonathan Tobin has been pointing out, Netanyahu did nothing wrong by accepting the American invitation to address Congress and he is also correct in the intent and content of his speech, but once the Obama White House turned it into a partisan issue and even, embarrassingly, injected race into the discussion, Netanyahu’s better play was to cancel or postpone the speech. Israeli voters seem to generally agree.

As for the question of Obama’s interference, it’s actually surprising that only 62 percent thought so. The State Department is funding a group bankrolling an anti-Netanyahu campaign, and a former Obama campaign official is playing a leading role in the American left’s “Anyone but Bibi” efforts.

Additionally, Obama himself has telegraphed his intentions. Aaron David Miller acknowledges this over at Foreign Policy, but the headline and subheadline (probably added by an editor, not Miller) don’t get the story quite right. The column is titled “Obama Is Pursuing Regime Change in Israel,” which mostly correct; it would be right on target to say “Obama Is Still Pursuing Regime Change in Israel.” He has been doing so since the beginning of the first term of Netanyahu’s current premiership.

But the subheadline works too hard to water down Obama’s meddling: “Angered by Netanyahu’s invitation to address Congress, the White House is now quietly working to unsettle the prime minister before elections in Israel.” Again, this could be fixed with a minor word substitution. It could say “Angered by Netanyahu’s very existence…” since Netanyahu’s recent acceptance of his American invitation to Congress obviously had nothing to do with Obama’s two-term project of ousting Bibi.

In fact, the only thing this speech did was give Obama and his defenders in the media a pretext. As CNN reported earlier this week, one of the nuggets in David Axelrod’s memoir is that Obama planned to go “Bulworth” in his second term by doing things that might be unpopular but would at least be more honest. And stepping up his attacks on Netanyahu was part of the list.

Here’s how the president saw his post-election strategy:

These are things “I’ll want to work on in my second term,” the president told his top staffers, as one of them referenced the Warren Beatty movie Bulworth, in which a candidate goes on a reckless spree of truth-telling. “Some of them may make you guys nervous. But Axe keeps saying I should be ‘authentic.’ So maybe I should go out there and just let it rip.”

So what does it mean for Obama to be “authentic?” Here’s CNN:

In addition to revealing his actual position in favor of legal same-sex marriages, and working on immigration reform and to combat climate change, the president singled out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Axelrod wrote. Specifically, he wanted to be tougher on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Just to put this in perspective, Obama had been working to collapse Netanyahu’s government almost immediately. What Obama was saying was that trying to collapse the duly elected Israeli government was his way of pulling punches, of not being tough enough on Netanyahu. It’s easy to see why Obama thought this might make some of his advisors nervous.

But it’s also not much of a revelation, is it? And the irony is that if Obama is successful and Isaac Herzog’s Labor wins the next election, the president and the Western media will be forced to reckon with their characterization of Israeli politics but without the benefit of having a right-of-center leader to scapegoat. The press loves to talk about Netanyahu’s supposed intransigence on the peace process by saying that his “right-wing” coalition partners wouldn’t stand for certain concessions.

If people think Bibi is hostage to his coalition partners, they would be absolutely terrified by the political reality that would face Herzog. In order to govern, he needs not only to win the election but to put together a coalition. To even have a chance, he’d have to construct a rickety coalition dependent on center-right parties. And he’d have almost no margin for error.

Which is to say that Obama’s “Bulworth” strategy against Israel is not just morally bankrupt and ill advised. It also risks further eroding Israelis’ already-low trust in Obama for what would probably be negligible gain. Obama’s strategists might have pointed that out, though it’s unlikely the president would have listened.

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How Different Would Herzog Be From Bibi?

With a little more than a month to go before Israel’s Knesset election, there isn’t much doubt that the White House is hoping and praying that Israeli voters reject Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bid for a third consecutive term in office. With Obama using Netanyahu’s plan to speak to Congress on Iran sanctions only weeks before the vote and the prime minister speaking of his “duty” to inform the world about the mistaken policy being pursued by the administration, tensions between the two governments are at fever pitch. While the impact of Netanyahu’s speech on Israeli voters is a matter of speculation, he remains favored to win. But what will really change if Obama gets his wish and, instead, the Labor Party’s Isaac Herzog emerges from what is likely to be a protracted period of negotiations as Israel’s next prime minister? The answer is that while the atmospherics between Washington and Jerusalem will undoubtedly be a lot better, the substance of the arguments between the two governments won’t change much. Nor will, despite the assumptions on the part of Netanyahu’s many critics, Israel be any closer to peace under Herzog than it is under the incumbent.

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With a little more than a month to go before Israel’s Knesset election, there isn’t much doubt that the White House is hoping and praying that Israeli voters reject Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bid for a third consecutive term in office. With Obama using Netanyahu’s plan to speak to Congress on Iran sanctions only weeks before the vote and the prime minister speaking of his “duty” to inform the world about the mistaken policy being pursued by the administration, tensions between the two governments are at fever pitch. While the impact of Netanyahu’s speech on Israeli voters is a matter of speculation, he remains favored to win. But what will really change if Obama gets his wish and, instead, the Labor Party’s Isaac Herzog emerges from what is likely to be a protracted period of negotiations as Israel’s next prime minister? The answer is that while the atmospherics between Washington and Jerusalem will undoubtedly be a lot better, the substance of the arguments between the two governments won’t change much. Nor will, despite the assumptions on the part of Netanyahu’s many critics, Israel be any closer to peace under Herzog than it is under the incumbent.

To listen to Herzog and his new partner Tzipi Livni, who merged her defunct Hatnua Party with Labor to form what they call the Zionist Camp, the differences will be significant. Herzog has spoken of his commitment to the peace process. It’s likely that he would encourage a renewal of the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry that collapsed last year after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas signed a unity pact with Hamas.

But would the terms he is willing to offer Abbas differ from those that the Palestinians have already rejected?

Herzog has danced around the question of a divided Jerusalem. Though he is saying now that he wants to keep the city united, in the past he has endorsed the Geneva Initiative’s plans for a division. That waffling is in stark contrast to Netanyahu’s adamant refusal to partition Israel’s capital. But in practice, Herzog might still find himself locked in disputes with the Obama administration on Jerusalem. That’s because Obama considers the 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods built in parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 to be little different than the most hilltop encampments in the West Bank where Jews are living. To the administration, both are “settlements” and obstacles to peace. Any Herzog-Livni government would be a coalition with centrist parties, including relative hardliners like Avigdor Lieberman, and not Labor’s allies to the left or the Arab parties. It is inconceivable that any such government would agree, as the president almost certainly will demand, for a building freeze in Jerusalem.

Herzog is also deeply committed to a two-state solution, something that is music to Obama’s ears and will be the selling point used by Kerry when he tries to entice Abbas back to the negotiating table should Labor win. But here again, harsh reality will intrude on Obama’s fantasy about a change in the prime minister’s office being a guarantee of peace.

Abbas has already rejected a two-state deal that included a Palestinian state in Gaza, almost all the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem when Ehud Olmert offered him such an accord in 2008. He refused to even negotiate seriously with Netanyahu even though the prime minister accepted the two-state concept in 2009. Livni knows this because she was Netanyahu’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians for the past two years and has publicly complained that Abbas showed no interest in making a deal.

Will that change simply because Netanyahu isn’t in office? It’s theoretically possible, but given that the dynamic of Palestinian politics remains unchanged, it’s hard to see how things will be different. With Gaza still in the hands of Hamas and Abbas fearful of elections in the West Bank that he might lose (he is currently serving in the tenth year of a four-year term), it is highly unlikely. After years of avoiding being put in a position where he would have to commit political suicide by making peace, Abbas has no incentive to change now. So long as he and his people are unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it doesn’t matter if the Likud, Labor, or any other Zionist party leads Israel, the outcome will be the same.

One would also expect a change in tone in discussions about Iran if Netanyahu doesn’t win. Yet Obama would be mistaken to think that Herzog would be any happier with a deal that allows the Islamist regime to become a nuclear threshold state than Netanyahu has been. Despite the carping at Netanyahu from many in the security establishment, there has always been a consensus among Israeli mainstream figures about the serious nature of the nuclear threat from Iran. The mild-mannered Herzog may express his disagreement with Obama in more measured tones, but the divide between the two countries over the desirability of détente with Iran is not one that will disappear with a Labor-led government. The same holds true about Iranian adventurism in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and even Gaza.

Those hoping for a Netanyahu defeat shouldn’t get their hopes up too high. The latest polls still show the Likud leading Labor. Moreover, even if Labor ties the Likud or earns a slight edge, it won’t be easy for Herzog to put a new government together. Though he has a path to a 61-seat majority, it is a precarious one involving discarding his Meretz ally and the Arab parties and making deals with centrist parties that are more natural partners for Likud. For that to be considered likely, Herzog’s party, which just fired its campaign strategist (always a bad sign this close to the voting) will have to beat Netanyahu’s Likud handily, something that doesn’t seem particularly likely at the moment.

But even if he does somehow win, the change will be one of personalities rather than on substance on the peace process. So long as the Arabs exercise their veto on peace, it really doesn’t matter who is prime minister of Israel. Neither Netanyahu nor Herzog will make peace with the Palestinians and there’s nothing Obama can do about it.

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Iran Sanctions Can Change History, Not a Netanyahu Speech

The debate about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress next month continues with Democrats continuing to express dismay at what they are wrongly characterizing as an insult to President Obama. The administration’s ability to frame the issue as a conflict between the president and the prime minister has largely succeeded in marginalizing the discussion about Iran’s nuclear program and whether the current negotiations will do much to avert the threat. I have argued that in accepting House Speaker Boehner’s invitation, Netanyahu has walked into a trap and that the net effect of that decision is to lessen the chances that Congress will pass more sanctions. But his supporters and other opponents of Obama’s policies argue that the extreme nature of the danger presented by Iran and a U.S. policy of appeasement require that Netanyahu speak in spite of the controversy over his appearance. These points, made both by Rick Richman and in numerous comments from readers, deserve an answer.

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The debate about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress next month continues with Democrats continuing to express dismay at what they are wrongly characterizing as an insult to President Obama. The administration’s ability to frame the issue as a conflict between the president and the prime minister has largely succeeded in marginalizing the discussion about Iran’s nuclear program and whether the current negotiations will do much to avert the threat. I have argued that in accepting House Speaker Boehner’s invitation, Netanyahu has walked into a trap and that the net effect of that decision is to lessen the chances that Congress will pass more sanctions. But his supporters and other opponents of Obama’s policies argue that the extreme nature of the danger presented by Iran and a U.S. policy of appeasement require that Netanyahu speak in spite of the controversy over his appearance. These points, made both by Rick Richman and in numerous comments from readers, deserve an answer.

Richman and other advocates for Netanyahu sticking to his plans are right when they say the peril presented by a nuclear Iran is grave. At best, President Obama’s current policies seem aimed at tolerating Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state in exchange for Tehran agreeing to some sort of détente with the United States. This is a colossal mistake. Even if Iran were to keep its promises about not building a bomb, which it almost certainly would not, it would mean a U.S. seal of approval for Iranian hegemony over the Middle East in which they could use their allies in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, and Yemen to destabilize moderate Arab regimes and conduct a two-front war against Israel. Another possible scenario is that while indefinitely dragging out the talks with the United States, Iran is able to break out to a nuclear weapon, a step that would, as the president himself has said, would be a “game changer” that could plunge the region into violent chaos as well as threatening the security of the West.

Presented with these awful choices, Richman and other supporters of the speech say that what is needed is for Netanyahu to come to Washington to warn Congress and the American people about what lies ahead. In making these arguments, there have been many comparisons between the prime minister and Winston Churchill. We are told that Netanyahu’s speech could, like Churchill’s warnings against appeasement of Nazi Germany, turn the tide against Obama’s stand. When stacked against the existential threat presented to the future of Israel, we are told that this “issue goes far beyond politics and protocol” and therefore obligates Netanyahu to go to Congress.

This is a serious argument. But as much as the dangers it speaks of are real, it doesn’t necessarily follow that a Netanyahu speech or any speech at this point will do much about it. It also ignores the fact that to dismiss the impact of politics on this effort is to engage in magical thinking.

Let’s remember that this episode began as part of an effort to rally bipartisan support for the bipartisan Iran sanctions bill proposed by Senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez. Republicans’ control of the Senate meant that, unlike last year when then-Majority Leader Harry Reid had torpedoed an earlier version of this bill, chances of success were excellent. The only question was if President Obama could persuade enough Democrats to sustain the veto of the bill he threatened in his State of the Union speech, but the odds appeared to be against him as most pro-Israel members of his party were on record as supporting more sanctions.

The Kirk-Menendez bill is not a magic bullet. By itself it cannot derail Obama’s push for appeasement of Iran since the president could use the waivers in the bill to avoid enforcing it even if it became law despite his veto. But it could make it much harder for him to keep negotiating indefinitely if the Iranians do not accept the weak offer currently on the table. And it could force a congressional debate on the terms of a deal that allowed Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure if the Islamist regime took yes for an answer and gave the president the deal he is begging them to sign.

What supporters of the Netanyahu speech steadfastly refuse to acknowledge is the fact that his intervention in the debate has had a disastrous impact on the chances of passing Kirk-Menendez. By giving the White House the distraction it needed, it changed the terms of the discussion from one over Obama’s indefensible opposition to a measure that would strengthen his hand in the negotiations to one about the questionable wisdom of having a foreign leader become a player in an American legislative debate.

That the way this was brought about as the result of underhanded administration tactics and even outright lies about the supposed breach of protocol involved in Boehner’s invitation is beside the point. It doesn’t matter that Netanyahu’s intention was to trump Obama’s stand on Iran and not to become a pawn in the endless struggle between Republicans and Democrats on the Hill. What matters is that this is how the administration and its media allies played the story and that is how a lot of Democrats, a party that has many friends of Israel in its ranks, are interpreting these events.

What the pro-Israel community was hoping to achieve this year was a bipartisan push for an Iran sanctions bill that might hobble Obama’s Iran strategy. What it got instead was something that has been, however unfairly, converted into a duel between Obama and Netanyahu in which Kirk-Menendez and Iran policy have become sidebars to a tussle that is more reminiscent of the fights between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

Were a Netanyahu speech on Iran the sort of event that could, by itself, transcend this political mess and change the nature of the discussion about the nuclear issue, it might be justified. But despite the rather profligate comparisons between the prime minister and Churchill, that is an argument that doesn’t hold water.

Netanyahu is a fine speaker and he has the advantage of being right on the issue. But nothing he says, however eloquent, can overcome the baggage that he would be carrying with him into the House chamber. The story will not be so much about the nature of a threat, about which members of both parties are well aware, but the duel with the White House and the absent Democrats. Netanyahu may speak some great truths that may someday be looked back upon as prescient. But he is not the towering figure that his fans think he is. The record number of standing ovations he received during his 2011 speech to Congress was a product of the bipartisan support he had at the time. By allowing himself to be outmaneuvered so badly by Obama, he no longer can count on the same kind of backing. Churchillian rhetoric doesn’t make a speaker a Churchill.

Moreover, despite the obsession by many on the Zionist right with the idea that saying something true is a transcendent value, it is not as important as accomplishing something tangible. Speeches don’t always change the course of history. After all, even Churchill’s brilliant statements in the House of Commons opposing Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler did not prevent the Munich agreement from being signed. What was necessary in 1938 was not a good speech but a parliamentary majority against appeasement that might have averted World War Two and the Holocaust. The same is true today. We don’t need a great clarifying address about Iran. What we need is a coalition of Republicans and Democrats to pass a bill that will undermine Obama’s willingness to give Iran what it wants. If Netanyahu’s speech makes that harder—and that is exactly what it is doing—then friends of Israel should be urging him not to give it.

What is even more troubling about some of the comments from supporters of Netanyahu’s speech is that some of them seem to actually welcome the prospect of the splintering of the bipartisan pro-Israel coalition and view its transformation into a more cohesive and straightforward anti-Obama faction with approbation. That is neither in the interest of Israel or the alliance with the United States. Indeed, such a trend would destroy decades of hard work on the part of AIPAC and its army of activists who have striven to make the case that support for Israel transcends party allegiances.

It is understandable that the existential nature of the threat from Iran should give rise to high emotions and the need to cast anything related to the issue in apocalyptic terms. They see a decision to concentrate on the sanctions and to forget about a counterproductive tactic as surrender and weakness rather than wisdom. When faced with the horrible prospect of an Iranian bomb, some pro-Israel activists seem to embrace the emotional satisfaction of a direct rhetorical challenge to Obama rather than the hard practical political work of passing a bill that might do more to change history for the better than a speech. The prime minister should be smart enough to pass on this sort of immature and magical thinking. So should his American friends.

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Netanyahu Must Give That Speech

The importance of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s March 4 address to Congress extends far beyond its effect on his own country. That is apparent from the testimony of two former secretaries of state–Henry Kissinger and George Shultz–before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 29. Kissinger told the committee that shifting the goal from (a) preventing Iran’s capability to build a nuclear weapon, to (b) simply limiting Iran’s use of that capability, will create not only “huge inspection problems,” but a far more critical problem:

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The importance of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s March 4 address to Congress extends far beyond its effect on his own country. That is apparent from the testimony of two former secretaries of state–Henry Kissinger and George Shultz–before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 29. Kissinger told the committee that shifting the goal from (a) preventing Iran’s capability to build a nuclear weapon, to (b) simply limiting Iran’s use of that capability, will create not only “huge inspection problems,” but a far more critical problem:

I’ll reserve my comment on [the inspection problems] until I see the agreement. But I would also emphasize the issue of proliferation. Assuming … the stockpile of nuclear material that already exists, the question then is, what do the other countries in the region do? And if the other countries in the region conclude that America has approved the development of an enrichment capability within one year of a nuclear weapon, and if they then insist on building the same capability, we will live in a proliferated world

Because it’s a different problem from not having a capability at all to having a capability that is within one year of building a weapon. Especially if it then spreads to all the other countries in the region, and they – and they have to live with that fear of each other. That will produce a substantially different world from the one that we know

I’m troubled by some of the implications of what is now publicly available … and the impact of all of this on an international system where everybody is within a very short period of getting a nuclear weapon. Nobody can really fully trust the inspection system or at least some may not. That is something I would hope gets carefully examined before a final solution is attained. (Emphasis added.)

In other words, even if the agreement purports to keep Iran a year away from a nuclear weapon, and even if there is an inspection regime that purports to enforce the agreement, the inevitable result will be nuclear proliferation throughout the region that will endanger every state in it, and affect those beyond as well. Iran will have turned “binding” UN resolutions against its nuclear program into an American agreement approving it, and the United States will be in no position to prevent other states from acquiring the same capability (or more), or to urge them to rely on American promises that will have been proved ineffective. Secretary Shultz joined Secretary Kissinger in portraying a stark picture of what it would mean to leave Iran with its enrichment process intact:

I see nuclear weapon proliferation. That is devastating … my physicist friends say the Hiroshima weapon was just a little play thing. Well, look at the damage it did. A thermonuclear weapon would incinerate the Washington area totally. … And we were making progress, but that’s been derailed and we’re going the wrong way right now. … It should be pointed out that a bomb made from enriched uranium is much easier to make than [the] Hiroshima bomb. [The] Hiroshima bomb was a uranium enrichment bomb. It wasn’t even tested … [Y]ou can make an unsophisticated bomb from enriched uranium fairly easily. That’s not a big trick. So the enrichment process is key. (Emphasis added.)

An agreement that leaves Iran’s enrichment process in place, guaranteeing a rapid proliferation throughout the region, is a strategic disaster, not only for the region but for the United States. Given the Kissinger and Shultz testimony, it is clear that the critical issue is not the prospects for legislation imposing contingent sanctions if Iran does not reach an agreement. The problem is the agreement the Obama administration is seeking, against the advice of two distinguished secretaries of state, both of whom served in World War II and remember what caused it.

Neither the congressional invitation to the Israeli prime minister nor his acceptance of it was a mistake. The speech will be his attempt to say what Churchill would have said if he had seen America heading down the road Kissinger and Shultz described to the Armed Services Committee. A head of state must come to Washington to say it, and to say it not simply in private discussions, nor simply before pro-Israel advocates at AIPAC, but directly to the representatives of the American people, and before it is too late.

It is not going to be David Cameron, Angela Merkel, or Francois Hollande, the leaders of a Europe that is no longer strategically serious. If it is going to be anyone, it will have to be Benjamin Netanyahu. For the reasons he set forth in his powerful statement on February 10, the issue goes far beyond politics and protocol.

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Must Netanyahu Give That Speech?

With every passing day, more Democrats are claiming they will boycott Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s scheduled speech on Iran sanctions to a joint session of Congress next month. This is, as I wrote earlier, largely the result of a partisan campaign by the president and his blind partisan supporters and not because what Netanyahu is planning to do is some sort of outrageous or unprecedented stunt. But unfair or not, there is no getting around the fact that Netanyahu’s hope that he could replicate his triumphant 2011 appearance before Congress is not realistic. In response, the prime minister and his backers are saying that this is beside the point and insist that he has a duty to come to Washington to tell the truth about Iran to a Congress and an American people that are in desperate need of that message. That sounds quite noble and is, to a certain extent, true, as Americans have been getting a lot of misinformation about the issue in recent weeks. But it is also beside the point. The painful truth is that although he is in the right on the issue and Obama quite wrong, the prime minister is helping to derail the debate on Iran and will continue to do so as long as he persists in his determination to give the speech.

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With every passing day, more Democrats are claiming they will boycott Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s scheduled speech on Iran sanctions to a joint session of Congress next month. This is, as I wrote earlier, largely the result of a partisan campaign by the president and his blind partisan supporters and not because what Netanyahu is planning to do is some sort of outrageous or unprecedented stunt. But unfair or not, there is no getting around the fact that Netanyahu’s hope that he could replicate his triumphant 2011 appearance before Congress is not realistic. In response, the prime minister and his backers are saying that this is beside the point and insist that he has a duty to come to Washington to tell the truth about Iran to a Congress and an American people that are in desperate need of that message. That sounds quite noble and is, to a certain extent, true, as Americans have been getting a lot of misinformation about the issue in recent weeks. But it is also beside the point. The painful truth is that although he is in the right on the issue and Obama quite wrong, the prime minister is helping to derail the debate on Iran and will continue to do so as long as he persists in his determination to give the speech.

Let’s specify again, lest there be any confusion as to the rights and wrongs of the issue, that President Obama’s opposition to the bipartisan bill sponsored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Robert Menendez is utterly illogical if his goal is to actually pressure Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. If, however, as seems more than evident, the president’s objective is détente with Iran, then his opposition to Kirk-Menendez makes perfect sense. And that is why the bipartisan majority that already existed within both houses of Congress for sanctions should persist in their plans to pass a bill and, if necessary, override Obama’s threatened veto.

But the idea that the factor that will ensure such a vote is a speech by Netanyahu is farcical.

Though he and his supporters speak as if members of Congress need to hear a speech from him in order to understand the issue, this is an issue that Congress has been debating for years. Interested members have gotten regular briefings and know very well Israel’s cogent argument in favor of more pressure on the Iranians. The only difference between last year when large majorities backed an earlier version of Kirk-Menendez and now is that Harry Reid is no longer in a position to prevent a vote on it in the Senate.

Despite the talk of a Netanyahu speech as indispensable, the chances of amassing a veto-proof majority were actually better before the announcement of House Speaker Boehner’s invitation than now. Weeks ago, the administration was resigned to a veto fight that they knew they stood a good chance of losing. But thanks to Netanyahu’s foolish decision to walk into the trap that Obama laid for him, they seem confident that they can, at worst, sustain the veto.

Netanyahu provided Obama and his allies with the perfect distraction from his Iran policy and the president has made the most of it. Democrats speak of the invitation as an underhanded plot even if we now know that the White House was informed of the plan before Netanyahu accepted the invite. And many of them have bought the White House’s argument that his trip is an insult to the first African-American president. They have deftly exploited partisan tensions between the parties on the Hill and even played the race card in a despicable effort to get the Congressional Black Caucus to give momentum to the boycott of Netanyahu.

This is terrible, but it is now a political fact that Netanyahu and his backers must acknowledge. The longer Washington is discussing whether the prime minister should come to Congress, the lower the chances of passing sanctions.

It’s time for Netanyahu to come to grips with the question of what his real goal is here. If it’s to help the Republicans and Democrats who are working hard to pass this bill, he should know it’s time for him to find an excuse to back down and not give the speech. His is a powerful and eloquent voice, but what Congress needs to hear now is the sound of Democrats like Menendez and his colleagues making the case for sanctions, not a foreign leader, albeit from a country that most members of the House and the Senate regard with affection. It is only when he removes himself as a distraction from this debate that sanctions advocates will have a chance to get the focus back on Obama’s indefensible policies rather than Netanyahu’s supposed chutzpah.

I know admitting this goes against the grain for many in the pro-Israel community who want the satisfaction of seeing Netanyahu openly challenge Obama. But their emotional gratification from having the prime minister proudly stand up for his country’s interests again on the big stage of Capitol Hill is nothing beside the damage this discussion is doing to the chances for passage of Kirk-Menendez.

On the other hand, if Netanyahu’s agenda here is more about providing a compelling visual in the weeks before Israeli voters go to the polls to elect a new Knesset, he’s not only undermining the cause he says he values, he’s also rolling the dice with the Israeli voters. It may be that they will like the imagery of Netanyahu speaking truth to Congress. After all, Obama has alienated Israelis for years with his decisions and, as polls continue to show, they don’t trust him. But Israelis may also note the absence of many Democrats and draw some negative conclusions.

In 2011, members of both parties gave him dozens of standing ovations while he spoke to Congress. The demonstration was not only reminiscent of a previous Congress’ embrace of Winston Churchill, it was also a direct rebuke of Obama for seeking to ambush Netanyahu and to tilt the diplomatic playing field against Israel. Though the White House hasn’t played fair, there will be no such triumph this time. More to the point, no matter how well he speaks, his message will be obscured by the controversy over his invitation. He may say it is his duty to give the speech, but if his objective is to help pass Kirk-Menendez, there is a better argument to be made that it is his duty not to give it.

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