Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benjamin Netanyahu

A Strategic Retreat for Netanyahu?

Reuters is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering making changes to his planned speech to Congress to placate his critics and lower the temperature on his split with the White House over Iran sanctions. If true, it’s the right call on Netanyahu’s part. And both possibilities floated in the article are reasonable alternatives to the initial plan.

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Reuters is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering making changes to his planned speech to Congress to placate his critics and lower the temperature on his split with the White House over Iran sanctions. If true, it’s the right call on Netanyahu’s part. And both possibilities floated in the article are reasonable alternatives to the initial plan.

The fact that the story leaked at all is a good indication that Bibi’s office has been searching for a way out of this impasse and wants to quiet the furor over the speech. If he’s not going to give the address to a joint session of Congress, he certainly wants the press to stop acting like he is. As Jonathan pointed out last night, Netanyahu walked into a trap–but that doesn’t mean that, out of pique or pride or stubbornness, he has to stay there. Sometimes you just get beat, and the Obama White House, which created the drama by not objecting to the invitation until after Bibi accepted it and then throwing a public fit, won this round.

No matter how well Netanyahu and Ambassador Ron Dermer know American politics, partisan gamesmanship is pretty much all Obama’s team thinks about, and this is their home turf anyway. Being right isn’t always enough in politics–a lesson Netanyahu is re-learning now. As Reuters reports:

As a result, Israeli officials are considering whether Netanyahu should speak to a closed-door session of Congress, rather than in a prime-time TV address, so as to drain some of the intensity from the event, a source said.

Another option is for the prime minister to make his speech at the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington the same week, rather than in Congress.

“The issue has been under discussion for a week,” said a source close to the prime minister’s office. “(Netanyahu) is discussing it with Likud people. Some say he should give up on the speech, others that he should go through with it.”

A story like this getting to the media usually means one of two things: either Netanyahu is the force behind the u-turn and he wants to create some momentum and political space for it, or some of those close to him want to force his hand. The answer to that question is often irrelevant; the idea that Netanyahu plans to change the speech will take on a life of its own now.

The story can also serve another purpose: to help Netanyahu save face in retreat. The Reuters story warns it may be too late for Bibi to change course, because it’ll look like he’s being pushed around:

If he withdraws now it may make him look weak with core voters. Furthermore, he needs an opportunity to play up his tough-on-Iran credentials before election, with national security an overriding issue for voters.

The louder the opposition to Netanyahu’s speech became, the more it looked like giving in would be conceding to the mob. But leaking this now changes the story. Obama’s attack dogs in the mainstream press might simmer down a bit, and they may even want to run with this to box Netanyahu in by furthering the storyline that he’s a reasonable guy and is willing to back off and defer to Obama.

In other words, the Netanyahu administration could take advantage of American reporters’ desire to please their king in the White House. It’s part of what has worked against Netanyahu from the start here. Initially, the administration spun the New York Times into writing that Obama hadn’t been consulted before Netanyahu accepted Speaker Boehner’s invitation. That was false, but the White House knew the Times would print it even if it weren’t true if it painted Israel in a negative light. Which they did.

The Times has since corrected their story, in essence conceding the fact that this whole drama was cooked up by Obama. But the key for the White House was just to give the false story a head start so it became conventional wisdom. Which is what happened. So Politico’s recent story on the controversy contains this line: “The fact that neither Boehner nor Dermer cleared the speech first with the White House…” followed by another reference to claims that “Boehner politicized the speech by inviting Netanyahu behind the White House’s back.” Politico recently hired two veteran foreign-policy hands as editors, but you can tell even publications like Politico still look over the New York Times’s shoulder to copy the Grey Lady’s notes instead of digging for the truth.

Were Bibi to back down here, he would also highlight another fact the media is missing: Obama’s latest stunt, pressuring Democrats (and his vice president) to publicly spurn the Israeli prime minister, is one more example of the wrecking ball Obama has been taking to the pro-Israel left. This is another case of Netanyahu being right not being enough; he’s got to find a way to preserve bipartisan support for Israel despite Obama’s efforts to split Congress and align Democrats against Jerusalem.

If that means retreating, so be it. Sometimes that’s what it takes. And the ball is in Bibi’s court; Obama refuses to be the bigger man here, so someone has to step up.

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The Race Non Sequitur, Iran and Netanyahu

After two weeks of watching the debate over his proposed plans to speak to a joint session of Congress on Iran sanctions next month become increasingly bitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be thinking he has no choice but to give the speech. A “senior government official” told the Jerusalem Post today that the prime minister had no plans to back down and postpone the speech until after the Knesset elections later in March. Apparently, Netanyahu thinks waiting until later in the spring to speak would be too late. With reports surfacing that the president has sought to persuade the Congressional Black Caucus to boycott his speech, the willingness of the administration sink so low as to play the race card against Israel illustrates that it no longer matters how right Netanyahu might be. Though his message about the danger from Iran is one that Congress and the American public need to hear, what he and his advisors seem not to understand is that the politics of the controversy have outstripped its content.

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After two weeks of watching the debate over his proposed plans to speak to a joint session of Congress on Iran sanctions next month become increasingly bitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be thinking he has no choice but to give the speech. A “senior government official” told the Jerusalem Post today that the prime minister had no plans to back down and postpone the speech until after the Knesset elections later in March. Apparently, Netanyahu thinks waiting until later in the spring to speak would be too late. With reports surfacing that the president has sought to persuade the Congressional Black Caucus to boycott his speech, the willingness of the administration sink so low as to play the race card against Israel illustrates that it no longer matters how right Netanyahu might be. Though his message about the danger from Iran is one that Congress and the American public need to hear, what he and his advisors seem not to understand is that the politics of the controversy have outstripped its content.

The reports about the White House signaling the Black Caucus that the speech should be seen as a domestic political issue rather than one about a difference of opinion over foreign policy is particularly ominous. It was bad enough that Democrats construed the decision to accept the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner as a partisan intrusion into an American policy dispute. But if African-American politicians and even ordinary citizens are being told that Netanyahu’s appearance at a joint session is motivated out of disrespect to the first black president of the United States rather than a belief that the administration’s opposition to more sanctions on Iran is bad policy, then the problem Israel is facing is far worse than even some of the prime minister’s critics had thought.

At this point, the informal movement to boycott Netanyahu’s appearance is gaining the sort of momentum that gives it a life of its own. Republicans and Netanyahu’s supporters both here and in Israel may think most congressional Democrats are bluffing and some might be. But even a partial boycott would undo any good that the speech might have done in the first place.

Netanyahu needs to recall that the reason his May 2011 speech to Congress was such a triumph was that the cheers and the dozens of standing ovations he received were bipartisan. It was a humiliation for Obama, who never before and never since has been given such a reception in the Congress, because the thunderous applause demonstrated that the pro-Israel coalition was genuinely bipartisan. The cheers from both sides of the aisle were a sign that both congressional parties rejected Obama’s ambush of Netanyahu on that trip and backed the Israeli’s stand. Perhaps Netanyahu and his advisors believed they could replicate that triumph now when the stakes are even higher with the administration pursuing détente with Iran and seeking a deal that would allow it to become a nuclear threshold power. But with Democrats and blacks now perceiving the speech to be a partisan ploy, any chance of that is gone.

Let’s concede again that this situation is not so much the product of a Netanyahu blunder as it is of a cynical political strategy employed by the administration. There was no breach of protocol in the invitation, as we now know that Boehner’s office informed the White House of the plan before Netanyahu accepted it. Nor was this a matter of the Israelis favoring the GOP over the Democrats, as the Israeli government rightly understood that a majority of the president’s party supported more sanctions. Indeed, the bill Netanyahu favors is co-sponsored by as many Democrats as Republicans and Senator Robert Menendez has publicly and personally challenged the president on the issue without anyone accusing him of being against his own party or showing disrespect to the first African-American president. (In fact, it was Obama who showed disrespect to Menendez and other Democrats by speciously claiming that the only reason they opposed him on the issue was to please donors—a code word for supporters of Israel). Those who are piling on Netanyahu with such criticisms, like Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of the Reform movement, are saying more about their own partisan loyalties than telling us anything about Netanyahu.

Netanyahu deserves criticism for not anticipating that a speech during a congressional debate on the issue would be perceived as maladroit. But it is Obama who has politicized Israel and sought to make it a partisan issue, not Netanyahu or the GOP. Even worse, by injecting the non sequitur of race into this mess, Obama seems to be employing the sort of tactics we’d expect from his friend, race hustler Al Sharpton, not the leader of the free world. This is the worst sort of divisive politics that pits not only the two parties against each other but also two minority groups. Historically, most members of the Congressional Black Caucus have followed the example of Martin Luther King Jr. and been strong supporters of the State of Israel. Though many Democrats have drifted away from Israel in recent years, for Obama to play the race card in this way so as to buttress a policy that has nothing to do with the interests of African-Americans is disgraceful.

It is more than obvious that the smartest thing Netanyahu can do is to cease walking into the trap that Obama has laid for him. That this trap is to the president’s discredit, rather than that of Netanyahu, is irrelevant to the question of whether he should change his plans. The race non sequitur and the partisan issue are real even if they shouldn’t be. A veto-proof majority of both houses of Congress in favor of more pressure on Iran and against acceptance of it as a nuclear threshold power exists. Netanyahu needs to take himself out of the debate now so that majority can be re-assembled and that more sanctions can be passed.

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Netanyahu’s Counterproductive Theatrics

How can Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be so right and yet be so self-defeating on an issue as important as Iran’s nuclear-weapons ambitions?

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How can Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be so right and yet be so self-defeating on an issue as important as Iran’s nuclear-weapons ambitions?

First, he is absolutely correct that a nuclear weapons-capable Islamic Republic of Iran poses an existential threat to the State of Israel. Let’s dispense with the notion that the red line for the international community should be Iranian production of nuclear weapons rather than nuclear-weapons capability. The difference between the two are a few turns of the screws, perhaps a few days to a week at most, should all the other parts of a nuclear program remain in place, as President Obama appears to accept. And while the intelligence community might be right to say the Iranian government hasn’t decided whether or not to move from capability to arsenal, the simple fact is that the United States does not have the human intelligence capability to know when such a decision is taken until it is too late.

And let’s also dispense with the notion that a nuclear Iran is containable because the Iranian regime isn’t suicidal. The problem with such calculations is that they do not take into account both who within the Islamic Republic would have command and control over a nuclear arsenal and what might happen if the regime becomes mortally ill. What if the Iranians again take to the streets in nationwide protests as they did in 1999, 2001, and 2009 and should some within the security services join in the protests in parallel to the collapse of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime in Romania so that it is clear to the world and to the Revolutionary Guards that Ayatollah Khomeini’s vision has just a day or two to survive? The most ideological pure unit of the Revolutionary Guards, which would control Iran’s nuclear arsenal, might simply decide to launch to fulfill the Islamic Republic’s ambition before its final demise. After all, who would retaliate against a country that already had regime change?

Netanyahu is also right to be concerned about U.S. resolve. Long before Obama showed American redlines to be meaningless with regard to chemical weapons, Hillary Clinton pioneered the notion of the disappearing redline. While secretary of state, she famously suggested to America’s Arab allies that they need not worry about American abandonment should Iran gain nuclear weapons; the United States would extend them a nuclear umbrella. The Gulf sheikhdoms correctly concluded then that American promises were meaningless; after all, why should they trust the new promise when the United States had consistently sworn that it would never allow Iran to go nuclear in the first place?

So the problem is acute, and Israel has every right to fear its future. How unfortunate it was, then, that Netanyahu brought with him to his United Nations General Assembly a silly, cartoon bomb. Netanyahu’s speech was serious, and the topic even more so, but his cartoon became a distraction. Rather than listen to the speech, those undecided or ignorant of the Iranian nuclear threat learned instead that Netanyahu had brought a cartoon bomb. And the media, deferential to the Obama administration and its positions vis-à-vis Iran and Israel, seized upon the incident to debate Netanyahu’s conduct instead of Iran’s illegal covert enrichment program.

Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation to address a Joint Session of Congress next month is déjà vu all over again. There was momentum within Congress among both Republicans and Democrats to ratchet up pressure on Iran in order to have leverage for a better deal. Even if tempted to exculpate Netanyahu—Obama and his close aides seem to have manufactured the crisis—Netanyahu is at fault for walking into the trap. Now instead of advancing discussion of the Iranian threat, Netanyahu has helped enable a situation whereby the discussion once again has shifted from Iran to Netanyahu himself.

There is a way out: Netanyahu can come as planned and address AIPAC, and seek to have Speaker John Boehner postpone the address to Congress until after the Israeli elections. It might mean two trips, but it will solve the problem.

Still, that will not be enough. Netanyahu spent much of his boyhood in suburban Philadelphia. He understands American politics, as do his close aides and associates like Israel’s current ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer. Neither Netanyahu nor Dermer can plead ignorance of American politics. That Netanyahu keeps allowing himself to fall into such traps is either an individual failure or a failure of Team Netanyahu. If the fault is not all Netanyahu’s, he must recognize that loyalty to his inner circle of advisors should not trump accountability for such bad advice and decisions.

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Can Bibi Play Chicken with the Democrats?

The last week has been a good one for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Polls testing opinion prior to Israel’s March Knesset elections showed that he had not only made up the 2-3 seat advantage that his Labor Party rivals held a couple of weeks ago but that his Likud Party was now firmly in the lead by the same margin. But while Netanyahu’s chances for reelection to a third term are looking up, his stock in Washington remains down. With Democrats threatening to boycott the speech, it’s clear that what is going on now is game of chicken in which the stakes are getting higher than Netanyahu or his nation can afford to play with. While it is possible that members of Obama’s party are bluffing about having the prime minister speak to a half-empty chamber filled only with Republicans, the question now facing Israel’s government is whether winning this point is worth the damage that the controversy is doing to the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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The last week has been a good one for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Polls testing opinion prior to Israel’s March Knesset elections showed that he had not only made up the 2-3 seat advantage that his Labor Party rivals held a couple of weeks ago but that his Likud Party was now firmly in the lead by the same margin. But while Netanyahu’s chances for reelection to a third term are looking up, his stock in Washington remains down. With Democrats threatening to boycott the speech, it’s clear that what is going on now is game of chicken in which the stakes are getting higher than Netanyahu or his nation can afford to play with. While it is possible that members of Obama’s party are bluffing about having the prime minister speak to a half-empty chamber filled only with Republicans, the question now facing Israel’s government is whether winning this point is worth the damage that the controversy is doing to the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Netanyahu sent Ambassador Ron Dermer and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to the Hill yesterday to make peace with prominent Democrats upset about the prime minister’s acceptance of an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of Congress on Iran sanctions. But apparently, members of President Obama’s party were not buying what Dermer was selling and Politico described the exchange as having not only failed to resolve the dispute but also perhaps even made it worse. Some Democrats described Dermer’s surprise at the political furor the Boehner invitation caused as insincere. That’s a bit unfair, since had the ambassador understood what would happen it’s doubtful the plan would have proceeded. But their willingness to attack him in this manner demonstrates just how wrongheaded the scheme was since it has turned Iran from an issue on which there was a bipartisan consensus in Congress into a partisan football.

Let’s specify that this is far more the fault of the administration than that of Israel. The White House has deftly used the issue of Netanyahu’s speech as a wedge by which it sought to force Democrats to take sides in a feud they wanted no part of. But the Israelis must also be judged guilty of misjudging the way Netanyahu’s intervention on sanctions would be perceived. Had he come either before or after the resolution of a debate on which he is arrayed against the president, Netanyahu would have been cheered to the echo as he was in May 2011 after Obama had ambushed him with a peace proposal that tilted the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians. But with the White House threatening to have Vice President Biden boycott the speech and with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (who was inexplicably snubbed when invitations were sent out for a meeting between Edelstein and House leaders) also making noises about members staying away, it’s time for Netanyahu to stop pretending he can brazen this affair out.

There are voices within the pro-Israel community that are still calling on the prime minister to show up in Washington and to unleash his rhetorical genius on Congress in an effort to rally Americans behind the common cause of resisting Iran. Netanyahu has an excellent case to make on this issue and President Obama’s opposition to more sanctions is not only wrongheaded, it is indefensible since he is seeking to thwart perhaps the one thing that might force Iran to yield to his demands. But for Netanyahu to play chicken with Democrats in this manner is as shortsighted as it is reckless. Even if Biden, Pelosi, and the rest of the Democrats show up for the speech, it will be no triumph for Netanyahu as he will not be applauded as he has been in the past. If they don’t, he will blamed for having turned Israel into a partisan issue even if many (though not all) in the Democratic Party’s left wing drifted away from Israel long before this dustup.

Let’s also remember that as important as the issue of Iran may be, the current sanctions bill should not be considered a matter of life or death. As I pointed out last week, the bill put forward by Senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez already contains a poison pill that undermines its purpose. Since it allows the president to waive enforcement of the new sanctions if he wishes, that is a virtual guarantee that President Obama will not only go on negotiating indefinitely with Iran as he vainly seeks détente with the Islamist regime, but will also continue to thwart any effort to pressure it.

If he is reelected Netanyahu will have some hard decisions to make about whether to simply stand by and let Obama allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state. It may be that the chance to use force against Iran was lost a few years ago or perhaps Israel still has a military option. But either way, the vote over this sanctions bill will not decide the issue. At this point, Netanyahu has not much to gain and much to lose by stubbornly sticking with his plan. He may fear that backing down will hurt his image at home on the eve of the elections, but I imagine most Israelis are smart enough to recognize that such a decision would be the better part of valor.

Playing chicken with a congressional caucus that has many ardent friends of Israel is a foolish business that needs to stop now. It is long past time for the debate about the wisdom of his original plan to conclude. Netanyahu has long excelled at playing the long game in terms of the strategic interests of his nation. With his reelection looking more secure, he needs to start planning for life after Obama with either a Republican or a Democrat in the White House. It’s time for him to remember that and find a way to back out of a speech that is no longer worth the trouble that it is causing him and the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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The Obama-Bibi Speech Row: Enough Blame to Go Around

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s high-profile speech before Congress has already backfired even before it was delivered. It is designed to rally support in Congress for extra sanctions on Iran in case nuclear talks fall through. But instead the controversy over the speech is driving Democrats to embrace President Obama’s soft-on-Iran position out of party loyalty if nothing else. Some are even talking about boycotting the speech. In a U.S.-Israel relationship that has already been deeply troubled during the Obama administration, this is another low point.

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Prime Minister Netanyahu’s high-profile speech before Congress has already backfired even before it was delivered. It is designed to rally support in Congress for extra sanctions on Iran in case nuclear talks fall through. But instead the controversy over the speech is driving Democrats to embrace President Obama’s soft-on-Iran position out of party loyalty if nothing else. Some are even talking about boycotting the speech. In a U.S.-Israel relationship that has already been deeply troubled during the Obama administration, this is another low point.

Who’s fault is that? I would ascribe blame both to Netanyahu and Obama.

Start with the prime minister: As Jonathan and others have argued, his decision to accept a speaking invitation from Speaker Boehner without consulting with the administration first was a diplomatic and political blunder. It upset the normal protocol and allowed Obama’s aides to claim that Bibi is (a) posturing for political advantage in Israel just prior to an election and (b) interfering in American domestic politics–even if British Prime Minister David Cameron just did the same thing by lobbying lawmakers, at White House request, against imposing additional sanctions now.

Bibi would have been smart to emulate the Cameron example and limit his own actions and those of his representatives to quiet conversations with senators and representatives–there is no need for a high-profile address to a joint session of Congress when the Israeli government’s views are already known. Bibi has always prided himself on an insider’s knowledge of American politics and a sure touch in getting Israel’s message out. But in this case his political judgment deserted him.

However I believe that Obama also deserves a fair amount of opprobrium for turning this into such a high-profile blowup–indeed Bibi would never have been tempted to do an end-run around the president if didn’t feel that this particular president was inveterately hostile to Israel. The proper reaction for the president, when he found out about the address, would have been to call up Bibi privately and ream him out–while at the same time instructing his aides to leak word that he was perfectly supportive of the speech. That is how allies treat one another: confine differences of opinion to private communications while making a front of unity for public consumption.

But that’s not how Obama and his crew operate. These are, after all, the same folks who last year were quoted calling Netanyahu “chickenshit.” The same folks who are never satisfied with any concession that Bibi makes–whether a freeze on settlements or an apology to Turkey for the Israeli raid on the Gaza Flotilla. The same folks who perpetually apply pressure to Bibi while letting Abu Mazen, the Palestinian president, slide by for all his actions undermining the “peace process.”

So it is no surprise that the administration has been leaking word that Israel will pay a “price” for the speech and openly campaigning for the recall of Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer who is accused of being a Republican apparatchik.

As numerous commentators have noted, it would be nice if the famously cool Obama ever showed half the level of anger against Syria, Iran, North Korea, ISIS, or Russia that he routinely displays against Israel.

So I blame Obama for escalating this crisis–and I blame Netanyahu for playing into his hands.

Israel’s close relationship with the U.S. will survive this crisis and will, I predict, become much warmer under whoever succeeds Obama. Even under Obama, the U.S. remains the most pro-Israel country in the world simply because the American people are the most pro-Israel in the world. But there is no question that damage has been done to this “special relationship” and it could turn out to be long-lasting damage if this spat drives more Democratic politicians to become as critical of the Jewish state as many grass-roots leftist activists already are.

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Friedman Spreads Anti-Semitic Libels About Netanyahu Speech

The stakes are growing in the debate about the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation to address a joint session of Congress about sanctions on Iran. Though the argument can be viewed as just one more spat promoted by an administration with an axe to grind against Netanyahu, with the talk of Democrats, even Vice President Biden, prepared to boycott the event because they see it an as an effort to aid Republican efforts to discredit President Obama’s foreign policy, the potential for real damage is no longer theoretical. But the most troubling development is not the ongoing arguments about whether the prime minister has committed a blunder. Rather, it is the willingness by some to use it to stoke anti-Israel libels. That’s the upshot of the latest column from the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman who claims Netanyahu’s speech will be seen as an attempt to force the U.S. into a war with Iran. That is not only a gross distortion of the truth but also a not-so-subtle effort to plant the seeds of an anti-Semitic libel.

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The stakes are growing in the debate about the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation to address a joint session of Congress about sanctions on Iran. Though the argument can be viewed as just one more spat promoted by an administration with an axe to grind against Netanyahu, with the talk of Democrats, even Vice President Biden, prepared to boycott the event because they see it an as an effort to aid Republican efforts to discredit President Obama’s foreign policy, the potential for real damage is no longer theoretical. But the most troubling development is not the ongoing arguments about whether the prime minister has committed a blunder. Rather, it is the willingness by some to use it to stoke anti-Israel libels. That’s the upshot of the latest column from the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman who claims Netanyahu’s speech will be seen as an attempt to force the U.S. into a war with Iran. That is not only a gross distortion of the truth but also a not-so-subtle effort to plant the seeds of an anti-Semitic libel.

Supporters of the speech, such as Wall Street Journal columnist and COMMENTARY contributor Bret Stephens, argue that Congress needs an “unvarnished account of the choice to which Mr. Obama proposes to put Israel: either accede to continued diplomacy with Iran, and therefore its de facto nuclearization; or strike Iran militarily in defiance of the U.S. and Mr. Obama’s concordat with Tehran.” I don’t disagree, but as I have written in the last two weeks, I think the decision to give the speech was a grave tactical error on Netanyahu’s part. Congress was in no doubt about Israel’s position and the prime minister could have reached out to members in the same way that British Prime Minister David Cameron has used to back up the president. But by parachuting directly into the debate on Iran sanctions that is taking place in Congress, he ran the risk of being seen as trying to upstage the president in a way that was bound to ruffle the feathers of many pro-Israel Democrats, even those that agree with Netanyahu on the issue. The proposed speech also provided Obama with a heaven-sent chance to divert attention from the administration’s indefensible opposition to strengthening their hand in the nuclear talks with Iran. The prime minister’s alleged chutzpah became the focus of the discussion instead of the president’s clear desire for détente with the Islamist regime, dealing sanctions proponents a clear setback.

But Friedman, who is at least smart enough to seem to harbor some doubts about whether Obama’s diplomacy can succeed, isn’t satisfied with asserting that Netanyahu is making the mistake. Instead, he uses this controversy to return to one of his favorite hobbyhorses: the way pro-Israel political donors, such as billionaire Sheldon Adelson, are trying to buy Congress in a way that runs contrary to U.S. interests. Claiming, without backing the charge up with reporting, that Adelson hatched the idea is one thing. He even says someone should have told Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer “anti-Semites, who claim Israel controls Washington, will have a field day.” The fact that it is Friedman who has floated this charge in the Times when he complained about the ovations Netanyahu earned the last time he addressed Congress is unmentioned in the column.

Even worse, Friedman then goes on to write that if diplomacy fails and the U.S. is forced to use force to address the Iranian threat, the Netanyahu speech will serve as a smoking gun proving that it was Israel that manipulated America into what might prove to be another disastrous war.

Of course, Friedman frames this as helpful advice intended as advocacy for what is in Israel’s best interests. But by raising the specter of anti-Semitism as well as of what must be considered nothing short of a potential blood libel, Friedman is tipping his own hand.

One can agree with President Obama’s absurd belief that Iran must be appeased on the nuclear issue in order to help it “get right with the world” without raising the specious charge that opponents of this policy who think it will endanger the West as well as Israel are being bought by Jewish money. One can also envision what is at this late date a highly unlikely scenario in which Iran’s refusal to accept Obama’s offers—which would effectively give a Western seal of approval to the Islamist regime becoming a nuclear threshold state—might lead to armed conflict without dropping the hint that the Jews will be the ones who started it.

Yet Friedman can’t avoid those temptations and injects the virus of anti-Semitism into a debate about whether the president is really interested in carrying out his 2012 campaign promise to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. By writing of anti-Semitism when virtually no one outside of the fever swamps of the far left and far right are doing so, Friedman is, once again, seeking to tilt the discussion in ways that do exactly what he claims he wishes to avoid.

Though President Obama has sought to paint advocates of more sanctions as warmongers, the truth is just the opposite. More sanctions that would actually press Iran to give up its nuclear toys are, in fact, the only path to successful effort to halt the threat from Tehran by measures short of war. Though it is hard to imagine a president so intent on normalizing relations with Iran ever considering the use of force, if that ever happened in this administration or his successor, it would be the result of the Islamists courting such a conflict, not Israeli political maneuvering. Iran’s ballistic missile program also means stopping it from going nuclear is as much a matter of U.S. security as the safety of Israel.

Anti-Semites need no prompting from Tom Friedman to promote libels against the Jewish state. But by seeking to frame the argument about Netanyahu as one that would justify their ravings, Friedman has crossed a line that no responsible journalist should even approach. Neither Netanyahu nor the pro-Israel community should hesitate to speak up for fear of giving anti-Semites ammunition. The prime minister’s plan to speak may be a tactical blunder but it is the willingness of Friedman to engage in this sort of incitement that is the real disgrace.

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Will Obama Give In to Iran? He Already Has.

Almost all of the coverage about the ongoing controversy about plans for Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress next month about sanctions on Iran has focused on allegations regarding inappropriate behavior from an ally and breaches of protocol. But an exchange of anonymous quotes from administration and Netanyahu government sources in the Israeli press this weekend should serve as a reminder of what is really at stake in the dispute. Israeli sources said the problem was that the deal that President Obama was working to conclude with Iran would allow it to keep several thousand of its centrifuges and allow it to “breakout” to a nuclear weapon in a matter of months. Anonymous American government sources replied that this was nonsense. But anyone who has been closely following informed coverage of the negotiations knows that far from being misleading, the Israelis are doing nothing but stating the obvious about an American willingness to let Iran become a nuclear threshold state. Rather than discussing Netanyahu’s chutzpah, Americans should be asking some of the same questions as the Israelis.

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Almost all of the coverage about the ongoing controversy about plans for Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress next month about sanctions on Iran has focused on allegations regarding inappropriate behavior from an ally and breaches of protocol. But an exchange of anonymous quotes from administration and Netanyahu government sources in the Israeli press this weekend should serve as a reminder of what is really at stake in the dispute. Israeli sources said the problem was that the deal that President Obama was working to conclude with Iran would allow it to keep several thousand of its centrifuges and allow it to “breakout” to a nuclear weapon in a matter of months. Anonymous American government sources replied that this was nonsense. But anyone who has been closely following informed coverage of the negotiations knows that far from being misleading, the Israelis are doing nothing but stating the obvious about an American willingness to let Iran become a nuclear threshold state. Rather than discussing Netanyahu’s chutzpah, Americans should be asking some of the same questions as the Israelis.

Though Netanyahu’s fans in the United States and his supporters at home continue to engage in denial about the invitation from House Speaker John Boehner, the longer this debate continues, the more it has become obvious that the prime minister blundered. With even reliably pro-Israel Democrats openly discussing boycotts of the speech and others backing away from support for sanctions, the speech has become a dangerous distraction that has served to rally members of the president’s party to back his position even if many are dubious about its merits.

That’s why it’s vital that we stop talking about protocol and return to the core question at the heart of the debate: whether the president’s efforts will redeem his campaign promise that any deal would result in the end of Iran’s nuclear program.

The answer is, unfortunately, that they won’t and that ought to put Netanyahu’s worries in perspective.

We know that this is no longer the objective of American diplomacy because the terms of the interim nuclear deal agreed to by the United States in November 2013 made it clear that Iran was going to be able to keep its infrastructure. That agreement tacitly recognized Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium even though its terms slowed down their rate of progress. But as even administration defenders acknowledged, the restrictions on the Iranians’ efforts could be easily reversed in any breakout scenario.

The subsequent negotiations for a final deal were supposed to last only six months, but are now in their third overtime with administration sources acting as if a fourth such extension would not be unthinkable if a deal isn’t reached by July. That’s bad enough. But far worse are the terms currently under discussion. What is the Western offer on the table that the Iranians are rejecting? If you want to know, don’t take the word of official Israeli sources; try reading one of the most sympathetic forums for the administration, the AL Monitor website. Back in November when the Iranians wouldn’t accept President Obama’s proposed deal forcing the U.S. to accept another breach of the deadline, here’s what it reported:

The agreement allows Iran to continue researching its most advanced centrifuges. Israeli sources estimate that this research will be completed within two years. Then, within another six months, the Iranians will be able to install an enormous number of new enrichment centrifuges, which operate at six times the speed of the current batch. This capacity will seriously expedite the potential Iranian “breakout to a bomb.”

Under such circumstances, the Israelis explained to their colleagues, the West will be convinced that it stopped Iran one year before it can build a bomb, when the true amount of time needed will be just two months. Two months, the Israelis told anyone who was willing to listen, is not enough time for the world to respond and block Iran should it decide to proceed at full steam. In other words, the agreement that everyone is talking about is one that would turn Iran into a nuclear threshold state in a very brief amount of time, and immediately enable it to make the quick leap forward to nuclear capabilities, before the world can even respond.

As much as the interim deal had been a far cry from the positions that the president had articulated when running for reelection, this potential deal was even worse in that it would allow the Iranians to keep everything they would need to make a bomb but rely on their promises and the West’s shaky intelligence and restricted United Nations inspections to ensure that they wouldn’t do so. But, AL Monitor noted, that wasn’t the extent of the problem:

Iran is not obligated to dismantle its centrifuge infrastructure, but only to disable the centrifuges. Under those circumstances, in any situation in which the Iranians decide to withdraw from the agreement or violate it, they can get the centrifuge system that they ”neutralized” working again within two weeks. All of this proves that Iran will continue to maintain expansive enrichment capabilities, which can easily be restored to previous capacity and even beyond that within just a few weeks.

Seen from that perspective, the Israeli allegations about the direction of U.S. diplomacy seem very much to the point.

How do we explain the discrepancy between what Obama promised and the sort of agreement he seems to be aiming toward?

The first answer is that the Iranians are much tougher negotiators than the Western team that has been trying to get them to give the president a much-needed foreign-policy triumph. Whenever the Iranians have said no to a demand, the Americans have simply given up and moved on to other points. Secretary of State Kerry even defended this practice after the interim deal by saying that it was better to give in and keep talking than to ask for the impossible. But in practice that has meant that years of talks have now taken the U.S. to a point where they are actually disputing how many hundreds of centrifuges the Iranians will be able to keep, a stance that merely reduces the issue to how long it will take for the Islamists to get their bomb.

But even more to the point is the fact that, as President Obama’s comments about the negotiations have made clear, the goal is not so much to end the nuclear threat as it is to work toward a sort of reconciliation with Tehran without requiring it to halt their support for terrorist groups and cease working toward production of ballistic missiles, let alone give up their nuclear ambitions. Though the president wants to help Iran “get right with the world,” what his efforts are really doing is to advance their efforts toward regional hegemony. This position has influenced the U.S. to form an informal alliance with Iran in Iraq and Syria and frightened and alienated moderate Arab nations as well as the Israelis.

So far from being “nonsense,” Netanyahu’s concerns about the president’s diplomatic goals are very much to the point in the debate about sanctions. With the president showing no sign that he will ever admit that the negotiations have failed, the need to toughen the American position has now become imperative. Democrats might be forgiven for rallying around their leader when they perceive he is under attack. But those who care about nuclear proliferation and a potentially genocidal Iranian threat to both Israel and the West need to forget about protocol and start asking tough questions about what kind of a deal the administration is trying to conclude. Unless something drastic happens to change the American position, the problem isn’t that Obama might adopt a position that will let Iran become a nuclear threshold state. It’s that he has already done so.

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Even After Speech Fiasco, Israel Will Survive Netanyahu-Obama Feud

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His decision to accept House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a joint session has brought down on his head the scorn of the American political establishment and press. But all is not lost for Netanyahu. There may be no good solution to his dilemma with respect to the speech to Congress and little hope that the Obama administration will do the right thing with respect to Iran, he remains the most likely person to emerge from Israel’s March election as the next prime minister. Though some may think that would be an even bigger disaster for his country considering that administration sources are spreading rumors that President Obama will never again meet with Netanyahu, no one should think such an outcome will be the end of the alliance or even such bad news for the prime minister.

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It’s been a bad couple of weeks for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His decision to accept House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a joint session has brought down on his head the scorn of the American political establishment and press. But all is not lost for Netanyahu. There may be no good solution to his dilemma with respect to the speech to Congress and little hope that the Obama administration will do the right thing with respect to Iran, he remains the most likely person to emerge from Israel’s March election as the next prime minister. Though some may think that would be an even bigger disaster for his country considering that administration sources are spreading rumors that President Obama will never again meet with Netanyahu, no one should think such an outcome will be the end of the alliance or even such bad news for the prime minister.

Though Netanyahu’s American supporters continue to defend the idea of him giving such a speech, there’s no way to sugarcoat what has become a disaster for Israel and the prime minister. The blunder has not only made it easier for President Obama to divert attention from his indefensible opposition to sanctions that would turn up the heat on Iran in the nuclear talks. It has also enabled the White House to rally Democrats to oppose more sanctions, causing some to say that they won’t even attend Netanyahu’s speech out of loyalty to the president. Joining the gang tackle, some in the press are floating stories about Ambassador Ron Dermer, Netanyahu’s loyal aide and the person who helped cook up this fiasco with Boehner, being frozen out of future contacts with the administration.

But while, contrary to the expectations of some on the right, this hasn’t exactly boosted Netanyahu’s standing at home, neither has it caused his prospects for re-election to crash. Indeed, while his Likud Party seemed to be losing ground to the Labor-Tzipi Livni alliance that now calls itself the Zionist Camp, by the end of the week, polls showed that Netanyahu’s stock had gone up. A review of all the polls showed that Likud was either tied with Labor or edging slightly ahead.

More to the point, any way you look at the electoral math of the coming Knesset, finding a way for Labor leader Isaac Herzog to form a coalition, even one that isn’t particularly stable, seems highly unlikely.

Even if Herzog’s party manages to nose out Likud for the top spot in the March elections giving him the theoretical first shot at forming a coalition, his task seems impossible. A Labor-led coalition is theoretically possible but it would require the sort of coalition of not merely rivals but open enemies. Herzog must build his coalition with the joint Arab list — forcing him to rely on open anti-Zionists to form his “Zionist Camp” government — or the Ultra-Orthodox religious parties. It is impossible to imagine those two polar opposites serving together. But even if he eliminates one or the other, it’s equally difficult to see like Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu or Yitzhak Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, working with the Arabs. It’s equally hard to imagine how Lapid or Meretz, Labor’s natural ally on the far left, co-exist with the religious parties or how either scenario for a coalition could last.

By contrast, it will be far easier for Netanyahu to assemble a coalition consisting of the parties of the right and the center even without the religious parties though it is highly likely that he would opt for a Cabinet that included the ultra-Orthodox this time, giving him yet another strong, albeit quarrelsome government to preside over.

Thus, the odds are that sometime this spring, Netanyahu will be sworn in for a fourth term as prime minister, much to the chagrin of his sparring partner in the White House. But if Obama won’t talk to Netanyahu and is even pledging as one anonymous White House source claimed, to be willing to make the prime minister pay a price for his effrontery in opposing him on sanctions, won’t that be terrible for Israel?

The short answer is that it certainly won’t make for a cordial relationship. But it’s hard to see how it will make things any worse than they have been for the last six years.

After all, Obama has been sniping at and snubbing Netanyahu and his country ever since he entered the presidency. Obama has tilted the diplomatic playing field in favor of the Palestinians, undermined Israel’s claims to Jerusalem in ways no predecessor had done and even cut off the resupply of ammunition during last summer’s war with Gaza out of pique at Netanyahu’s government.

But in spite of this, the all-important security relationship continued. What’s necessary for the alliance to function is that the Pentagon and Israel’s Ministry of Defense communicate regularly, not the president and the prime minister. The same goes for the two security establishments, that continue to work well together.

In fact, it might be a very good thing for the alliance if Obama were to refuse to meet Netanyahu for the remainder of his time in office. Only bad things tend to happen when the two, who openly despise each other, are forced to come together. It would be far better for both countries for the leaders to stay apart, enabling their underlings to do what needs to be done to ensure the security of both nations. Were Obama to try and take revenge on Israel by supporting the Palestinians in the United Nations, it would harm the U.S. as much, if not more than it would Israel.

Netanyahu also knows that whoever wins in 2016, with the possible and extremely unlikely exception of Rand Paul, any of the possibilities to be the 45th president will be friendlier to Israel than Obama.

The issue of Iran’s nuclear threat will continue to hang over Israel and the alliance and Obama’s push for détente with the Islamist regime is a genuine threat to the Jewish state’s security as well as to that of moderate Arab governments. But once the current arguments about sanctions subside, as they inevitably will, Israel will carry on and Obama’s enmity notwithstanding, it will survive. Even a fourth term for Netanyahu will not change that.

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America’s Anti-Israeli President

I wanted to add to Jonathan’s post on President Obama and Israel, but perhaps sharpen some points just a bit.

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I wanted to add to Jonathan’s post on President Obama and Israel, but perhaps sharpen some points just a bit.

The Obama administration is unusually petty and sophomoric. The attacks leveled against Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, are part of a troubling pattern in which officials in the Israeli government–including and especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu–are vilified.

No world leader has been treated by President Obama and his administration with the contempt they have shown Prime Minister Netanyahu–from this snub in 2010 to being called a “coward” and “chickens*** prime minister” by senior administration officials.

But the problem goes much deeper than a personality clash. President Obama is, quite simply, anti-Israel. In every conceivable situation and circumstance, the president and his aides give the benefit of the doubt not to Israel but to its enemies. This despite the fact that Israel is among America’s longest and best allies, democratic, lawful, takes exquisite steps to prevent civilian deaths in nations committed to destroying it, and has made extraordinary sacrifices for peace. No matter; the pressure that’s applied is always applied most against Israel–even when, as in last year’s conflict with Hamas, Israel was the victim of lethal attacks.

This is morally shameful. In a world filled with despotic leaders and sadistic and ruthless regimes–North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, and on and on–which nation alone does Mr. Obama become “enraged” at? Which is the object of his disdain? Which provokes his white-hot anger?

Answer: Israel. Has it struck you, as it has struck me, that with every other nation, including the most repressive and anti-American on earth, Mr. Obama is careful never to give offense, to always extend the olive branch, and to treat their leaders with unusual deference and respect? Except for the Jewish State of Israel. It always seems to be in the Obama crosshair.

Because this attitude is so detached from objective circumstances and the actions of Israel and the actions of the adversaries of Israel, something else–and something rather disquieting–is going on here. Mr. Obama wouldn’t be the first world leader to have an irrational animus against Israel. He’s not even the first American president to have an irrational animus against Israel. (See: Jimmy Carter.) But it is fair to say, I think, that no American president has been this consistently hostile to Israel while in office or shown such palpable anger and scorn for it and for Israel’s leader.

Perhaps given President Obama’s history–including his intimate, 20-year relationship with the anti-Semitic minister Jeremiah Wright–this shouldn’t come as a surprise. But that doesn’t make it any less disturbing.

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Obama Politicized Iran Sanctions; Not Israel’s Ambassador

Ron Dermer came to Washington in 2013 with a target on his back. Israel’s ambassador to the United States was a close associate of Prime Minister Netanyahu and lambasted as not only the “brain” of a leader widely disliked by liberal Jews but also tainted because of his former close ties with American conservatives. So it is not exactly a surprise that much of the criticism that has been focused on Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation to address a joint session of Congress on the issue of Iran sanctions is being directed at Dermer. But even if you think, as I do, that the decision to give the speech at this time is a mistake, it’s important to recognize that much of the opprobrium being hurled at the ambassador is deeply unfair. While Dermer is being accused of undiplomatic interference in U.S. politics and flouting protocol, it is the White House that has politicized an issue that would otherwise be a matter of bipartisan consensus, not the Israeli Embassy or even House Speaker John Boehner.

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Ron Dermer came to Washington in 2013 with a target on his back. Israel’s ambassador to the United States was a close associate of Prime Minister Netanyahu and lambasted as not only the “brain” of a leader widely disliked by liberal Jews but also tainted because of his former close ties with American conservatives. So it is not exactly a surprise that much of the criticism that has been focused on Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation to address a joint session of Congress on the issue of Iran sanctions is being directed at Dermer. But even if you think, as I do, that the decision to give the speech at this time is a mistake, it’s important to recognize that much of the opprobrium being hurled at the ambassador is deeply unfair. While Dermer is being accused of undiplomatic interference in U.S. politics and flouting protocol, it is the White House that has politicized an issue that would otherwise be a matter of bipartisan consensus, not the Israeli Embassy or even House Speaker John Boehner.

Even Dermer’s predecessor Michael Oren–whose background was as a historian, not a political adviser like Dermer, and was therefore a less polarizing figure–learned that being the ambassador from a Netanyahu-led government was no easy task in Obama’s Washington. But Dermer was doubly handicapped because of his close ties with the prime minister. That’s ironic because being his confidant made him an ideal person to serve as an envoy to his country’s sole superpower ally.

Dermer is resented by the left-leaning figures that dominate Israel’s foreign ministry as well as by most of the members of Israel’s press corps in Washington, who lean left just like most of their American colleagues. If that didn’t place him behind the 8-ball, Dermer also had been involved in a memorable spat with the editors of the New York Times in 2011 when he publicly turned down their offer—on behalf of Netanyahu—of space on their op-ed pages because he rightly said the avalanche of anti-Israel pieces they publish made such a piece mere tokenism designed to cover up their bias.

So Dermer can hardly be surprised that the Times devoted a piece in today’s paper to piling on the ambassador.

Let’s acknowledge, as I have written a few times over the past week, that accepting Boehner’s invitation to address Congress on the issue of Iran sanctions was a blunder. Such a flamboyant intervention by an Israeli leader into a congressional debate in which the White House was on the other side was asking for trouble. It diverted attention from the president’s indefensible opposition to strengthening his hand in negotiations with Iran by making it clear that the Islamist regime would pay a high price for further delay and refusal to give up their nuclear ambitions. It allowed the administration to change the subject from its pursuit of détente with Iran to Netanyahu and undermined efforts to rally Democratic support for sanctions.

But even if we accept that Dermer and Netanyahu were wrong, it wasn’t the Israelis who politicized the sanctions debate. That was the fault of the White House.

Up until Obama entered the White House, opposition to Iran and support for sanctions was a matter of bipartisan consensus. Though his rhetoric about stopping Iran has always been good, the president has opposed virtually every sanctions bill that has been proposed, including some that he now brags about having brought Iran to the table. An overwhelming majority of both Houses of Congress comprising members of both parties have supported increased sanctions on Iran for the past two years. The only consistent opponent has been the president. It is he who has sought to make sanctions a partisan issue by leaning on Democrats to oppose the measure out of loyalty to him. He has also stooped to exploit the resentment many Democrats feel toward Speaker Boehner as a reason to back his stand on Iran. Though Dermer may have erred by not consulting with the White House about Boehner’s invitation, the decision to turn this into a major kerfuffle is purely a product of administration politics, not an understandable desire on the part of the Israelis to aid those backing sanctions.

Let’s also note the hypocrisy of many of his critics. The same people crying foul about Dermer and Netanyahu didn’t protest when British Prime Minister David Cameron lobbied members of the Senate on behalf of Obama’s stand on Iran. Some of those veteran American diplomats who are piling on are also guilty of having very short memories. One of the key witnesses against Dermer in the Times article is former State Department official Daniel Kurtzer who said it was unheard of for a diplomat to go behind the back of a country’s government and work with its domestic opponents. But Kurtzer and the rest of the peace processers who worked for a number of administrations over the last 25 years have been guilty of doing just that whenever a Likud prime minister was in power. Both Presidents Clinton and Obama have worked tirelessly to undermine and defeat Netanyahu throughout his three terms in office in ways that Dermer and his boss would never dream of trying to do to Obama.

Say what you will about the mess that Dermer and Netanyahu find themselves in and for which they bear some responsibility. But the prime minister’s scheduled speech has become a diplomatic cause célèbre due to the partisan political games being played by the White House, not the Israelis. It is Obama that is undermining the U.S.-Israel alliance by seeking to appease Iran, not the efforts of Dermer to rally Americans behind a stand that is in the best interests of both countries.

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Kerry’s Diplomatic Protection Racket and Netanyahu’s Reelection Campaign

The U.S. political scene churns out quite a number of battle-tested campaign strategists. And we export them. Hence, when the dust settled on Israel’s surprising 2013 Knesset elections, the Forward noted that the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat were felt acutely by several Americans: “[Mark] Mellman led Yesh Atid’s campaign; Finkelstein and his partner, George Birnbaum, worked on Netanyahu’s campaign; the Labor Party relied on the services of Stanley Greenberg, and Kadima hired David Eichenbaum.” So the newsworthy part of the revelation that an Obama campaign field director is in Israel working against Netanyahu’s reelection this year is not that fact itself, but rather that this group has been receiving money from John Kerry’s State Department.

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The U.S. political scene churns out quite a number of battle-tested campaign strategists. And we export them. Hence, when the dust settled on Israel’s surprising 2013 Knesset elections, the Forward noted that the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat were felt acutely by several Americans: “[Mark] Mellman led Yesh Atid’s campaign; Finkelstein and his partner, George Birnbaum, worked on Netanyahu’s campaign; the Labor Party relied on the services of Stanley Greenberg, and Kadima hired David Eichenbaum.” So the newsworthy part of the revelation that an Obama campaign field director is in Israel working against Netanyahu’s reelection this year is not that fact itself, but rather that this group has been receiving money from John Kerry’s State Department.

As our former COMMENTARY colleague Alana Goodman notes over at the Free Beacon, Haaretz this week broke news that an American organization called OneVoice International has joined up with an Israeli organization called V15. OneVoice has received two State Department grants in the past year, and Jeremy Bird, a former national field director for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, will be working with the effort from an office in Tel Aviv, according to Haaretz. The groups are believed to be behind the “anyone but Bibi” mantra floating around left-of-center political circles in the leadup to the election. Goodman writes:

While V15 has not endorsed any particular candidates, it is working to oppose Netanyahu in the March elections.

“We’ve formed a partnership with [V15], but it’s important to know we’re absolutely nonpartisan,” Taler told the Washington Free Beacon. “Our biggest emphasis and focus right now is just getting people out to vote.”

OneVoice said in a press release on Tuesday that it is teaming up with V15 because Israel “need[s] a prime minister and a government who will be responsive to the people.”

It is tempting to see this story in light of the ongoing feud between Obama and Netanyahu in which both men have stumbled in trying to win each news cycle devoted to the drama. But if Obama even knows who Bird is, it’s doubtful he’s taking any direction from the president. It’s not inappropriate for Bird to follow in the footsteps of numerous other campaign veterans to find some work in Israel during American off-years.

What is more interesting is that the group involved has been receiving grants from the State Department. OneVoice didn’t have a convincing rejoinder to the news, so they gave Goodman the following canned response:

Taler said the group is not using this money for its Israeli election-related efforts.

“No government funding has gone toward any of the activities we’re doing right now whatsoever,” she said.

It’s silly, because of course money is fungible. But what could she say? More concerning is that this fits into a topic we’ve covered here extensively: the peace process, especially as led by John Kerry, resembles nothing so much as a diplomatic protection racket. There was his claim to Israeli TV that the alternative to more Israeli concessions was a “third intifada,” giving the prospect of anti-Semitic violence dangerous credibility. (The country seemed on the verge of just such an intifada after Kerry’s talks predictably failed.) And then there was the American warning that Kerry’s diplomatic initiative was the only thing holding back EU sanctions against Israel. Should Kerry come away without a deal, there would be no stopping European retaliatory actions against Israel.

The message coming from the State Department was always clear. What gave the threats teeth was the fact that Obama has been trying to unseat Netanyahu from the beginning. It wasn’t just about European sanctions or whitewashing Palestinian violence. It was also about the Obama team’s personal obsession with undermining Bibi.

And this obsession is shared widely. Last year I quoted a disturbing anecdote from an August column by Chemi Shalev, who wrote: “a very senior Washington figure recently told an Israeli counterpart that each step or statement made by Netanyahu is a-priori examined by the White House to see if it helps the Republicans or if Sheldon Adelson might be behind it.” Now compare that with what Jeremy Bird—the Obama campaign field director involved in the campaign to unseat Netanyahu—said when Netanyahu was invited by House Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of Congress: “What do you think Adelson promised GOP in exchange for this insane BiBi House visit? Blatant attempt to bolster Israeli PM before elections”.

The same paranoia and psychological projection seems to infect all those involved in Obama’s political campaigns: they assume American Jewish donor money is behind all opposition. It does appear to be an escalation, however, for the State Department to be pressuring Netanyahu into making concessions to the Palestinians while funding groups working to defeat him. I would say it’s a conflict of interests, but it’s more like a concert of interests—all the levers of the Obama administration’s anti-Netanyahu efforts pulling in the same direction.

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J Street Ally Promotes Anti-Semitic Slander

Yesterday on the Sunday morning talk shows, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough attempted to walk back some of the most intemperate off-the-record comments from administration officials about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about Iran sanctions. But even as he reaffirmed the strength of the alliance, some of the president’s supporters continued to not only campaign for Netanyahu to cancel his acceptance of House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation but to denigrate the Israeli leader. Among the most vocal was Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, who told radio talker Stephanie Miller that the invite was “close to subversion” and accused the bipartisan pro-Israel majority in Congress of dual loyalty. That should leave the Jewish group that has embraced Yarmouth—the left-wing lobby J Street—with some questions as to whether they are prepared to draw a line between their own campaign against Netanyahu and slander of Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress.

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Yesterday on the Sunday morning talk shows, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough attempted to walk back some of the most intemperate off-the-record comments from administration officials about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about Iran sanctions. But even as he reaffirmed the strength of the alliance, some of the president’s supporters continued to not only campaign for Netanyahu to cancel his acceptance of House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation but to denigrate the Israeli leader. Among the most vocal was Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, who told radio talker Stephanie Miller that the invite was “close to subversion” and accused the bipartisan pro-Israel majority in Congress of dual loyalty. That should leave the Jewish group that has embraced Yarmouth—the left-wing lobby J Street—with some questions as to whether they are prepared to draw a line between their own campaign against Netanyahu and slander of Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress.

J Street is currently promoting a petition on its website demanding that Congress delay Netanyahu’s speech. They say the problem is timing, coming as it does weeks before the Israeli election in March. But unlike those Israelis and Americans like myself that think Netanyahu is showing poor judgment because the issue of his invitation is aiding the administration’s efforts to fight increased sanctions on Iran, J Street’s concern is just the opposite. They worry that Netanyahu’s speech may help rally Americans behind the new bipartisan sanctions legislation. They probably are also concerned about whether the speech might help Netanyahu’s reelection prospects.

J Street’s priority here is support for Obama and his policy of appeasing Iran in negotiations that are supposed to be aimed at halting Tehran’s nuclear program but which are instead increasingly aimed at promoting detente with the Islamist regime. But as discreditable as those positions are, they are a far cry from Yarmuth’s incitement.

As it turns out, the relationship between Yarmuth and J Street is close. The group’s website is also promoting an effort to get more members of Congress to sign a letter co-authored by the Kentucky congressman urging the administration to put the creation of a Palestinian state at the top of America’s foreign-policy agenda. Though couched in the language of support for a two-state solution, the letter ignores or minimizes the Palestinian rejectionism and culture of intolerance for Zionism and Jews that is the real obstacle to peace and places the onus for a solution to the conflict on Israel. Seen in the context of Yarmuth’s statements, it is hard to see it as anything but the latest effort from the left to promote pressure on the Jewish state.

Yarmuth’s interview laid bare the animus for Israel that lies behind some of the bland “pro-Israel, pro-peace” statements that serve as a cover for some of J Street’s supporters’ true intentions.

Yarmuth starts by claiming that his Jewish identity gives him particular standing to speak on Israel but then proceeds to claim that most of those who do back the Jewish state and those who seek to defend its security are merely in it for the money. Echoing some of the worst elements of the Israel Lobby thesis about support for the Jewish state, Yarmuth says members only back Israel to get campaign donations and accuses its backers of putting its interests above those of the United States:

“And you know, a lot of it has to do with fundraising — I’m sure some of it is sincere support for Israel,” Yarmuth said.

“You know, I’m a Jewish member of Congress, I’m a strong supporter of Israel, but my first obligation is to the Constitution of the United States, not to the Constitution of Israel. And unfortunately, I think, some of the demands that are made of members by AIPAC and some strong Jewish supporters are that we pay more attention — I guess we defer — to Israel more than we defer to the United States.”

Echoing the slanders of the pro-Israel community made by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Yarmuth also said the acclaim with which Netanyahu was greeted during his speech to a joint session in 2011 was bought and paid for by AIPAC:

“And, you know, I was there in the chamber in 2011, when Netanyahu spoke, and there he got I don’t know how many standing ovations. And I was in Israel shortly thereafter, and believe me, the Israelis pay very, very close attention to events like that. And I just — the first thing out of virtually every Israeli’s mouth was: ‘What was with all the standing ovations?’ And I said: ‘Well, AIPAC was meeting in Washington that week, and the gallery was full of AIPAC members, and every one of the members all wanted to see — make sure that their constituents saw them stand up.’

Neither Yarmuth’s faith nor his relationship with J Street can justify these remarks. They are an echo of the worst sort of anti-Semitic stereotypes put about by Israel haters. Like the authors of the Israel Lobby smear and others who seek to discredit the bipartisan across-the-board pro-Israel coalition in Congress, Yarmuth fails to understand that support for Israel is part of this nation’s political DNA. It transcends party politics or region. Members of Congress back Israel because it is both good public policy and good politics. That’s because Israel is beloved by the vast majority of Americans, whether they are Jewish or not.

I understand that rabid Obama supporters like the leaders of J Street will back him in anything he does, even in appeasement of Iran, though doing so endangers Israel. One doesn’t have to think it’s smart for Netanyahu to intervene in a debate that the pro-sanctions side can win without him (in fact, it may be easier without the speech since the alleged breach of protocol gave Obama an issue that could cause some weak-willed Democrats to sustain a veto of sanctions) to understand that this kind of pushback against the speech has nothing to do with what is best for the U.S. or Israel. Yarmuth’s vile accusations show that the motivation here is to marginalize those who whose support for Israel’s safety means more to them than loyalty to Obama. The real “subversion” going on here isn’t an invitation to an allied leader to speak to Congress, but the willingness of a rogue member of Congress and his allies to trash the alliance with the Jewish state in order to promote the presidential agenda.

If J Street is serious about the “pro-Israel” part of its slogan, it must repudiate Yarmuth. If it doesn’t, a group that had little credibility as a backer of the Jewish state will be rightly branded as an ally of its enemies rather than its friends.

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Obama’s Hollow Threats of Revenge on Bibi

The latest twist in the long-running feud between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu has reached a new stage. After days of ill-concealed umbrage about the prime minister accepting an invitation to speech to a joint session of Congress about Iran sanctions without so much as a by your leave from the administration, the White House decided to fire its own shot across the bow of Israel’s government. A “senior U.S. official” told Haaretz that the president and his staff think Netanyahu “spat” in the president’s face with his actions and vowed “there would be a price” to be paid for his effrontery. But whatever one may think about the decision to accept the invitation — and I think it was a mistake — Obama’s threats shouldn’t impress anyone in either country. After six years of insults, provocations and staged spats aimed at Israel by the Obama administration that did nothing to advance U.S. interests or the cause of Middle East peace, it’s not clear that they can do much to hurt Netanyahu that would not hurt the president more.

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The latest twist in the long-running feud between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu has reached a new stage. After days of ill-concealed umbrage about the prime minister accepting an invitation to speech to a joint session of Congress about Iran sanctions without so much as a by your leave from the administration, the White House decided to fire its own shot across the bow of Israel’s government. A “senior U.S. official” told Haaretz that the president and his staff think Netanyahu “spat” in the president’s face with his actions and vowed “there would be a price” to be paid for his effrontery. But whatever one may think about the decision to accept the invitation — and I think it was a mistake — Obama’s threats shouldn’t impress anyone in either country. After six years of insults, provocations and staged spats aimed at Israel by the Obama administration that did nothing to advance U.S. interests or the cause of Middle East peace, it’s not clear that they can do much to hurt Netanyahu that would not hurt the president more.

Though his American fans are thrilled with the idea of Netanyahu addressing Congress and rallying it to the cause of stopping Iran, the prime minister did the White House a favor by accepting Boehner’s invitation without going through the normal protocol of consulting with the State Department and/or the White House. Instead of the focus being on Obama’s illogical opposition to any pressure on an Iranian regime that has been stonewalling him and running out the clock in nuclear negotiations, attention has been focused on the prime minister’s chutzpah. There is already a strong majority in both Houses of Congress for more sanctions on Iran, a step that would strengthen Obama’s hand in negotiations, and the controversy over Netanyahu’s appearance gives some weak-willed Democrats an excuse to do the president’s bidding and sink the proposed legislation.

Obama’s claim that he is willing to impose more sanctions if diplomacy fails, as he supposedly told Netanyahu, rings false. This administration opposed every major piece of sanctions legislation against Iran including the ones that it now boasts of having brought Iran to the table. Nor is there much chance that Obama would ever admit failure. The rumors that the current talks will be extended for a third time in June, despite the president’s promises a year ago that the negotiations would be finite in length so as to prevent the Iranians from playing their favorite delaying games, gives the lie to the administration’s credibility on this issue. Obama’s goal in the talks is not so much preventing the Islamist regime from becoming a threshold nuclear power — an objective that went out the window with the signing of the interim pact in November 2013 — as it is to create an entente with Tehran that would give a U.S. seal of approval to Iran’s ambition for regional hegemony while ending 35 years of confrontation between the two countries.

But Obama’s dire threats of revenge on Israel are just as insubstantial as his promises about Iran.

The talk of Netanyahu and his country paying a “price” is mere administration bluster whose purpose is to cover up their own agenda of détente with a nation that has repeatedly threatened Israel with annihilation. As he has shown over the last six years, the White House has the power to poison relations with its sole democratic ally in the Middle East if it so chooses. This is the same White House, after all, that just a couple of months ago used journalist Jeffrey Goldberg to hurt insults like “coward” and “chickenshit” at Netanyahu. Obama has consistently tilted the diplomatic playing field in favor of the Palestinians (though without it being enough to get them to actually negotiate in good faith, let alone make peace), undermined Israel’s position in Jerusalem in a way no predecessor had dared, wrongly blamed Netanyahu for the collapse of peace talks although it was the Palestinian Authority that torpedoed them and even cut off the flow of ammunition resupply during the war with Hamas last summer.

It is true that the U.S. could do far worse than that. Obama could seek to hold up all military aid despite Congressional protests. It could also cease opposing Palestinian attempts to use the United Nations to make an end run around the peace process, further isolating the Israelis. Administration sources speak of Secretary of State John Kerry’s hurt feelings after doing so much to protect Israel’s interests around the world leaving open the possibility that he won’t be so eager to play that role in the future.

But as Obama has already concluded prior to the current Palestinian campaign at the United Nations, any abandonment of Israel in international forums will hurt the U.S. as much as the Jewish state. Obama and Kerry aren’t opposing the Palestinian attempt to gain UN recognition without first making with Israel to be nice to the Israelis. They’re doing it because they rightly concluded that ending the peace process would damage U.S. interests and prestige and lead to further instability and violence in the region. Obama would, in effect, be cutting off his nose to spite his face if he were to allow his feud with Netanyahu to go that far. Although his antipathy for Israel and its government is no secret, he has already shown that he’s not interested in going down that path.

So what can we expect over the next two years if Netanyahu is re-elected? It was already a given that there would be plenty of tension and conflict between the two allies. If, as is almost certain, Obama signs a weak nuclear deal with Iran or allows the talks to go on indefinitely, they were bound to be worse anyway. There will be more insults lobbed at Jerusalem and attempts will be made to squeeze the Israelis at every turn. But any revenge from Obama over Netanyahu’s speech will do more to create the impression that his foreign policy is a failure than real damage to Israel’s strategic position. The prime minister would do well to stay home and to lobby quietly and effectively for Congress to raise the pressure on Iran. But even if he does give the speech, the U.S.-Israel alliance is sufficiently strong to withstand Obama’s assault on it. Blowing smoke about revenge is as close to a real rupture in relations with Israel as Obama and his staff will get.

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Boehner’s Invite: To Bibi or Not to Bibi

The drama surrounding House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress about sanctions on Iran got a little more complicated today. But while the timing of the event was moved, the controversy over the visit continued to obscure the debate over the real issue: the president’s antipathy to any actions that might upset Iran. Thus, rather than put the White House on the defensive as Boehner hoped it would, the announcement about Netanyahu served to distract the media from what otherwise might have been the story of the day: the fact that Democratic Senator Robert Menendez aptly characterized the administration’s position on sanctions as something that “sounds like talking points coming out of Tehran.”

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The drama surrounding House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress about sanctions on Iran got a little more complicated today. But while the timing of the event was moved, the controversy over the visit continued to obscure the debate over the real issue: the president’s antipathy to any actions that might upset Iran. Thus, rather than put the White House on the defensive as Boehner hoped it would, the announcement about Netanyahu served to distract the media from what otherwise might have been the story of the day: the fact that Democratic Senator Robert Menendez aptly characterized the administration’s position on sanctions as something that “sounds like talking points coming out of Tehran.”

Faced with criticism for accepting the invite without consulting with the administration, the date of the event was pushed back from February 11 to early March when it will coincide with the annual AIPAC Conference in Washington. But anyone who thinks that this will cool down the tensions that had arisen between the President Obama and the Israeli government is wrong. The White House made a point of saying today that the president would not meet with Netanyahu while he was on this visit to the United States. This is a snub that is consistent with past practices about foreign leaders on the eve of their own elections (as Netanyahu will be prior to the March Knesset election) but also one that sent a clear message about Obama’s disdain for the prime minister.

Meanwhile, the debate over whether it was appropriate for Boehner to bring in Netanyahu and wise for the Israeli to accept the invite continues.

In defense of Boehner, the idea that he is the first speaker of the house to conduct his own foreign policy doesn’t hold water. His predecessor Nancy Pelosi visited Syria despite the opposition of the Bush administration and sent an unfortunate signal of congressional indifference the crimes of the Assad regime.

Nor is it fair to treat Netanyahu’s apparent desire to intervene in an internal American debate about sanctions as a unique event. After all, just last week British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had called several U.S. senators to lobby them to vote against more sanctions. If Cameron can try to persuade senators to back the president’s stand against pressure on Iran, it is not reasonable to pretend that it is a major breach of protocol for Netanyahu to give Congress his opinions on the issue when they have invited him to address a joint session.

Nevertheless, one has to question whether it is wise for Netanyahu to accept an invitation that clearly involves him in a tug-of-war between the GOP leadership and the president.

It is true that Iran is not, strictly speaking, a partisan issue. Large numbers of Democrats, in both the House and the Senate, lined up to support increased sanctions last year before they were torpedoed by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Moreover, Menendez’s decision to directly challenge Obama on Iran in a face-to-face confrontation last week at a Senate Democratic conference shows that there are a lot of Democrats who are appalled by the president’s clear preference for détente with Iran instead of pressuring it to give up its nukes.

Boehner and others might have hoped that Netanyahu’s eloquence on the issue and deft American political touch would help turn the tide on the sanctions debate and help bring in large numbers of Democrats to build a veto-proof majority for the bill co-sponsored by Menendez and Republican Mark Kirk.

But unfortunately Boehner’s invitation has made Netanyahu the issue rather than Obama’s indefensible stance against a measure that would aid rather than hurt diplomacy. Leaving aside the uncertain political implications of yet another spat with the White House on Netanyahu’s reelection prospects, unlike almost every previous conflict between the two leaders, this one cannot be described as one that Obama picked. Though it is in the best interests of Israel, its moderate Arab neighbors, and the world for Congress to act to give Iran a reason to avoid stonewalling the West in the nuclear talks, this move can be represented, fairly or unfairly, as going beyond the normal behind-the-scenes lobbying that Israel and other allied countries always do.

Netanyahu has often been unfairly criticized for stoking conflict with Obama when, in fact, most of the time he has been on the receiving end of provocations and cheap shots from an administration bent on undermining him as well as downgrading the alliance with Israel. But in this case, Netanyahu has stepped into something that will do him and his cause very little good.

Foes of Israel have often sought to cast conflicts between Washington and Jerusalem as personal feuds between presidents and prime ministers, something that dates back to the effort to get the Senate to choose “Reagan or Begin” in the debate over the sale of AWACS airplanes to Saudi Arabia. In this case, that’s a crude distortion of clear differences between an administration that has abandoned its principles on Iran and Israeli government that is trying to remind Congress of its duty to act to safeguard the security of the Middle East. But if the perception that Netanyahu is allying himself with Boehner allows Obama to peel off a few weak-willed pro-Israel but partisan Democrats, that will be enough to sustain the president’s veto– especially when sanctions advocates might have had the votes anyway. Though pro-Israel activists are celebrating Netanyahu’s decision to accept the invitation in the belief that his rhetoric will turn the tide on sanctions, this was an unforced error on Israel’s part. If they are to prevail, they need to change the conversation from one about an Obama-Netanyahu feud to the facts about the sanctions debate that Menendez is trying to bring to the public’s attention.

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Intelligence Agencies Can’t Have Their Own Foreign Policies

Yesterday, Eli Lake and Josh Rogin, that indispensable team of foreign-policy reporters, wrote in Bloomberg View that Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency had “gone rogue” and was actively seeking to undermine its government’s stand on Iran sanctions. Today, a denial was issued by the head of the spy agency, Tamir Pardo, who said in a statement that he never told U.S. senators visiting Israel that he opposes additional sanctions on Iran. What’s going on here? As the fight between the Obama administration and congressional advocates of more sanctions on Iran heats up, the injection of this “rogue” element into the discussion tells us more about the political implications of this battle, both in the Senate and in Israel, than it does about the merits of the issue.

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Yesterday, Eli Lake and Josh Rogin, that indispensable team of foreign-policy reporters, wrote in Bloomberg View that Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency had “gone rogue” and was actively seeking to undermine its government’s stand on Iran sanctions. Today, a denial was issued by the head of the spy agency, Tamir Pardo, who said in a statement that he never told U.S. senators visiting Israel that he opposes additional sanctions on Iran. What’s going on here? As the fight between the Obama administration and congressional advocates of more sanctions on Iran heats up, the injection of this “rogue” element into the discussion tells us more about the political implications of this battle, both in the Senate and in Israel, than it does about the merits of the issue.

The first thing to understand about the sanctions debate is that the administration is desperate to stop the adoption of more sanctions. That’s not because, as the president claims, they will hurt the cause of diplomacy. That is an illogical, indeed, indefensible, assertion since the bill proposed by Senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez would only strengthen the president’s hand in the talks over the future of Iran’s nuclear program. If Iran really believed there would be serious consequences for its failure to agree to a deal (the sanctions would only go into effect once the talks failed), it would be more, not less likely to make a deal that might, in contrast to the interim deal signed in November 2013, actually halt their progress toward a bomb. But since Obama’s objective is clearly a new détente with the Islamist regime, his priority is keeping its leaders happy, not backing them into corner and forcing them to surrender their nuclear assets.

Thus, Israel’s interest in Congress adopting a new round of sanctions is clear. Why then are some people in its legendary spy agency speaking as if the Jewish state ought to agree with Obama’s stance? Again, it’s complicated. Israel’s army and intelligence establishment is as divided by politics as the rest of the country. Many in the upper echelon of the Mossad clearly dislike Netanyahu and have sought to undermine him in the past, particularly when a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities seemed to be more of a possibility in 2011 and 2012. That opposition was based more on the preference on the part of some of the spies for more covert activities as opposed to the overt use of force and not because they think Iran wasn’t a deadly threat to both Israel and the West. Similarly, today there are some disagreements as to whether diplomacy can or will succeed.

But the willingness of someone in the Mossad to deliver a message to visiting senators that contradicted the stand of their government is more a matter of the antipathy some there feel for the prime minister than to a belief that the threat of more sanctions will somehow scuttle diplomacy.

By the same token, the floating of this story is more about the effort of the administration and senators who oppose the Kirk-Menendez bill to halt its momentum. Among those under suspicion for trying to sandbag it are Senator Bob Corker, the new Republican chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, who is floating his own bill about Iran that wrongly ignores the need for more sanctions but which rightly tries to obligate the president to bring any new deal with Iran to Congress for approval. The competition between the two bills is, however, helping the administration oppose both of them but, not for the first time, Senate cloakroom intrigue appears to be taking precedence over the best interests of the nation and international security.

But the real danger at the heart of this tempest in a teapot is the fact that some in the intelligence field think their expertise entitles them to run freelance foreign-policy operations in opposition to their government’s policies.

Those members of the Mossad who are playing this game are not alone. Senior U.S. intelligence officials did the same thing in 2007 when they wrote and then leaked a National Intelligence Estimate about Iran’s nuclear program that made the astounding claim that Tehran had ceased working toward building a bomb, an assertion that contradicted the official stand of the Bush administration at the time. As it turned out the NIE was dead wrong and the details of the current talks about the extent of its infrastructure and stockpiles prove this. Like the Mossad leak this week, the chance to undermine Bush’s efforts to build support for sanctions against Iran or even the possibility of using force was too tempting for some intelligence personnel who despised the president.

But whatever you think about sanctions or Iran’s nuclear threat, the willingness of some intelligence workers to go around the government is not something that should be tolerated. Such leaks are not a case of whistleblowers calling attention to corruption. Rather, this is an attempt to circumvent the normal workings of democracy. When either spooks or soldiers try to shake loose of civilian supervision, for whatever reason, the system totters. No intelligence agency or a faction within one in a democracy can have its own foreign policy. That is the business of elected officials. If those officials don’t listen to the intelligence people, the latter can resign and bring their complaints to the people. But they may not operate as a government within a government if democracy is to prevail.

To its credit, the Mossad has now walked back the efforts of its “rogue” element and presented a united front with the Cabinet. The debate about sanctions can proceed and be decided, as it should, on the merits of the issue rather than internal Israeli politics or senatorial feuds. But no matter what happens, both Israelis and Americans should be worried about the willingness of spies to try and make or break the governments they’re supposed to serve.

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Netanyahu Needs to Tread Carefully on Congress Invite and Sanctions Debate

There wasn’t much doubt that the Obama administration was already rooting hard for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s defeat in his country’s March elections. But the long-running feud between Obama and Netanyahu is about to heat up even more. Speaker of the House John Boehner’s invitation for the prime minister to address a joint session of Congress on February 11 will set the stage for a renewed joust between the leaders with the fate of a bill calling for tougher sanctions on Iran that is opposed by the White House hanging in the balance. It’s not clear whether Netanyahu’s overt intervention in the sanctions debate will help rally Congress to pass a sanctions bill with a large enough majority to override the veto of the measure President Obama promised last night in his State of the Union speech. It also remains to be seen whether heightened tensions between the two governments will help or hurt the prime minister’s efforts to win reelection at home.

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There wasn’t much doubt that the Obama administration was already rooting hard for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s defeat in his country’s March elections. But the long-running feud between Obama and Netanyahu is about to heat up even more. Speaker of the House John Boehner’s invitation for the prime minister to address a joint session of Congress on February 11 will set the stage for a renewed joust between the leaders with the fate of a bill calling for tougher sanctions on Iran that is opposed by the White House hanging in the balance. It’s not clear whether Netanyahu’s overt intervention in the sanctions debate will help rally Congress to pass a sanctions bill with a large enough majority to override the veto of the measure President Obama promised last night in his State of the Union speech. It also remains to be seen whether heightened tensions between the two governments will help or hurt the prime minister’s efforts to win reelection at home.

In his announcement of the plan, Speaker Boehner left no doubt about whether the invitation to Netanyahu was a shot fired over the bow of the White House. As Politico reported:

“You may have seen that on Friday, the president warned us not to move ahead with sanctions on Iran, a state sponsor of terror,” Boehner said in a meeting of Republicans Wednesday morning. “His exact message to us was, ‘Hold your fire.’ He expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran. Two words: Hell no! … We’re going to do no such thing.

“I am specifically asking him to address Congress on the threats posed by radical Islam and Iran,” Boehner said in the meeting. “America and Israel have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again. Let’s send a clear message to the White House — and the world — about our commitment to Israel and our allies.”

In the same breath Boehner both denied that he was trying to offend the president while taking a shot at Obama’s characterization of the issue in his State of the Union address:

“Congress can make this decision on its own,” Boehner said. “I don’t believe I’m poking anyone in the eye. There is a serious threat that exists in the world, and the president last night kind of papered over it. And the fact is that there needs to be a more serious conversation in America about how serious the threat is from radical Islamic jihadists, and the threat posed by Iran.”

The administration has been working hard to try to prevent the Republican-controlled Congress from passing increased sanctions on Tehran that would go into effect only after the current talks (currently in the third overtime period, violating Obama’s pledge to keep them finite in length) failed. Though the threat of future sanctions would strengthen his hand in the negotiations, the president wants no part of anything that would upset his Iranian partners since his goal appears to be a new detente with the regime rather than actually stopping them from becoming a threshold nuclear power. Both Obama and the Iranians are united in their opposition to more pressure on the latter, an astonishing and illogical position for Washington to put itself into. And that is where Israel comes in.

Though Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to the entire world, it is of particular importance to the Israelis who have been threatened with annihilation by Tehran. The Israeli government is therefore understandably supportive of measures that would place more pressure on Iran to make concessions to ensure that the nuclear threat is ended rather than merely postponed.

But the spectacle of a foreign leader addressing Congress and urging it to adopt sanctions that the administration opposes would create an uncomfortable situation for both countries. The White House is already up in arms over what appears to be an Israeli acceptance of Boehner’s offer without first consulting with the administration. Congress may well carp back that the president has been ignoring them on a host of issues as he seeks to govern on his own authority rather than adhere to the Constitution. Yet as much as the administration has made its antipathy for Netanyahu clear to the Israeli public, a direct Israeli intervention on a congressional vote has risks as well as benefits.

Advocates of sanctions may already have a veto-proof majority for more sanctions. Netanyahu’s involvement in the debate might provide fodder for anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists as well as give pro-Obama Democrats a reason to boycott the vote even if they would normally be inclined to back more sanctions.

Then there is the question of whether Netanyahu’s invitation will help him in his own elections.

Throughout his last two terms in office, Netanyahu has consistently benefitted politically from the administration’s ham-handed efforts to pressure Israel especially when it comes to the status of Jerusalem. Israelis are right to resent Americans for telling them what to do with their capital. But Netanyahu must carefully calibrate his response to this situation.

As much as Netanyahu might wish to encourage the vote for sanctions, he also doesn’t wish to give the impression that relations between the two countries are completely broken. With his Labor-Hatnua opponents claiming that they know a better way to deal with both the Palestinians and Washington, an open breach and Netanyahu being labeled a meddler in American domestic politics is not what he needs to either build support for sanctions or get reelected.

The president’s stance on sanctions and the nuclear negotiations is weak and dangerous and his worries about offending the Iranians have already undermined his shaky credibility on the issue. That’s why Americans would do well to listen Netanyahu on the question of the threat from Iran and the need for the West to avoid capitulating to the Islamist regime. But a Netanyahu speech to Congress timed to coincide or overlap with the debate on sanctions would be a mistake.

Sanctions advocates can win this vote on the merits and need no Israeli intervention to win the day. While Netanyahu would savor a repeat of his triumphal May 2011 speech to Congress that was repeatedly interrupted for applause and which was seen as a insult to Obama, next month might not be the right moment for another try.

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Is There Really an Israeli Center?

Today, the latest new Israeli political party showcased their leading members as part of the kickoff to the campaign for the country’s Knesset election in March. The Kulanu (“all of us”) Party revolves around the personality of former Likud Cabinet member Moshe Kahlon who seemed to part amicably from Prime Minister Netanyahu and his old party before going into business for himself. Some international observers have tried to interpret Kulanu’s rise as somehow symptomatic of general dissatisfaction with Netanyahu’s policies. But Kahlon’s gambit has nothing to do with the issues of war and peace that concern the world and around which Israeli politics revolves. While the party’s prioritization of social issues ought to net them a strong showing in the voting, any expectation that its success will demonstrate the existence of a viable political Israeli center are bound to be disappointed.

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Today, the latest new Israeli political party showcased their leading members as part of the kickoff to the campaign for the country’s Knesset election in March. The Kulanu (“all of us”) Party revolves around the personality of former Likud Cabinet member Moshe Kahlon who seemed to part amicably from Prime Minister Netanyahu and his old party before going into business for himself. Some international observers have tried to interpret Kulanu’s rise as somehow symptomatic of general dissatisfaction with Netanyahu’s policies. But Kahlon’s gambit has nothing to do with the issues of war and peace that concern the world and around which Israeli politics revolves. While the party’s prioritization of social issues ought to net them a strong showing in the voting, any expectation that its success will demonstrate the existence of a viable political Israeli center are bound to be disappointed.

Kahlon’s party seems to be a conglomeration of largely non-ideological activists who are united behind a banner of commitment to social issues in a country where the left-right divide on how to deal with the conflict with the Palestinians is still the primary concern. But rather than something new, those unfamiliar with Israel’s history need to be told that such parties have been a staple of the country’s politics since 1977 when the first such centrist party burst upon the scene. Since then the pattern is familiar. A centrist party led by a famous personality campaigns as an alternative to the leading parties of the right and left and usually does well in its first election. In the last Knesset vote in 2013, the Yesh Atid Party led by journalist Yair Lapid (whose father Tommy had led a different centrist party to a similar good showing a decade earlier) made a huge splash with a social justice platform and won 19 seats, the second highest total after Likud.

But like all of its predecessors, Yesh Atid appears to be a one-hit wonder. Compromised by its participation in the government, it quickly lost the glow of newness as well as its standing as the voice of a protest movement. Lapid’s party’s purpose was revealed to be primarily about the ambition of its founder and the ability of some of its leading members to gain government posts. That’s why it appears on its way to losing half of its strength in March. No one would be surprised if it disappeared altogether in a few years, as have all of the previous centrist groups.

Kahlon seems to be a wiser political player than Lapid and not just because he earned his celebrity by a successful stint in Netanyahu’s Cabinet. Unlike Lapid, Kahlon isn’t trying to be prime minister or the harbinger of a transformation of the Israeli political landscape. He has said his only goal is the Finance Ministry and it’s likely that either Likud or Labor will give it to him in the next government.

Moreover, he’s also making clear that while he is critical of Netanyahu, there’s not a shekel’s worth of difference between their positions on the peace process. Kahlon said his position is that he is in favor of any agreement that “would strengthen Israel,” an anodyne stance that means nothing. He backs the idea of peace with the Palestinians but said “right now there is no partner and no one to talk to on the other side” as well as saying that any deal would have to leave Israel in control of all of Jerusalem. This places him very much on the prime minister’s side on the key questions that divide his government from the positions enunciated by President Obama and the United States.

Can Kahlon and Kulanu ultimately succeed where every other Israeli centrist party failed and grow from its initial success and become the focus for genuine change? Nothing is impossible, but everything we know about the dynamics of the country’s politics tells us that it won’t happen. No matter how principled his followers seem now, they’ll be perceived differently once they are in office. The same applies to Kahlon, who became something of hero for his work in lowering cell phone rates when he served in the previous government. Once he is tainted with participation in a government led by someone else, he won’t be the successful rebel anymore.

In a normal country where economic issues dictate the outcome of elections, one of the country’s two main groupings would likely embrace social justice as their focus. But so long as the Arab and Muslim war on Israel’s existence continues—which is to say for the foreseeable future—parties like Kulanu will come and go with regularity. There is no real center in Israeli politics. Indeed, it can be argued that at this point it is Netanyahu and Likud that represent the center of the country’s divisive politics. Depending on how well he does, Kahlon may help keep Netanyahu in power or make a deal with Isaac Herzog and Labor. But no matter which side he picks, no one should imagine that his likely short-lived success will mean much in the long run.

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Terror, Israel, and France’s False Unity

The narrative of “unity” in Paris yesterday was quickly punctured by reports that French President Francois Hollande tried to prevent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s participation in the rally against terror. According to Haaretz, Hollande’s national security advisor relayed the message to his Israeli counterpart. There are, clearly, several things wrong with this picture, foremost among them the gratuitous insult to a Jewish community in mourning that the head of the Jewish state is not welcome in Paris. But if the report is correct, the reasons given for the attempted exclusion compound the offense.

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The narrative of “unity” in Paris yesterday was quickly punctured by reports that French President Francois Hollande tried to prevent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s participation in the rally against terror. According to Haaretz, Hollande’s national security advisor relayed the message to his Israeli counterpart. There are, clearly, several things wrong with this picture, foremost among them the gratuitous insult to a Jewish community in mourning that the head of the Jewish state is not welcome in Paris. But if the report is correct, the reasons given for the attempted exclusion compound the offense.

First, there is the following explanation, relayed by Haaretz, for why Hollande didn’t want Netanyahu there:

Audibert explained that Hollande wanted the event to focus on demonstrating solidarity with France, and to avoid anything liable to divert attention to other controversial issues, like Jewish-Muslim relations or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Audibert said that Hollande hoped that Netanyahu would understand the difficulties his arrival might pose and would announce that he would not be attending.

Anyone who hoped the French might get serious about the terrorism and anti-Semitism plaguing their country will have their hopes dashed by that paragraph. A refresher: the march for unity was held after a two-pronged terror attack, the latter half of which centered on Islamic extremists specifically targeting Jews. In the wake of that attack, Jews were warned to hide any outward appearance of their Judaism and the famed Jewish quarter of the Marais became a ghetto regulated by fear.

To this, the French president says that he doesn’t want the response to include “other controversial issues, like Jewish-Muslim relations.” In fact, “Jewish-Muslim relations”–a mild way of describing French Islamists’ murderous anti-Semitism and pogromist instincts–is currently tearing Paris apart. What Hollande doesn’t want to talk about is what’s actually happening to his country. If the Jewish presence atop the Islamists’ target list can’t be acknowledged even in the wake of terror, then Hollande is really making no room for it at all. Hollande’s head is still in the sand.

Netanyahu was at first open to Hollande’s unreasonable request. But then he changed his mind, and informed Hollande he would attend. Here is the apparent response from the French government:

According to the source, when Cohen informed Audibert that Netanyahu would be attending the event after all, Audibert angrily told Cohen that the prime minister’s conduct would have an adverse effect on ties between the two countries as long as Hollande was president of France and Netanyahu was prime minister of Israel.

But the foot stomping wasn’t over. Hollande had to publicly convey his opposition to Israel’s head of government participating in a “unity” event. Both attended an event at the Grand Synagogue: “Hollande sat through most of the ceremony, but when Netanyahu’s turn at the podium arrived, the French president got up from his seat and made an early exit.”

There is another explanation, however, for Hollande’s decision to disrespect the Jews in the Grand Synagogue. In an unsigned piece at Tablet, a video is provided of the arrival first of Hollande and then of Netanyahu at the Grand Synagogue. Netanyahu receives a hero’s welcome.

This is not all that surprising. I recommend watching the video of Netanyahu’s entrance into the synagogue; it is more compelling than it might appear. The simple fact is that Netanyahu’s presence is a reminder to the Jews of Paris and the Jews of the world that when their home countries repay their love and loyalty with hatred and abuse, the existence of Israel provides an inspirational counterpoint–even for Jews with no intention of making aliyah. Tablet notes:

One of the great lessons of the Holocaust for the Jewish people and for all other peoples who have since been threatened with genocide by fanatics—Cambodians under Pol Pot, Bosnian Muslims, and the Tutsi of Rwanda—is that the world will always talk a good game but will do precious little to save you. If you don’t stick together, you will die alone. The fact that the State of Israel exists means that the Jewish people will never be radically alone. That’s why the people in the Grand Synagogue of Paris are cheering.

And thus it is also something of a reproof to the host country. The presence of an Israeli prime minister in a Western capital that has proved incapable of protecting its Jews provides a contrast that does not benefit Hollande. In that sense, though Hollande’s behavior is not defensible, neither is it incomprehensible.

But the attempt to prevent Netanyahu from attending the march is also delegitimizing to the Jewish state. Jews were killed because they were Jews, and with the partial pretext of the Jewish state’s self-defense. Excluding the Israeli leader is a divisive act–literally, as it divides the Jewish people–and also treats Israel, which is a Western country on the front lines of fighting such terror, as an outsider looking in on the free world. Netanyahu was right to attend, and by the looks of it, the besieged Jews of Paris agreed.

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The Palestinian ‘Quest for Statehood’ Is Designed to Prevent Statehood

I often criticize the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the New York Times, and especially Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren. But credit where it’s due: in an otherwise silly “news analysis” about the Palestinians’ strategy of getting international organizations to pretend the territories are a full-fledged state, Rudoren hits on a crucial aspect to the Palestinian farce. In the process, she sheds some light on PA head Mahmoud Abbas’s true intentions.

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I often criticize the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the New York Times, and especially Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren. But credit where it’s due: in an otherwise silly “news analysis” about the Palestinians’ strategy of getting international organizations to pretend the territories are a full-fledged state, Rudoren hits on a crucial aspect to the Palestinian farce. In the process, she sheds some light on PA head Mahmoud Abbas’s true intentions.

The story, headlined “Palestinians Seen Gaining Momentum in Quest for Statehood,” mostly misses the point, as usual. The truth is that the Palestinians could have had a state already–not only in the course of Israel’s existence but several times since 2000 alone–and turned it down. They were also the ones to blow up the last series of peace talks. So any story that takes the idea that the Palestinians are on a “quest for statehood” at face value is showing its bias right off the bat.

What the Palestinians are doing, instead, is trying to join international organizations as a way to get the world to increase its pressure on Israel to retreat to the nonexistent borders of the pre-June 1967 lines. This is not a quest for statehood; it’s just another way to take advantage of the anti-Israel mood of much of the world. Rudoren writes:

When the Palestinians sought statehood at the United Nations in 2011, it was widely dismissed as a symbolic gambit to skirt negotiations with Israel and Washington’s influence over the long-running conflict. But the Palestinians have begun to translate a series of such symbolic steps, culminating in last week’s move to join the International Criminal Court, into a strategy that has begun to create pressure on Israel.

While many prominent Israelis have called for unilateral action to set the country’s borders, it is Palestinians who have gained political momentum with moves made outside of negotiations. The Palestinians are, in effect, establishing a legal state. International recognition, by 135 countries and counting, is what Palestinians are betting could eventually force changes on the ground — without their leaders having to make the concessions or assurances they have long avoided.

That bit about the Palestinians “establishing a legal state” is absurd. There is an operative definition in international law of a state. The Palestinian territories do not yet meet that definition. Additionally, as the Montevideo Convention plainly states: “The political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states.”

The Times story is thus far too credulous toward the Palestinians, and sets the “analysis” off immediately in the wrong direction. But somewhere along the line it finds its way back to reality long enough to make clear what Abbas’s gambit is all about:

There is also a sense that Mr. Abbas could benefit if the Palestinians’ unilateral approach bolsters Mr. Netanyahu and other conservatives in the upcoming Israeli elections. Some analysts say his center-left opponents, more clearly committed to the two-state solution, would be more palatable to Europe and force the Palestinians back to negotiations.

The rest of the story is just noise. This is the point. Abbas is so opposed to peace with Israel that even his cheerleaders at the Times point out that he actually benefits from any move that pushes the two sides farther apart. Once upon a time, commentators scolded Israel for supposedly elevating Palestinian rejectionists and extremists. But now by their own account Abbas is the Palestinian extremist. He is the one who benefits from any development that prevents peace.

Of course, the Times is probably overstating any prospective change in Israeli foreign policy, another of the Western media’s hobbyhorses. Even if Netanyahu’s “center-left” opponents win the election, they would struggle to form a governing coalition because of the simple fact that Netanyahu is a centrist in the modern Israeli political sphere. If any party other than Likud won the election, they would have to form a coalition with parties to their right. Netanyahu was the one who brought in Labor when he formed a governing coalition in 2009 and tried to get Kadima in as well. He then brought in Livni in his second term and let her run peace talks, despite the fact that she only won a few seats in the Knesset.

Indeed, a Likud-led government that lets peace processers like Livni lead negotiations is basically the ideal government from the perspective of those who support the two-state solution. It mutes some of the opposition from the right while putting a dedicated peacenik in the driver’s seat, in effect letting the left have a say in important matters of state even though they weren’t elected to do so. It does a pretty good job of approaching a consensus.

Could the left have such a free hand in a weak, partisan coalition, or in a coalition that is stronger but depends on the right to stay afloat? Doubtful. But Abbas doesn’t even want to take the chance. And until he does, all talk of a Palestinian “quest for statehood” merely feeds Abbas’s appetite to prevent it.

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The World Won’t Listen to Livni If She Wins

In what has already been a topsy-turvy Israeli election campaign Hatnua Party co-leader Tzipi Livni caused an uproar when she bragged about her efforts to persuade Secretary of State John Kerry to “torpedo” the Palestinian effort to gain United Nations recognition for their independence. That led some on the Israeli right to accuse Kerry of trying to intervene in the elections because reportedly Livni told him that if the U.S. let a UN Security Council resolution pass it would help Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Knesset vote. But their outrage is to be expected. Everyone knows the Obama administration wants Netanyahu to lose and that Livni and her new partner, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, are looking for a little help from Washington. But what is of particular interest is that Livni actually thinks, as she said yesterday in an Israel Army Radio interview, “the world listens to me.” If she wins, she will soon find out that “the world” and even the Obama administration, doesn’t differentiate between Israeli politicians as much as she thinks.

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In what has already been a topsy-turvy Israeli election campaign Hatnua Party co-leader Tzipi Livni caused an uproar when she bragged about her efforts to persuade Secretary of State John Kerry to “torpedo” the Palestinian effort to gain United Nations recognition for their independence. That led some on the Israeli right to accuse Kerry of trying to intervene in the elections because reportedly Livni told him that if the U.S. let a UN Security Council resolution pass it would help Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Knesset vote. But their outrage is to be expected. Everyone knows the Obama administration wants Netanyahu to lose and that Livni and her new partner, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, are looking for a little help from Washington. But what is of particular interest is that Livni actually thinks, as she said yesterday in an Israel Army Radio interview, “the world listens to me.” If she wins, she will soon find out that “the world” and even the Obama administration, doesn’t differentiate between Israeli politicians as much as she thinks.

Livni, who is running for the Knesset on her fourth different political party in the last decade, scored a coup when she managed to persuade Herzog not only to run a joint ticket with her party but also to “rotate” the prime ministership between the two if they won. Considering that polls showed Hatnua wouldn’t win a seat on its own, that shows she’s better at driving good bargains for her party than she was for her country during her time as foreign minister under Ehud Olmert or as lead negotiator with the Palestinians under Netanyahu the last two years.

Though her eclectic and often changing positions on the issues have placed her all over the political map, her main claim to fame in the past few years has been as the Israeli politician that American and European leaders have hoped would topple the much disliked Netanyahu. Indeed, during the first two years of the Obama administration, the White House wrongly thought Livni would soon replace him as prime minister. So it’s hardly surprising that Livni would attempt to play that card again so as to convince Israeli voters that their country’s growing diplomatic isolation is purely the result of Netanyahu’s bad judgment and that it would all change if only Livni were in power.

But whatever her chances of helping to topple the prime minister, she’s wrong if she thinks the international community will be substantially friendlier to a government that she helped run than the one she just left. The reasons for this should be obvious even to her.

Livni is, after all, a veteran Israeli politician, who served in senior positions in the governments led by Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert as well as having a dual role as Minister of Justice and chief peace negotiator with the Palestinians under Netanyahu over the past two years. Though she has often garnered more sympathetic international press coverage than the notoriously prickly Netanyahu that has never translated into any actual support for her positions from foreign governments.

The problem for Livni is that while the differences between her and Netanyahu on the peace process can appear huge in an Israeli political context, they are actually insignificant when seen from the perspective of what the Palestinians and the international community are demanding of the Jewish state. Like Netanyahu, Livni believes the Palestinians must accept Israeli security guarantees, acknowledge that Israel will retain Jewish Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs in the West Bank as well as recognize it as the nation state of the Jewish people, ending the conflict for all time.

Had Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas been willing to accept those terms he might have signed a peace treaty with Israel when Livni and her boss Olmert offered him a state in Gaza, almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem in 2008 when she was foreign minister. Indeed, had he been really willing to make peace, he would have cut a deal with Livni in the peace talks sponsored by Kerry that Abbas blew up last spring. As with every previous peace initiative, the Palestinians were unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. Like many another politician, Livni may believe her own public relations spin about her ability to dazzle foreign leaders. But it is hard to believe that after her own bitter experiences with Abbas, she really thinks he is a peace partner as she and Herzog claim.

This is no small point because although the defeat of Netanyahu would be greeted with relief in Washington and every European capital, Israel’s dilemma would not be materially altered. Not even Herzog and Livni could withdraw from the West Bank on terms that Abbas, worried as he is about competition from Hamas, could accept, continuing the diplomatic stalemate. That will mean the next Israeli government would be subjected to the same sort of pressure to make unilateral concessions that no Israeli coalition could ever live with. Indeed, after the failure of Sharon’s experiment with withdrawal in Gaza (something that happened while Livni was in his Cabinet), no sane Israeli wants to risk a repeat of that fiasco with a new Hamasistan in the far more strategic West Bank.

As unpopular as Netanyahu may be abroad, Israel was not particularly beloved under other leaders either. Though the meme of Israel becoming too nationalist, insular and intolerant is a popular one and is repeatedly endlessly on op-ed pages, the world’s quarrel with Israel is one that cuts across mainstream political lines in the Jewish state. Those who wish it to make unilateral concessions to Palestinians who are not interested in peace won’t like Livni’s stipulations about a potential treaty any more than they do those of Netanyahu. Especially since it was her who was negotiating on his behalf when Abbas was refusing to budge an inch, as Kerry knows all too well. The growing chorus of support boycotts of Israel will not be stifled by a Herzog/Livni led coalition. Nor will a slightly more accommodating Israeli government appease the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

As for the Obama administration, there is no question that there will be jubilation in the White House and the State Department if Netanyahu loses. It would be nice to think that Washington would then back Livni in talks with Abbas, but the Palestinians inability to make peace will inevitably frustrate the president and Kerry and lead them to behave as they have always done and blame the Israelis.

There may be reasons for Israelis to choose a new prime minister but the notion that Livni will magically erase the country’s diplomatic isolation is a delusion that rests upon her hubris and mistaken belief in the dubious magic of her personality. No rational person who has been paying attention to the way the world interacts with and judges Israel over the past 20 years of peace processing should take such a fanciful idea seriously.

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