Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S.-Israel relations

Why Is Obama’s Stance on Israel Questioned by So Many?

Yesterday in an interview with the New York Times Thomas Friedman, President Obama purported to be aggrieved that anyone would question his support for Israel or his respect for concerns about its security. Not satisfied with merely asserting his devotion to the Jewish state, he said it was “personally difficult” to hear such criticism and that he would consider his presidency “a failure” if anything he did weakened it. Six years of endless attempts to undermine Israel’s diplomatic position and the last few months of bitter, personal and even vulgar criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu culminating in threats to leave it isolated at the United Nations made his protestations absurd if not completely disingenuous. But Israelis could at least console themselves that in the course of trying to sell his appeasement of Iran to Congress, he was trying to downplay the crisis in the alliance that he had created. But it only took 24 hours for Obama to answer his own question about why so many Americans and Israelis question his attitude about Israel. In another interview, this time with another friendly questioner from the reliably liberal NPR, Obama dismissed the suggestion that Iran be asked to recognize Israel as part of the nuclear deal he is promoting. His reason: doing so would mean asking Iran to change the nature of its regime. To which critics must respond that this is exactly why it can’t be trusted with a nuclear infrastructure.

Read More

Yesterday in an interview with the New York Times Thomas Friedman, President Obama purported to be aggrieved that anyone would question his support for Israel or his respect for concerns about its security. Not satisfied with merely asserting his devotion to the Jewish state, he said it was “personally difficult” to hear such criticism and that he would consider his presidency “a failure” if anything he did weakened it. Six years of endless attempts to undermine Israel’s diplomatic position and the last few months of bitter, personal and even vulgar criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu culminating in threats to leave it isolated at the United Nations made his protestations absurd if not completely disingenuous. But Israelis could at least console themselves that in the course of trying to sell his appeasement of Iran to Congress, he was trying to downplay the crisis in the alliance that he had created. But it only took 24 hours for Obama to answer his own question about why so many Americans and Israelis question his attitude about Israel. In another interview, this time with another friendly questioner from the reliably liberal NPR, Obama dismissed the suggestion that Iran be asked to recognize Israel as part of the nuclear deal he is promoting. His reason: doing so would mean asking Iran to change the nature of its regime. To which critics must respond that this is exactly why it can’t be trusted with a nuclear infrastructure.

Obama said the following to NPR’s Steve Inskeep:

The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.

Obama went on to say that he believed the reason why the deal couldn’t be struck in that matter was because his goal was to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and that he couldn’t count on it changing.

That makes a sort of superficial sense. And if the as yet unwritten deal actually ensured that Iran could never get a nuclear weapon, he might have a strong case for ignoring the nature of the Iranian government. But despite his ardent salesmanship, he can’t honestly claim that it does. Obama has made an endless string of concessions that have allowed to keep its nuclear infrastructure, included its fortified bunker at Fordow, not forced it to export its stockpile of nuclear fuel, reveal the extent of its nuclear research and put an expiration date on the restrictions on its program. All this means that Iran can, if it is patient, build up its nuclear capabilities and then have a bomb in short order at the end of the agreement. Or, if it is not that patient, it can easily cheat its way to a weapon due to the weakness of the deal and the lack of a truly strict inspections regime or the ability of the West to quickly reimpose sanctions.

At best, all Obama has accomplished is to delay an Iranian bomb. At worst, he has allowed it to get close to one with Western permission and after having made it impossible to reassemble the international coalition that might have brought Iran to its knees had it been led by an American president with the guts to stick to a tough line rather than one that folded at every opportunity. The reason for this was that Obama’s goal throughout this process was détente with an aggressive, anti-Semitic and tyrannical regime rather than an effort to keep his 2012 campaign promise to eliminate its nuclear program.

Thus, the question about forcing it to recognize Israel is actually an apt one. Having empowered Iran at a time when its quest for regional hegemony via actions in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and now Gaza are scaring Israelis as well as moderate Arabs, it is fair to ask why the deal ignored Tehran’s support for terrorism and its frequent threats to obliterate Israel.

The president is right that to ask Iran to give up its rhetoric about Israel, let alone its policies aimed at bringing its dream of its elimination about, is to seek to change the nature of its theocratic government. But that is exactly why any deal that leaves people who have such goals in possession of thousands of nuclear centrifuges and a stockpile of nuclear fuel and a free pass to build a bomb in 15 years is tantamount to saying you don’t give a damn about Israel’s legitimate worries about Iran.

It was beneath the dignity of the presidency for Obama to feign hurt feelings about criticism for his efforts to undermine the U.S.-Israel alliance. Had he not spent most of his presidency (with the exception of the one year grace period of a Jewish charm offensive that accompanied his re-election campaign) sniping at Netanyahu, tilting the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians and ignoring the latter’s consistent rejection of peace, there would be no justifications for questioning his bona fides as a friend of Israel.

But when he treats the vile threats against Israel as an insignificant detail about his prized negotiating partner, he betrays his own mindset that sees the Jewish state’s existential worries as a tiresome drag on his diplomatic ambitions. The president would probably prefer that the Iranians pipe down about their desire to destroy Israel but he doesn’t feel strongly enough about it to let it derail his grand design for a rapprochement with Tehran.

The president can complain about his hurt feelings as much as he wants though to do so strains even the credulity of his most fawning interviewers. But by agreeing to a deal that makes Iran a threshold nuclear power without insisting on it dropping its ideology of hate, the president has answered questions about his negative attitude toward Israel by confirming the worst fears of his critics.

Read Less

Netanyahu Can’t Back Down On Iran Now

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned up on the Sunday morning talk shows yesterday as the principal voice speaking out against the Iran nuclear deal, there’s little doubt that many people in the White House breathed a sigh of relief. Having sent President Obama out to talk to friendly outlets like the New York Times to defend an agreement that has yet to be put onto paper and which the Iranian regime is characterizing in a wholly different manner from that of the administration, they understand that the more the public understands about the details, the less they are going to like it. Advocacy for a pact about which the best that can be said is that it is better than a false choice of war is not easy. Nor is attempting to claim that the president alone ought to be able to decide about this rather than allowing Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibility to an up or down vote on foreign treaties. Yet the president is probably entirely comfortable if this argument is reduced to another Barack versus Bibi debate such as the one about the latter’s address to Congress last month. But though Netanyahu is being set up for another beating in the press, he has little choice but to continue to speak out.

Read More

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned up on the Sunday morning talk shows yesterday as the principal voice speaking out against the Iran nuclear deal, there’s little doubt that many people in the White House breathed a sigh of relief. Having sent President Obama out to talk to friendly outlets like the New York Times to defend an agreement that has yet to be put onto paper and which the Iranian regime is characterizing in a wholly different manner from that of the administration, they understand that the more the public understands about the details, the less they are going to like it. Advocacy for a pact about which the best that can be said is that it is better than a false choice of war is not easy. Nor is attempting to claim that the president alone ought to be able to decide about this rather than allowing Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibility to an up or down vote on foreign treaties. Yet the president is probably entirely comfortable if this argument is reduced to another Barack versus Bibi debate such as the one about the latter’s address to Congress last month. But though Netanyahu is being set up for another beating in the press, he has little choice but to continue to speak out.

The arguments about whether Netanyahu erred in accepting House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to speak to Congress earlier this year are moot. In doing so, he allowed the White House to divert the discussion from one about their indefensible appeasement of Iran to whether the prime minister and his GOP hosts had violated protocol or were “insulting” the president. That didn’t help those attempting to muster a veto-proof majority for more sanctions on Iran as well as the Corker-Menendez bill requiring the pact to be ratified by Congress before going into effect. But in the long run the arguments about the speech were meaningless. Netanyahu gave a great speech but nothing he said could have possibly altered the course of the negotiations in Switzerland. Nor did it galvanize Congress into immediate action.

Now that Iran has finally deigned to accept an agreement that allows it to become a threshold nuclear power and gives it a legal path to a bomb if it passes the time until the deal ends or to cheat its way to one if it doesn’t want to wait, Netanyahu has been put in an unenviable position. If he speaks up now, it allows the president to claim that the Israelis are allying themselves with his Republican opponents and gives him more ammunition with which he can try to persuade wavering Democrats to abandon the bipartisan consensus behind Corker-Menendez. If he remains silent, he abandons the field to Obama and his apologists at a time when Israel’s security—and that of its erstwhile antagonists among the moderate Arab nations in the region—is being imperiled.

It is unfortunate that the attitude among many Democrats, including many who claim to be friends of Israel, is such that they no longer hesitate to attack Netanyahu or dismiss his strong arguments about the nuclear deal with impunity. One such was California Senator Dianne Feinstein who more or less told Netanyahu to shut up and stop annoying his betters in an interview on CNN yesterday. Part of the fault for this is Netanyahu’s pre-election statements about the two-state solution and Arab voters that offended many Americans as well as the backwash from the speech controversy. But the bottom line here is that all of these anti-Netanyahu talking points have been ginned up primarily by an Obama administration that wants to silence the most prominent and articulate critic of its feckless quest for détente with Iran.

But whether or not Democrats and other liberals are putting their fingers in their ears and chanting “la, la, la” every time he speaks up about the obvious weaknesses to the Iran deal, Netanyahu can’t back down now.

Some criticized his speech to Congress as a mere appeal to history rather than a pragmatic effort to influence U.S. policy. There was some truth to that point but it is not one that is to Netanyahu’s discredit. Given the presence in the White House of a president who has been obsessed with ending 35 years of enmity between the U.S. and Iran, there was never anything that Netanyahu or any Israeli leader could ever do to stop Obama from getting his deal if he made as many concessions to the Islamist regime as he did. All Netanyahu can do at this point is make clear the danger that the president is creating for Israel, moderate Arabs, and the West.

Moreover, despite the dismissals of his plea for Western patience and courage to broker a better deal with Iran, Netanyahu does have a coherent alternative to Obama’s path. The U.S. could have, and still could if it had a president who wasn’t besotted with Iran détente, use all the economic and political weapons at its disposal to bring Tehran’s economy to its knees. It could insist that any deal be dependent on an end to Iranian support for international terrorism as well as force it to give up far more of its nuclear infrastructure and its fuel stockpile. It won’t because Obama didn’t have the guts to stick to his position when push came to shove.

Israel has no good options to deal with the threat from Iran. It cannot—and won’t—bomb Iran while it is negotiating with the United States. Nor can it shame the West into better behavior. But Netanyahu can speak. In spite of the opprobrium that has been hurled against him, he remains a strong voice respected by most of the American public. The list of improvements in this very bad agreement put forward by the Israelis are informative and will be useful to Congress and members of the American general public. Netanyahu must, if possible, avoid making himself the center of the argument. But he cannot be silent. Though the chances of success in this effort may not be good, he has no choice but to continue to speak lest history judge him and anyone else who punts on the issue as being complicit in one of the most disgraceful examples of appeasement in modern history.

Read Less

As Dem Leader, Schumer Can’t Protect Both Israel and Obama

Throughout his 16 years in the Senate, Chuck Schumer has comfortably built a reputation as a fierce Democratic partisan while also being an ardent support of Israel. But in his new status as the leader-in-waiting of Senate Democrats after Harry Reid exits the stage in January 2017, Schumer is about to find out that, as the old Yiddish proverb tells us, you can’t dance at two weddings with one behind. Though, as a Politico article reports, he may think he can strike a balance between his pro-Israel stands and his job as the putative leader of his party’s caucus, so long as Barack Obama is in the White House that isn’t going to be possible. As the administration prepares to sell a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran while also exerting pressure on Israel’s government and threatening to isolate the Jewish state, Schumer isn’t going to be able to push back against the president’s policies at a time when he will be at the same time expected to keep the Democratic caucus united behind them.

Read More

Throughout his 16 years in the Senate, Chuck Schumer has comfortably built a reputation as a fierce Democratic partisan while also being an ardent support of Israel. But in his new status as the leader-in-waiting of Senate Democrats after Harry Reid exits the stage in January 2017, Schumer is about to find out that, as the old Yiddish proverb tells us, you can’t dance at two weddings with one behind. Though, as a Politico article reports, he may think he can strike a balance between his pro-Israel stands and his job as the putative leader of his party’s caucus, so long as Barack Obama is in the White House that isn’t going to be possible. As the administration prepares to sell a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran while also exerting pressure on Israel’s government and threatening to isolate the Jewish state, Schumer isn’t going to be able to push back against the president’s policies at a time when he will be at the same time expected to keep the Democratic caucus united behind them.

Schumer likes to tell Jewish audiences that his name derives from the Hebrew word shomer, or guardian, and that he will always act to protect Israel. Though in recent years that promise has been tested, the senator’s impressive political skills have enabled him to hold onto that image while also being one of President Obama’s Senate foot soldiers. The same can be said of his close relationship with Wall Street figures whose fundraising help has been the foundation of his long and now apparently successful campaign to become the Democrats’ Senate leader.

As far as Israel or Iran was concerned, Schumer never took on the role of administration antagonist, as did his Democratic colleague Robert Menendez. Menendez repeatedly and publicly called out President Obama for his opposition to sanctions on Iran and for his unwillingness to support more pressure on a regime with which he was bent on fostering détente. Not so Schumer, who, despite his pledge to be Israel’s guardian, chose not to confront the president in public. Instead, we have heard tales, often recounted in friendly media coverage of the senator, about private conversations in which Schumer scolded administration figures or offered them advice in which he sought to persuade them to stop picking needless and counterproductive fights with Israel on Iran and the conflict with the Palestinians.

Schumer may well continue to play that role in private even as he assumes the status of the Prince of Wales of Senate Democrats. But in the last 22 months of the Obama presidency, as the White House steers the country away from the alliance with Israel and into a more neutral position on the Middle East conflict as well as one in which Iran is viewed as a partner, the senator’s balancing act is no longer viable.

Even if we set aside fears about Obama’s threats to abandon Israel at the United Nations or to engage in pressure tactics in future Middle East negotiations, the looming struggle in the Senate over Iran makes it impossible for Schumer to be in both camps.

Schumer has said that he supports the Corker-Menendez bill that will require that any Iran deal be put to a vote in the Senate. That’s a crucial blow to an administration that is desperate to persuade pro-Israel Democrats to abandon the bipartisan consensus on the issue and ensure that the bill doesn’t have a veto-proof majority. But the only way to do so is for Senate leaders like Schumer to ensure that enough of them fall into line. And there is every indication that, behind the scenes, he will do just that.

After all, it was Schumer who played a key role in organizing a letter from pro-Israel Senate Democrats making it clear that they would not support Corker-Menendez or the equally vital Kirk-Menendez bill that would increase sanctions in the admittedly unlikely event that the administration admitted failure in the Iran talks until after the administration received more time to negotiate.

So while a public break with Israel on Iran is probably as unthinkable for Schumer as a public breach with the administration, it’s likely that he will be behind efforts in the near future to further delay Senate action on Iran. In doing so, he will claim that he remains a stalwart opponent of appeasement but in practice he will be doing the president’s dirty work.

Nor would it be reasonable to think that he could avoid acting in this manner if he wants to hold onto the support of his party’s caucus. If Schumer were to place himself in opposition to the president on an issue where the White House is committed to doing everything to avoid a Senate vote, then the notion of his inevitability as Harry Reid’s successor may vanish. Since the Senate Democratic caucus has become more liberal, not less, in recent years, Schumer’s public apostasy, even on Israel issues, might cause the natives in the minority cloakroom to become restless. And after working tirelessly to win the leader position, it’s not likely he will do anything to scuttle his hopes.

Schumer will do all he can to still be perceived, in Politico’s words, as “a hawk” on Israel. But you don’t get to be majority leader by being an outlier within your party on a key issue when the president needs help. All the news stories about Schumer having “very, very heated” conversations with White House officials on Iran and Israel won’t mean a thing if, when the president requires him to produce the votes he needs on these issues, Schumer complies, as he almost certainly will do. Any Senate leader must watch the back of his president. Though he will claim he can go on dancing at two weddings, the odds of him choosing support for Israel over the political necessity to back Obama are slim.

Read Less

America’s Doing More Harm Than Good at the UN Human Rights Council

Not much attention is paid to the activities of United Nations agencies. To the extent that some of the world body’s work is on behalf of the world’s disadvantaged populations or children, that’s too bad. But the fact that the arm of the UN that is tasked with monitoring human rights around the world remains a cesspool of anti-Semitism and hatred against Israel and Jews is something that also deserves more attention than it gets. As UN Watch reports, the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council wrapped up last week by passing four resolutions condemning Israel for alleged violations while largely ignoring much of what goes on in countries that actually trash the rights of their people. This isn’t surprising since that’s what the UNHRC has been doing throughout its history. But this latest instance of bias and lack of concern for its actual responsibilities on the issue does raise an important question: what the heck are representatives of the United States still doing there dignifying the HRC’s proceedings with its ineffectual presence at their deliberations in Geneva?

Read More

Not much attention is paid to the activities of United Nations agencies. To the extent that some of the world body’s work is on behalf of the world’s disadvantaged populations or children, that’s too bad. But the fact that the arm of the UN that is tasked with monitoring human rights around the world remains a cesspool of anti-Semitism and hatred against Israel and Jews is something that also deserves more attention than it gets. As UN Watch reports, the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council wrapped up last week by passing four resolutions condemning Israel for alleged violations while largely ignoring much of what goes on in countries that actually trash the rights of their people. This isn’t surprising since that’s what the UNHRC has been doing throughout its history. But this latest instance of bias and lack of concern for its actual responsibilities on the issue does raise an important question: what the heck are representatives of the United States still doing there dignifying the HRC’s proceedings with its ineffectual presence at their deliberations in Geneva?

The good news about the UNHRC votes is that in each of the four condemnations of Israel, the United States provided the sole no vote. President Obama’s defenders cite this as proof that he is not hostile to the Jewish state. Though the claim would be a little easier to accept if the president did not seek applause for doing something that any American leader ought to take as a matter of course, nevertheless the U.S. did the right thing. It would also be a little easier to cheer these stands if the president and various senior administration officials were not threatening to abandon Israel at the UN in the future because Prime Minister Netanyahu does not always follow Obama’s orders, but that is an argument for a different day.

But however much we might be glad that the U.S. is there to be a sole voice of sanity at the HRC, it’s arguable that even if the president doesn’t decide to stab Israel in the back to vent his pique about the results of the recent election there, America is doing more harm than good by legitimizing this farce by its continuing membership on the council.

It should be pointed out that the UN HRC managed to pass eight resolutions condemning alleged human-rights abuses at its recent sessions. That meant that half of its output was pro-forma attacks on Israel. One of the four resolutions condemned Israel’s presence on the Golan Heights, which it claims harms rights of the inhabitants. Another did the same for its presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem. One demanded “self-determination” for the Palestinians and another treated the existence of Jews living in these areas as an offense against their Arab neighbors.

One may debate the wisdom of Jewish settlements as well as the virtues of a two-state solution, even if the Palestinians have repeatedly demonstrated that they have no interest in such a scheme but prefer to hold onto their desire for destroying the one Jewish state no matter where its borders may be drawn. But to represent the situation in the territories, where the greatest threat to human life remains Palestinian terrorism and the efforts of groups like Hamas to rain down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities last year, as the worst thing happening in the region, let alone the world, illustrates how the HRC remains a theater of the absurd.

As scholar and activist Anne Bayefsky writes on the Fox News website, China, Qatar, Russia, and Saudi Arabia are all members of the HRC, because “protecting human rights is not a condition of being elected to the Council.” The Council ignores or dismisses other more pressing concerns (one resolution about a human-rights catastrophe in Syria where hundreds of thousands have died in the last four years and one non-condemnatory procedural measure about the Islamist tyranny in Iran) while devoting the lion’s share of its time to the campaign to delegitimize Israel.

In doing so, the HRC isn’t merely being unfair or disproportionate but is doing something far more insidious. As Bayefsky writes, “Subverting human rights principles for all turns out to be the other side of the coin of subverting human rights for Jews.” She’s right. Instead of treating the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel as one in which the two sides must try to reconcile competing rights, the HRC renders Jewish rights to self-determination and self-defense as unworthy of respect. That is to say, the HRC refuses to grant the one Jewish state in the world the same rights granted without argument to every other people. The term for such discriminatory treatment meted out to Jews is anti-Semitism.

As such, this is a forum that no self-respecting democracy ought to dignify with their presence. The lonely U.S. votes against this madness are not so much principled as they are granting the HRC an undeserved legitimacy. Past presidents have at times tried to step back from this disreputable body but President Obama’s obsessive affection for the UN has taken such a step off the table. Indeed, by staying on there, he seems to be using America’s votes as leverage to pressure Israel’s governments into taking steps its electorate has already specifically rejected at the polls.

Whoever it is that replaces President Obama in the White House will have a full plate of inherited foreign-policy crises to untangle in January 2017. But last week’s votes serve as a reminder that one of the items on the 45th president’s “to do list” ought to be pulling out of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Read Less

Obama Pursuing His Ideological Ambition to Weaken Israel

Why do the president and his advisers, when given the choice of how to interpret Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about a Palestinian state, choose the one that heightens tensions with Israel? Why the constant refrain that “We cannot pretend those comments were never made”? Why the inability to get over the fact that Netanyahu won (and in important respects Obama lost) the Israeli election? Why not move to repair relations?

Read More

Why do the president and his advisers, when given the choice of how to interpret Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about a Palestinian state, choose the one that heightens tensions with Israel? Why the constant refrain that “We cannot pretend those comments were never made”? Why the inability to get over the fact that Netanyahu won (and in important respects Obama lost) the Israeli election? Why not move to repair relations?

Part of the answer is undoubtedly the personal pettiness of Mr. Obama and his apparently unquenchable hated for the Israeli prime minister. But something more, something deeper, is going on here, too.

The president is using Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments to achieve an end he has clearly wanted all along: the weakening of the Jewish state. Mr. Obama is the product of a progressive milieu, including in the academy, where hostility to Israel is widespread.

As president, there have been constraints on how much Mr. Obama could do to undermine Israel. But the president has seized upon comments by Mr. Netanyahu leading up to the Israeli election to advance his agenda – in this case, considering reversing decades of U.S. policy by turning to the United Nations to impose a two-state solution. (This is only one piece in a much larger puzzle.)

For Mr. Obama, the comments by the Israeli prime minister were less an offense than an opportunity – and opportunity, in the president’s mind, to put Israel in its place. This explains the unprecedented and unceasing attacks aimed at Mr. Netanyahu. The president and his White House are galvanized as never before; they are on a mission.

The fact that the mission itself is terribly misguided and pernicious doesn’t seem to slow the president down one bit. He is a man in a hurry. And people who are in a hurry often act recklessly.

Mr. Obama is in the grip of a temper tantrum to be sure. But to focus on that, rather than the ideological project behind his actions, is to miss the full picture. Barack Obama is using the last few years of his presidency to further his left-wing ambitions in all sorts of ways, including inflicting massive damage on our relations with America’s most reliable ally and one of the most estimable nations on earth.

For those of us who love America and Israel, this is a sad and shameful period. It’s one that will thankfully pass — but between now and then, great and unnecessary harm is being done.

Read Less

Abe Trip On; Okinawa Base Off?

Compared to relations with Israel, Washington’s ties with another key ally, Japan, remain strong, though some of the same personal dynamics come into play. As far as can be known, Barack Obama feels little of the antipathy he is known for harboring for Benjamin Netanyahu towards Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister. Sources inside his government instead reveal a general distrust on the part of America’s very liberal president for Japan’s very conservative prime minister. Despite this, the White House just announced that Abe will arrive in the United States on April 28 for an official visit that will include an official dinner (not a state dinner, since Abe is not the head of state), and an address to a joint session of Congress that Obama will not try to derail.

Read More

Compared to relations with Israel, Washington’s ties with another key ally, Japan, remain strong, though some of the same personal dynamics come into play. As far as can be known, Barack Obama feels little of the antipathy he is known for harboring for Benjamin Netanyahu towards Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister. Sources inside his government instead reveal a general distrust on the part of America’s very liberal president for Japan’s very conservative prime minister. Despite this, the White House just announced that Abe will arrive in the United States on April 28 for an official visit that will include an official dinner (not a state dinner, since Abe is not the head of state), and an address to a joint session of Congress that Obama will not try to derail.

Also, as with Israel, the working relations between the two countries remains strong, despite whatever personal reservation there is between the leaders. Over the past several years, Washington and Tokyo have moved to deepen their alliance, and Japan’s own modest military buildup and development of a national security strategy that implicitly acknowledges the uncertainties engendered by a rising China, fits in well with Washington’s general policy of maintaining a strong American presence in Asia, and (giving credit where it is due) under Obama, attempting to expand America’s working partnerships, especially in Southeast Asia.

Yet dealing with democracies is always tricky (just ask Iran’s mullahs), and U.S.-Japanese relations have just been blindsided again. In this case, it is local opposition in the far southern island of Okinawa to a long-planned transfer of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the congested southern part of the island to the less-populated north. Okinawa’s new governor, elected on an anti-base campaign, today ordered construction on the base stopped, ostensibly due to reports of damage to undersea coral reefs from the drilling needed for landfill. The on-again, off-again base issue once again is hanging fire, and the longer it goes on, the more trouble it will cause for U.S.-Japan relations.

The Futenma base replacement issue may seem arcane, but it is one of the more frustrating parts of dealing with democratic allies. More importantly, it goes to the heart of the U.S. Marine Corps presence in Asia. Without the Okinawa bases, the Marines argue they will have a far less effective presence, especially for dealing with unexpected crises.

First broached back in the mid-1990s, and then agreed to in 2006, the building of a replacement helicopter base at Henoko has run into constant roadblocks from Okinawan governments, buttressed by constant public opposition. The Obama administration thought that Abe’s government, which strongly supports expanding the alliance, had finally put aside years of delay, and pushed through approval for the landfill and other construction issues. Yet elections have consequences, and Okinawa’s new governor now has brought the project to a halt.

The pressure will now be on Abe to figure out how to override the governor’s authority and get the base construction back on track. The way the law works in Japan, Okinawa’s governor cannot cancel the project outright, but he is using his prerogative to halt projects that have adverse environmental side effects. Abe will either have to make some sort of end-run around the governor, in the name of national interest, or convince him (probably with some financial inducement or strong-arm tactics) to drop his opposition. Yet enough Okinawans remain steadfastly opposed to the American military presence on the island that the outcome remains in doubt.

The broader issue is one of America’s ability to work with allies to restructure its alliances to deal with a rising China and an erratic North Korea. Weakening part of our military posture in Asia may both sow doubt about Washington’s commitment to its allies (even when those problems have been caused by the allies themselves) as well as run the risk of emboldening our competitors and adversaries. Coral reefs and concrete runways may not capture our imagination, but they are one piece of an increasingly complex security puzzle in Asia.

Read Less

Baker Creating J Street Challenge for Jeb

The announcement that former Secretary of State James Baker was one of the advisors to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign created a minor stir a few weeks ago. As our Michael Rubin noted at the time, Baker’s long record of hostility to Israel and consistent backing for engagement with rogue regimes ought to make him radioactive for a candidate seeking to brand himself as a supporter of the Jewish state and a critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. But Baker’s status as a faithful family retainer for the Bush family might have given Jeb a pass, especially since, as Michael wrote, another far wiser former secretary of state — George P. Schultz — is considered to be Jeb’s top foreign policy advisor. But the news that Baker will serve as a keynote speaker at the upcoming annual conference of the left-wing J Street lobby ought to change the conversation about this topic. Coming as it does hard on the heels of the president’s open threats to isolate Israel, having someone so closely associated with his campaign serve in that role at an event dedicated to support for Obama’s hostile attitude toward Israel obligates Jeb to not let this happen without saying or doing something to disassociate himself from Baker.

Read More

The announcement that former Secretary of State James Baker was one of the advisors to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign created a minor stir a few weeks ago. As our Michael Rubin noted at the time, Baker’s long record of hostility to Israel and consistent backing for engagement with rogue regimes ought to make him radioactive for a candidate seeking to brand himself as a supporter of the Jewish state and a critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. But Baker’s status as a faithful family retainer for the Bush family might have given Jeb a pass, especially since, as Michael wrote, another far wiser former secretary of state — George P. Schultz — is considered to be Jeb’s top foreign policy advisor. But the news that Baker will serve as a keynote speaker at the upcoming annual conference of the left-wing J Street lobby ought to change the conversation about this topic. Coming as it does hard on the heels of the president’s open threats to isolate Israel, having someone so closely associated with his campaign serve in that role at an event dedicated to support for Obama’s hostile attitude toward Israel obligates Jeb to not let this happen without saying or doing something to disassociate himself from Baker.

Baker won’t be the only celebrity in attendance at the conference. White House chief of staff James McDonough will also be there signaling the president’s approval for his faithful liberal fans. That’s an encouraging development for a group that, despite its boasts about supplanting AIPAC as the voice of American Jewry on Israel, has struggled for influence even during the administration of a president they ardently support. J Street has little juice on Capitol Hill, as only hard-core left-wingers tend to endorse their proposals with the overwhelming majority of members of both political parties rightly understanding that AIPAC remains the address for the pro-Israel community.

Even the Obama administration has often bitterly disappointed J Street, especially during the president’s re-election campaign, when the White House made clear that its focus was on appeal to the mainstream pro-Israel community, not its left-wing base. In 2012, the president not only addressed the AIPAC conference but also went farther toward the pro-Israel community on the Iran nuclear issue than ever before.

But in recent months as Obama openly feuded with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu over the president’s pursuit of détente with Iran, J Street has been feeling more love from the administration. After the White House responded to Netanyahu’s re-election with petulance and threats, J Street is thrilled with a president who seems to have finally decided that he need not hide his disdain for the Jewish state’s electorate.

Baker served the last president before Obama who engaged in feuds with Israeli leaders. Though rightly considered egregious at the time, George H.W. Bush’s provocations against the Shamir government seem tame when compared to Obama’s stunts. But as the moving force behind the elder Bush’s attacks on AIPAC as well as a policy of pressure against the Jewish state, Baker is rightly remembered as a foe of Israel.

Baker did help the campaign of George W. Bush, especially during the Florida recount. But he was a consistent critic of Bush 43’s foreign policy. While it is to be expected that he would rally to support the third member of the Bush clan to seek the presidency, for someone so publicly identified with Jeb’s campaign to be the keynoter at J Street’s conclave creates a much bigger problem for the candidate than even Michael Rubin thought a few weeks ago.

Simply put, Bush can’t let Baker’s appearance at the J Street event go unremarked upon. He must either explicitly distance himself from Baker’s appearance and from J Street’s support for Obama’s threats against Israel or ask Baker to formally disassociate himself from his presidential effort. That will be hard for Jeb as, like the rest of this family, he prizes loyalty and Baker has been the most faithful soldier in their family retinue for decades. But if he allows this to pass without telling the world that he condemns J Street’s activities and Baker’s support for Obama’s policies, it will taint him and his campaign. The man who would be Bush 45 has a strong record of personal support for Israel and was rightly among the first to congratulate Netanyahu on his decisive victory in Tuesday’s election. But if he keeps Baker on now, it will be difficult to argue that he can be counted upon to stand with Israel against Obama.

Read Less

The Crisis Has Exploded

Today, the president of the United States told the prime minister of Israel he was reassessing America’s “options” with regard to Israel in light of remarks Benjamin Netanyahu made about potential Palestinian statehood and an election-day Facebook post urging Israeli right-wingers to go to the polls on Monday to counter a surge in Israeli Arab voters.

The crisis in the relationship we discuss in our new editorial statement has entered a new and potentially unprecedented phase.

It may well be that the president is going to present American Jews with a choice over the coming months no American president should ask us to make—to become parties to and participants in his effort to create what, in 2009, he called “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel.

Read More

Today, the president of the United States told the prime minister of Israel he was reassessing America’s “options” with regard to Israel in light of remarks Benjamin Netanyahu made about potential Palestinian statehood and an election-day Facebook post urging Israeli right-wingers to go to the polls on Monday to counter a surge in Israeli Arab voters.

The crisis in the relationship we discuss in our new editorial statement has entered a new and potentially unprecedented phase.

It may well be that the president is going to present American Jews with a choice over the coming months no American president should ask us to make—to become parties to and participants in his effort to create what, in 2009, he called “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel.

First, to the two-state issue. There’s simply no question Netanyahu was willfully and purposefully misunderstood late last week when hostile reporters announced he had withdrawn his support for a two-state solution. That was not true. What he said was this: “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to radical Islam against the state of Israel.” The key word is “today.” Today. He did not say never. He said such a state was impossible today, and that is simply a statement of fact. So when, in a television interview this afternoon, he told Andrea Mitchell that yes, he believed in the two-state solution, he was saying nothing new. Any minimally fair interpretation of Netanyahu’s remarks makes that clear. We are told Netanyahu reiterated the point in the phone call with the president, and that he was told Obama didn’t believe him.

[UPDATE: In response to this piece, some have claimed I distorted Netanyahu’s view because he replied “indeed” when an interviewer asked whether he was saying there would be no Palestinian state during his premiership. But that “indeed” is entirely of a piece with the “today” comment—one can support the two-state solution as the only theoretical answer to the problem and still be pretty sure no such solution is in the cards for another four years. It was the Palestinians who walked away from the table in 2013, not Israel; and Gaza’s ruling Hamas party wasn’t even involved in the talks. Netanyahu’s own stated principles for a Palestinian state—that it renounce terror, recognize the Jewish state as a Jewish, forego the so-called “right of return”—would have been the basis for any negotiation, even by the Center-Left coalition, and the Palestinians are so far away from any such acknowledgments the issue of statehood was barely raised during the Israeli election campaign.]

The fact that the president is using the twisting of Netanyahu’s words as one basis for a reassessment of the relationship is the purest evidence yet of his hanging-judge cast of mind when it comes to Israel and its prime minister. He is looking for any excuse to come down hard on the foreign politician Obama loathes the most—and to create that “daylight” for which he is so eager.

Now to the question of Arab voters. Let me stipulate for the purposes of this discussion that the Facebook post was a terrible mistake, since it has had deleterious consequences and was entirely unnecessary. It came only a few hours before the polls closed and, as we now know, the size of Likud’s victory on Monday was so decisive nothing Bibi said so late could have done much to boost Likud’s enormous 200,000 margin over the second-place Zionist Union coalition. Let me stipulate as well that concerned American Jews have every right to feel what Likud did was wrong, although I think it is important to note no effort was made to suppress a single Arab vote but rather to frighten potential Likud voters with the prospect of a strong showing by the state’s non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Arab parties—to get them not to waste a vote on a smaller right-wing party but to go with Bibi instead.

But fine. If you want to hate what Netanyahu said, hate it. Here’s the thing: How the prime minister of Israel talks about Israeli citizens who possess equal rights under the law and have their own means of redress under the law if they are mistreated should have no basis whatever in the “assessment” of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Israel. The president has spent years making very nice patter with Turkey’s Erdogan and other foreign leaders whose treatment of minorities do not deserve mention alongside Israel’s and whose suffering small sub-populations have no means of achieving redress.

So even those who are furious with Netanyahu should really take a breath and a close look and consider this point carefully: The Arab-vote business is a pretext. American presidents, this one especially, typically do not revisit special strategic relationships based on election-day maneuvers in a democracy, however unpleasant they might find them. In my view, Obama is hoping once again to use liberal Jewish disaffection in the United States with Netanyahu as a wedge to give him space to make a major policy pivot from the special relationship—one for which he has hungered since he came into office.

Hovering over and above and behind all this is, of course, the negotiation with Iran—and Netanyahu’s standing to criticize it as the most influential foreign leader outside the United States with a view of it. Pummelling Bibi now and compelling him to take whatever steps he can to mollify the president before Obama announces he will accede to moves against Israel in various international fora has the added advantage to the president of raising the stakes on further Netanyahu criticism of an Iran deal to a level Bibi may not be willing to risk.

We may be hard upon a great moment of testing for American Jews. Are they going to fall for this? Are they going to allow themselves to be used as a wedge against Israel in hostile territory like the United Nations? Are they going to provide more ammunition to the president and his effort to still his critics only weeks before the United States might be announcing its acquiescence to the gravest existential threat the Jewish people have faced since the Holocaust?

Read Less

The Jewish Left’s War on Israeli Democracy

Faced with a crushing defeat, Isaac Herzog, the leader of Israel’s loyal opposition congratulated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his victory and vowed that he and his Zionist Union would prevail in the future. That is the way to behave in a democracy even when there are plenty of hard feelings about things said and done in the campaign — as there were in Israel — and clear differences between the rival factions. Once the voters have their say, the politicians must abide by their verdict. But Netanyahu’s foreign left-wing critics feel no such compunction. As American author and columnist Peter Beinart writes in today’s Haaretz, he and his liberal pals aren’t interested in following Herzog’s example. Instead, they plan on waging a war on Israeli democracy in which they will try to brand those entrusted by Israelis with their government as pariahs and to support actions by both the U.S. government and the Palestinians to undermine the Jewish state. By demonstrating such contempt for democracy, he is not only seeking to further divide American Jews from Israelis but is materially aiding those who seek its destruction.

Read More

Faced with a crushing defeat, Isaac Herzog, the leader of Israel’s loyal opposition congratulated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his victory and vowed that he and his Zionist Union would prevail in the future. That is the way to behave in a democracy even when there are plenty of hard feelings about things said and done in the campaign — as there were in Israel — and clear differences between the rival factions. Once the voters have their say, the politicians must abide by their verdict. But Netanyahu’s foreign left-wing critics feel no such compunction. As American author and columnist Peter Beinart writes in today’s Haaretz, he and his liberal pals aren’t interested in following Herzog’s example. Instead, they plan on waging a war on Israeli democracy in which they will try to brand those entrusted by Israelis with their government as pariahs and to support actions by both the U.S. government and the Palestinians to undermine the Jewish state. By demonstrating such contempt for democracy, he is not only seeking to further divide American Jews from Israelis but is materially aiding those who seek its destruction.

Beinart claims his position is one taken out of love for Israel, which he has consistently stated must be saved from itself. But the distinction to be drawn here is not between supporters and critics of Netanyahu. Opposing the prime minister is not the same as opposing Israel. As a vibrant democracy, Israelis can and do disagree with their politicians. Though the parties that will likely make up Netanyahu’s next government will have won the votes of a clear majority of the voters, those who sought his defeat at the polls are entitled to a fair hearing and to gain the support of those living outside the country who agree with them. But what Beinart is suggesting goes far beyond that or anything that bears a faint resemblance to the normal give and take of democracy.

To the contrary, he plans to not only support possible actions by the Obama administration to “punish” Israel for re-electing Netanyahu, he seeks to organize an effort by American Jews to do the same via support for the Palestinians anti-Israel diplomatic campaign, boycotts of Israeli products and even efforts to deny Israeli politicians with whom he disagrees the right to visit the United States.

This is a disgraceful plan of action. But what is most lamentable about it and the likely applause it will receive in the mainstream liberal press is that it is rooted in sheer, willful ignorance about the realities of the Middle East that Israeli voters recognize and which Beinart strains with all his might to ignore.

The first few sentences of Beinart’s Haaretz piece give away the game. In it he says American Jewish organizations have said that Israel needs to be given sufficient U.S. support and a respite from terror so that it will eventually feel safe enough to “take risks for peace.” He goes on to claim that, “this election was not fought in the shadow of terror” and that the Obama administration had not exerted pressure on Israel’s government since it had not “punished” Israel for not meekly obeying the president’s demands about far reaching territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

All of this is simply untrue.

First, to claim that Israel has not taken repeated risks for peace in the last two decades is an assertion of such astonishing mendacity that it makes it difficult to treat the rest of Beinart’s argument seriously or to give him credit, as I would prefer to do, for having good intentions. The last several governments of Israel have made repeated territorial withdrawals (including a couple made by one led by Netanyahu during his first term as prime minister), allowing the creation and the empowerment of the Palestinian Authority and then withdrawing every last soldier, settler and settlement from Gaza in 2005. But these gestures not only didn’t help bring peace, they resulted in the creation of terror bases from which Palestinians have launched suicide bombers and rockets at Israel’s cities. Israel traded land for peace and got only terror.

Israel’s governments have also repeatedly offered the Palestinians statehood and independence in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem only to be turned down in 2000, 2001 and 2008. Even under the last government Israel tried to negotiate peace with the Palestinians and even Tzipi Livni, one of Netanyahu’s leading opponents in the election, verified that it was the Palestinians that blew up the talks. That was made even clearer by the documents that were recently revealed showing Netanyahu had gone further than anyone had known in accommodating the Obama administration’s demands in the talks (something that proved an embarrassment for the prime minister during the campaign).

Just as false is Beinart’s claim that the election was not fought in the shadow of terror. I know seven months is a long time in journalism but are we really supposed to have already forgotten last summer’s 50-day war in which Hamas rained down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities and sent terrorists through tunnels into the Jewish state hoping to kill and kidnap as many Jews as possible? Apparently Beinart has forgotten it. But Israel’s voters have not. When Netanyahu spoke of his unwillingness to let the West Bank become another Hamasistan, he may have sneered but Israelis know all too well this is a possibility. They also regard the rise of ISIS and the way Hezbollah operates freely in Syria as well as Lebanon as a deadly threat. Not to mention the fact that the overwhelming majority of Israelis agree with the prime minister (including Herzog and his party) about the Iranian nuclear threat and the foolishness of the Obama administration’s attempt to appease Tehran.

Last, his belief that Obama has been soft on Israel is just as absurd. For six years (with only a respite provided by his 2012 re-election campaign Jewish charm offensive), the president has picked endless and ultimately pointless fights with Israel over settlements and especially Jerusalem. He’s tilted the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians direction on territory and the status of Israel’s capital. Even worse, the administration not only unfairly criticized Israel during last summer’s Gaza war but also ordered a cutoff of the flow of arms being resupplied during the fighting.

It’s true he could have gone further and ruptured the alliance completely or joined the efforts of Europeans to isolate Israel at the United Nations, measures that Beinart is urging him to take now. But even Obama understood that to do so was not only politically unpopular but bad policy since it would undermine U.S. influence as much as it would hurt Israel.

Thus the entire premise of Beinart’s argument is false. Israel has taken repeated risks for peace and it does still live under the shadow of terror. And it has no credible partner for peace since the Palestinian Authority still refuses to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn or renounce the right of return for the descendants of the 1948 refugees.

The status quo is far from ideal for Jews or Arabs but in the absence of such a peace partner, how can any reasonable person blame Israeli voters for refusing to take actions that would further empower the terrorists? Beinart is free to disagree with them but the notion that he has the moral right to judge them or to try to punish them for not doing as he says is as arrogant and contemptible as his efforts to aid those who wish to overturn the verdict of Israel’s voters by non-democratic means.

The vast majority of Americans rightly believe American policy should punish those who threaten the Jewish state not the people of Israel. Part of the reason for that is that they respect the right of Israelis to decide their own fate just as we prefer to decide ours. Those who seek to wage war on Israel’s re-elected leader reveal themselves to be not only out of touch with the realities of the Middle East but as foes of the principle of democratic rule.

Read Less

Can Americans Understand Israel’s Vote?

Read accounts of Israel’s elections in the mainstream liberal media today and you get a sense of the frustration and anger the Obama administration and its press cheering section feel about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decisive victory. The fulminations in today’s New York Times editorial articulate this point of view with its denunciations of Netanyahu’s repudiation of a Palestinian state as well as dark warnings about the implications of his comments about Israeli voters needing to offset the impact of Arabs voting for anti-Zionist parties. But even if we leave aside the ad hominem attacks on Netanyahu in which he was denounced as both “craven” and a “demagogue,” the point of the piece was to essentially delegitimize the results. The question remains whether most Americans, including Jewish friends of Israel, will be as clueless as the Times about the reason for Netanyahu’s big win.

Read More

Read accounts of Israel’s elections in the mainstream liberal media today and you get a sense of the frustration and anger the Obama administration and its press cheering section feel about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decisive victory. The fulminations in today’s New York Times editorial articulate this point of view with its denunciations of Netanyahu’s repudiation of a Palestinian state as well as dark warnings about the implications of his comments about Israeli voters needing to offset the impact of Arabs voting for anti-Zionist parties. But even if we leave aside the ad hominem attacks on Netanyahu in which he was denounced as both “craven” and a “demagogue,” the point of the piece was to essentially delegitimize the results. The question remains whether most Americans, including Jewish friends of Israel, will be as clueless as the Times about the reason for Netanyahu’s big win.

There should be no misunderstanding about the magnitude of Netanyahu’s victory. In the context of Israel’s multi-party system which encourages the growth of splinter parties and in which no party in its history has ever won a majority on its own, the Likud’s winning of 30 seats to its Labor-led Zionist Union rival’s 24 was an unexpectedly decisive result. Combined with the fact that his right wing and religious party allies more-or-less maintained their strength as a whole, the predominance of what Israelis call the “national camp” that has existed since the outbreak of the Second Intifada and the collapse of the Oslo Peace Accords is undiminished. Indeed, far from illustrating that the Likud represented the far right, the vote showed it to be smack in the center of the Israeli political spectrum.

How then do we explain Netanyahu’s comments about a Palestinian state and Arab voters that have been universally denounced in the West and seen, in the eyes of the Times editors, as proof that Israeli voters are vulnerable to scaremongering and racism?

It is true that Netanyahu needed to rally his base, large numbers of which were prepared to vote for smaller right wing parties rather than the Likud. The expectation was that pandering to that voter group would cause him to lose moderates. But it didn’t happen because few in Israel were that outraged about Netanyahu writing off the possibility of a Palestinian state. That’s not because they don’t want a two-state solution but because they know the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected one and the chance of sovereignty and peace.

Faced with two Palestinian dictatorships on either of their flanks — Islamist Hamas terrorists in Gaza and corrupt authoritarian Fatah in the West Bank — the prospect of territorial withdrawals to further empower either faction seems irrational to mainstream Israeli voters. Few in Israel outside of the far left expected the Netanyahu or even his rival Isaac Herzog would have the opportunity to sign a peace deal that would create a Palestinian state under any circumstances. Though the election had largely been fought on domestic and economic issues, Netanyahu’s late reminders to the public of their consensus on security helped turn a close election into what is by the standards of the Jewish state, a rout.

Similarly, Netanyahu’s remarks about Arab voters being mobilized by foreign-funded activists to vote didn’t alienate the average Israeli voter because they know that the prospect of a government put into office via the support of the avowedly anti-Zionist Arab parties (a coalition of Islamists, Communists and radical Arab nationalists that rationalize if not support terrorism) that oppose Israel’s existence as a Jewish state and its right to self-defense was a prospect that few contemplated with equanimity.

Simply put, his victory was not achieved by pandering to irrationality but because of the common sense of most Israeli voters who have a far better grasp of the realities of the Middle East than the editors of the Times. As I noted yesterday as the results were being counted, the impact of Netanyahu’s last minute appeals was due to the realism of the voters, not their racism.

But to note this begs the question as to whether Americans and their political leaders will be sufficiently influenced by the massive bias against Netanyahu in most of the media? No one can answer that question with absolute certainty but there are good reasons to be hopeful.

Unlike the sour grapes expressed by the editors of the Times and the sullen silence of the Obama administration (which has yet to congratulate Netanyahu on his stunning victory), most Americans actually do respect democracy. More to the point, they know that Israel is our only democratic ally in a Middle East where the administration’s priority has been to foster a spirit of détente with a vicious Islamist dictatorship in Iran. Just as they assume that they understand their local politics and problems better than the supposed experts in Washington, they assume that Israelis understand the Middle East better than Obama or the editors of the Times. Had they not thought so, support for Israel over the last few years or, in fact, the last generation, as a biased mainstream media consistently blasted Israel for defending its existence against terrorist threats, would not have remained so strong.

There have been some voices raised on the left that are essentially calling for Israel to become a partisan issue between Republicans (pro) and Democrats (con). That is a theme we heard a lot of during the weeks prior to Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on the Iranian nuclear threat and it is something that the administration seems to be encouraging despite its pro forma declarations of support for Israel. Yet the reaction to that speech illustrated that such efforts are bound to fall flat. The overwhelming majority of Republicans and what is still a clear majority of Democrats still support the alliance that is rooted in common values that are embedded in the political DNA of this country.

Doomsayers notwithstanding the overwhelming majority of Americans still back Israel and understand that asking them to make suicidal concessions is neither reasonable nor likely to strengthen America’s security. Though many assume that Americans, like Europeans, will eventually abandon Israel because of its refusal to do as Obama and the left demand, sympathy for Zionism and the Jewish state in the U.S. remains strong enough to withstand this challenge. That won’t change simply because the president and the liberal press don’t like Netanyahu or the outcome of a democratic election.

Read Less

Netanyahu’s Historic Win — and Obama’s Humiliating Loss

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stunning victory yesterday — polls at the end of last week had people writing off his chances — means he will become only the second person to be elected prime minister for a third term (the other being Israel’s founder David Ben-Gurion). “King Bibi” has established himself as one of the dominant figures in the history of the modern state of Israel. Mr. Netanyahu is hardly a person without flaws. But for those of us who admire his toughness and moral clarity on world events — and who appreciate his obvious love for his nation and for ours — it was a splendid turn of events.

Read More

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stunning victory yesterday — polls at the end of last week had people writing off his chances — means he will become only the second person to be elected prime minister for a third term (the other being Israel’s founder David Ben-Gurion). “King Bibi” has established himself as one of the dominant figures in the history of the modern state of Israel. Mr. Netanyahu is hardly a person without flaws. But for those of us who admire his toughness and moral clarity on world events — and who appreciate his obvious love for his nation and for ours — it was a splendid turn of events.

As for the current occupant of the White House, it was a disastrous one.

Barack Obama has an obsessive animosity when it comes to Prime Minister Netanyahu, which he has demonstrated time and again. So much so that Obama and his aides did everything they could to influence the Israeli election, from smearing Mr. Netanyahu — referring to him as a “coward” and a “chickens***” — to childishly elevating a difference over Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress into a foreign policy crisis to perhaps illegally funneling money to oust the sitting leader of Israel. We know that Jeremy Bird, who served as Obama’s deputy national campaign director in 2008 and his national campaign director in 2012, arrived in Israel in January to help unseat Mr. Netanyahu. This is all quite astonishing, even unprecedented. Benjamin Netanyahu may have won without the outside interference by Obama — but what Obama & Company did certainly helped.

I’m reminded of the self-inflicted “stunning setback” Mr. Obama suffered in 2009, when he and Mrs. Obama put their prestige on the line — they both flew to Copenhagen to make an appeal to the IOC — to get Chicago the 2016 Olympics. Chicago was eliminated on the first ballot. This time, the stakes were much higher and the damage done to Mr. Obama’s reputation far greater. .

There’s quite a pattern Mr. Obama has established in foreign policy during his presidency. He has failed in almost every instance, from his efforts at personal diplomacy to his policies. Remember the “new beginning” with the Arab and Muslim world? That claim now seems risible. Indeed, our relations with nation after nation — Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, China, Canada, Israel, India, Australia, Honduras, Brazil, Germany, and Great Britain, to name just a few — are worse now than they were when Mr. Obama was sworn in as president in 2009. As for Mr. Obama’s claim that al Qaeda was “decimated,” in congressional testimony recently, Mr. Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said that terrorism trend lines were worse “than at any other point in history.” And the terrorist group the president famously referred to as the “jayvee team” just last year is now the best-armed, best-funded terrorist group on earth, controlling “a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations.”

Mr. Obama’s clumsy and malicious mishandling of relations with Israel, then, is but one brick in a wall of failure and infamy. The fact that Benjamin Netanyahu emerged victorious in his confrontation with Barack Obama — a confrontation whose root cause can be traced to Obama’s hostility not just to Netanyahu but to Israel (a point I’ve elaborated on here) — is a heartening development in a world that is increasingly chaotic and violent.

Read Less

U.S. Alliance Will Survive Barack-Bibi, Act 3

Though many in the U.S. media are foolishly reporting the expected outcome of the Israeli election as if it was a tie, it’s unlikely that anyone in the White House is in any doubt about the actual outcome. President Obama’s longtime nemesis Benjamin Netanyahu came from behind in the last week to lead his Likud Party to as clear a victory as was possible in Israel’s confusing parliamentary system. Though the haggling with smaller parties is just getting started and the possibility of a unity government with his Zionist Union rival Isaac Herzog is still possible, the results gave Netanyahu a clear path to a fourth term as prime minister. Yet with Obama and Netanyahu no longer speaking to each other and with the two governments at loggerheads over both the Middle East peace process and the Iran nuclear talks, the question arises as to how much damage the prime minister’s re-election will do to an alliance that is crucial for Israel’s future? The answer is that although relations will be tense until January 2017, the alliance will survive Act Three of the Barack-Bibi standoff.

Read More

Though many in the U.S. media are foolishly reporting the expected outcome of the Israeli election as if it was a tie, it’s unlikely that anyone in the White House is in any doubt about the actual outcome. President Obama’s longtime nemesis Benjamin Netanyahu came from behind in the last week to lead his Likud Party to as clear a victory as was possible in Israel’s confusing parliamentary system. Though the haggling with smaller parties is just getting started and the possibility of a unity government with his Zionist Union rival Isaac Herzog is still possible, the results gave Netanyahu a clear path to a fourth term as prime minister. Yet with Obama and Netanyahu no longer speaking to each other and with the two governments at loggerheads over both the Middle East peace process and the Iran nuclear talks, the question arises as to how much damage the prime minister’s re-election will do to an alliance that is crucial for Israel’s future? The answer is that although relations will be tense until January 2017, the alliance will survive Act Three of the Barack-Bibi standoff.

The White House will say the right things about applauding Israeli democracy and working with anyone elected by the people of the Jewish state. But the president and his foreign policy team are bitterly disappointed with the prospect of Netanyahu’s re-election. It was always going to take a decisive win for Herzog, such as the four-seat advantage that the last opinion polls published last week before the election predicted, for the Labor leader to have a chance at putting together a coalition and that margin of victory evaporated as right-wing voters came home to Likud in order to save the prime minister. So the odds are, the administration is just going to have to stand by impotently and watch as its least-favorite foreign leader assembles a government for his fourth term in office.

Another 22 months of contention between Obama and Netanyahu will be problematic for the alliance. The president is poised to sign a framework with Iran over its nuclear program that will ensure that the Islamist regime becomes a threshold nuclear power and, just as important, gives U.S. acquiescence if not approval to Iran’s domination of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. That creates a far more dangerous Middle East and the real possibility of nuclear proliferation as Arab nations, which share Israel’s fears about Iran and the president’s feckless pursuit of détente with Tehran, begin thinking of their own deterrent.

Other than a risky and highly unlikely decision to launch a military strike on Iran on its own, there will not be much that Israel can do about this. But it can quietly support efforts by Congress to hold a weak Iran deal up to scrutiny and to hold the president and his new entente partners accountable. Expect a lot more sniping on this score between Washington and Jerusalem but barring Iran walking away from talks in which Obama appears to be giving them everything they could want, Netanyahu can’t be much of an obstacle to the president’s plans

But that won’t be the only issue on which the two governments will clash. The president and Secretary of State Kerry have also indicated that they will try to revive the dead-in-the-water peace process with the Palestinians. If so, we can expect the U.S. to repeat the same behavior that has characterized the first six years of the Obama presidency in which major pressure is brought to bear on Israel to make concessions while the Palestinians continue to refuse to make peace under any circumstances.

This will be difficult for Netanyahu, especially since he repudiated the two-state solution in the days leading up to the election. But Obama’s leverage here is limited. By opposing Israel’s effort to hold onto a united Jerusalem and the settlement blocs where most West Bank Jews live, the president has always been playing on Netanyahu’s turf and where he can turn disputes with Washington to his advantage. Netanyahu will stand his ground and not suffer for it at home while the Palestinians continue to stiff a president who has done everything in his power to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction.

It is true that Obama can up the ante on Netanyahu by abandoning a policy of supporting Israel in the United Nations as the Palestinians continue to violate their Oslo Accords obligation to negotiate rather than to attempt to gain recognition from the world body. But if that happens, it will create as many problems for him and the Democratic Party as it does for Israel.

It should be remembered that the 22-month period during which a re-elected Netanyahu will be forced to deal with Obama will coincide with the 2016 presidential election campaign. It is true that as a lame duck, he needn’t fear the voters even as he attempts to put more daylight between the U.S. and its only democratic ally in the Middle East. But Democrats who will be eager to hold onto the White House will not be happy if the president spends his last year in office alienating pro-Israel voters by venting his spleen at Netanyahu. Even if his liberal base has no affection for the prime minister, an overt tilt against Israel at the UN would probably place Obama at odds with Hillary Clinton who will be eager to demonstrate her pro-Israel bona fides. It will also give Republicans another stick to beat Democrats with as they seek to win back the White House.

What this boils down to is that as much as the president detests Netanyahu and has little love for his country, the infrastructure of the alliance, in Congress and the defense establishment is too strong for him to destroy. As he learned last summer when the Department of Defense was automatically transferring arms to Israel during the Gaza war, it takes more than a spat orchestrated by the White House to derail an alliance that has such broad bipartisan political support. As the president learned during the weeks leading up to Netanyahu’s controversial Iran speech to Congress earlier this month, even when the Israeli plays into their hands, the White House has shown a tendency to overplay their hand in a way that only helps the pro-Israel community.

More than all this, a re-elected Netanyahu will be in a position where time will be on his side. As the countdown for Obama’s exit from the White House begins, the prime minister will know that no matter who wins in 2016, they are likely to be far friendly to Israel than the current incumbent. He can afford to wait until January 2017 when he can count on a new relationship with an Obama successor who will be eager to prove his or her bona fides.

The months ahead will be difficult ones for Israel as Obama seethes about his foe’s victory. But as much as Obama has already undermined Israel’s security, his ability to do more damage is constrained by the realities of American politics than can neither be undone nor wished away.

Read Less

Bibi’s Triumph Puts Obama on the Defensive

If President Obama was hoping that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would lay an egg with his much-anticipated and controversial speech to a joint session of Congress, he was gravely disappointed. Netanyahu’s address was a triumph that put the administration on the defensive over its reckless pursuit of détente with Iran. But though the administration’s apologists are willing to admit that Netanyahu won on style points, they are wrong when they claim he offered no alternative to a deal with Iran that abandons the president’s previously stated principles about forcing the Islamist regime to abandon their nuclear ambitions. To the contrary, Netanyahu’s speech was more than stirring rhetoric. It laid out clear benchmarks for what must be achieved in any deal and pointed the way toward a return to tough sanctions and equally tough negotiating tactics. In doing so, he put the administration on the defensive and, no matter what happens in the talks, forces it to explain an indefensible deal and reminded Congress that it has a responsibility to weigh in on the issue to ensure the nation’s security.

Read More

If President Obama was hoping that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would lay an egg with his much-anticipated and controversial speech to a joint session of Congress, he was gravely disappointed. Netanyahu’s address was a triumph that put the administration on the defensive over its reckless pursuit of détente with Iran. But though the administration’s apologists are willing to admit that Netanyahu won on style points, they are wrong when they claim he offered no alternative to a deal with Iran that abandons the president’s previously stated principles about forcing the Islamist regime to abandon their nuclear ambitions. To the contrary, Netanyahu’s speech was more than stirring rhetoric. It laid out clear benchmarks for what must be achieved in any deal and pointed the way toward a return to tough sanctions and equally tough negotiating tactics. In doing so, he put the administration on the defensive and, no matter what happens in the talks, forces it to explain an indefensible deal and reminded Congress that it has a responsibility to weigh in on the issue to ensure the nation’s security.

What had to most frustrate the White House was Netanyahu’s ability to debunk their main talking point about the speech. After weeks of hyping the address as an injection of partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship, the prime minister’s willingness to give the president his due for past support of Israel and his refusal to mention the many instances in which Obama had undercut the Jewish state’s position and deliberately attempted to create more distance between the two allies made the White House’s angry reaction look petty. The prime minister’s initial decision to accept House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation gave the president the opening he needed to distract the country from his Iran policy. With the help of the president’s always helpful press cheering section, White House political operatives made Netanyahu’s supposed breach of protocol the issue rather than the appeasement of Iran. But they eventually succumbed to overkill in denouncing Netanyahu and by the time the prime minister took the podium at the Capitol, the administration’s efforts had the unintended effect of giving him a bigger audience than he might otherwise have had.

Thus, by the time the address was over, the issue was no longer whether he should have given the speech. Though the White House is doggedly trying to portray the speech as partisan, it was not. Now it is the substance of Netanyahu’s concerns about Iran’s behavior and the failure of the Western powers to negotiate a deal that would stop Iran from getting a weapon that is the subject of discussion. Which is to say that after winning news cycles at Netanyahu’s expense throughout February, the White House has set itself up to have to explain years of concessions to a dangerous regime with almost nothing to show for it in terms of making the world any safer.

At the core of the disagreement between Netanyahu and Obama on Iran is the president’s faith that Iran can or will change. Even Obama apologists no longer regard the notion that Hassan Rouhani’s election as president signaled a move toward moderation as a serious argument. Though the administration has been careful not to defend Iran’s past and present behavior, by eloquently laying out the Islamist regime’s record of terrorism and aggression, it put the onus on the president to explain why he thinks that over the course of the next decade, Iran is going to, “get right with the world,” as he has said.

Equally important, the speech forces the president to defend the substance of the deal he is desperately trying to entice the Iranians to sign. Netanyahu reminded the world what has happened since Obama’s pledge during his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney that any deal with Iran would force it to give up its nuclear program. Since then, the administration has not only recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium but also agreed to let them keep several thousand centrifuges and the rest of their nuclear infrastructure.

As Netanyahu pointed out, even if they abide by the terms of the deal—something about which reasonable people are doubtful given their past record of cheating and unwillingness to open their country to United Nations inspectors—the ten-year sunset clause Obama mentioned in interviews yesterday gives the regime the ability to eventually build a nuclear weapon. Rather than stopping Iran from getting a bomb, the path that Obama has travelled ensures they will eventually get one even if the accord works. The president not only guarantees that Iran will become a threshold nuclear power but, as Netanyahu rightly argued, sets in motion a series of events that will create a new nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Did Netanyahu offer an alterative to the president’s policy? The answer is yes. The administration is right when they say Netanyahu offered nothing new, but that was the point. After belatedly adopting sanctions, the administration quickly gave up on them just at the moment in 2013 when they were starting to bite. By toughening sanctions, as the Kirk-Menendez bill currently before Congress would do, and increasing the political and economic pressure on the regime, the U.S. has a chance to reverse Obama’s concessions and bring Iran to its knees. The West must insist that Iran change its behavior before sanctions are lifted, rather than afterward. Instead of Obama and Kerry’s zeal for a deal encouraging the Iranians to make no concessions, Netanyahu was correct to remind Congress that Tehran needs a deal more than the U.S. Indeed, Netanyahu not only offered an alternative; he put forward the only one that has a chance of stopping Iran from getting a weapon without using force.

Try as they might to continue to abuse Netanyahu for a brilliant speech, the White House’s response demonstrates nothing but its intolerance for criticism and inability to defend a policy of capitulation to Iran. Rather than engage in pointless discussions about the president’s hurt feelings or Netanyahu’s chutzpah for telling the truth about the negotiations, it’s time for the press and Congress to start asking the administration tough questions about a reckless deal before it is too late.

Read Less

Iran Stakes Bigger Than Bibi and Barack

The Obama administration sent United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power to speak to the AIPAC Conference today to assure her audience that the U.S. would not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. But though she was greeted politely, the promises rang hollow in light of the credible reports of the latest terms being offered the Iranians by President Obama. That is why, despite the misgivings of some supporters of Israel and the vocal and often vicious attacks being directed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu prior to his controversial address to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, the need to address the dangers of the current negotiations being conducted by the administration with Iran is greater than ever. Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech today didn’t succeed in defusing the controversy despite his own assurances that the argument was merely a family quarrel. To the very end, this story is being played as one of a personal rivalry between two men. There is truth to that interpretation, but it bears repeating that the stakes here are much bigger than President Obama’s resentment of the prime minister and Netanyahu’s reelection prospects. With talks involving Secretary of State Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister resuming today in Switzerland, Netanyahu’s address ought to be the starting point for a debate about the virtues of administration policy, not an occasion for analysis about whether he has damaged or politicized the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Read More

The Obama administration sent United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power to speak to the AIPAC Conference today to assure her audience that the U.S. would not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. But though she was greeted politely, the promises rang hollow in light of the credible reports of the latest terms being offered the Iranians by President Obama. That is why, despite the misgivings of some supporters of Israel and the vocal and often vicious attacks being directed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu prior to his controversial address to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, the need to address the dangers of the current negotiations being conducted by the administration with Iran is greater than ever. Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech today didn’t succeed in defusing the controversy despite his own assurances that the argument was merely a family quarrel. To the very end, this story is being played as one of a personal rivalry between two men. There is truth to that interpretation, but it bears repeating that the stakes here are much bigger than President Obama’s resentment of the prime minister and Netanyahu’s reelection prospects. With talks involving Secretary of State Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister resuming today in Switzerland, Netanyahu’s address ought to be the starting point for a debate about the virtues of administration policy, not an occasion for analysis about whether he has damaged or politicized the U.S.-Israel alliance.

The focus on Netanyahu is understandable. By choosing to accept an invitation to speak to Congress from House Speaker John Boehner without first gaining the approval of the administration, he injected himself into a debate over an Iran sanctions bill that looked to have massive bipartisan support and perhaps even a veto-proof majority despite the fervent opposition of the White House. That decision gave the administration the opening it needed to pick off many wavering Democrats from the ranks of sanctions advocates including some who probably will not boycott Netanyahu’s speech. But once the terms being offered the Iranians were leaked in late February the debate about the speech became a mere political sideshow.

It bears remembering at this point that the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations has nothing to do with protocol or a speech many in this country perceive as having more to do with Netanyahu’s efforts to win reelection later this month. The crisis is the result of more than six years of administration efforts to distance itself from Israel on both the Palestinian issue as well as the Iran nuclear threat. By choosing to discard his 2012 campaign promises about eliminating Iran’s nuclear program and instead embracing a diplomatic effort aimed at creating détente with the Islamist regime, it is President Obama who precipitated the argument, not Netanyahu.

The question before Congress is, after all, not about U.S.-Israel relations. Rather, it is whether an administration that has already taken a step toward acquiescing to a nuclear Iran can, Power’s promises notwithstanding, take another even bigger one with the current negotiations. If, as reports indicate, the U.S. has not only already agreed to let Iran keep several thousand centrifuges but also agreed to a ten-year sunset clause that would give Tehran the ability to do as it likes after the deal expires, then what is under consideration is a fundamental re-ordering of U.S. security policy.

Allowing Iran to, in President Obama’s words, “get right with the world,” might involve the Islamist regime in efforts to fight ISIS. But it will also means that its efforts to achieve regional hegemony—a goal that the victories of its Syrian ally and the strength of Hezbollah and Hamas make possible—will also be strengthened and given the imprimatur of the United States.

Seen in that light, it is not possible to ignore Netanyahu’s warnings as mere political gamesmanship or a foolish game of one-upmanship being blamed by the two governments.

It no longer matters whether Netanyahu blundered when he stumbled into the trap Obama seems to have set for him when the speech was announced. Democrats who treat his speech and the underlying issues as a test of party loyalty are making a fundamental mistake. So, too, are any pro-Israel or Jewish groups that are trying to keep the prime minister at arm’s length right now.

After years of balancing his animus for Netanyahu against the political necessity of not undermining the U.S.-Israel alliance, Obama has finally and completely gone off the tracks with a potential Iran deal that could endanger the security of both countries. In a sense, it would be better for Israel if Netanyahu were not the face of opposition to this dangerous policy rather than Obama critics like Democratic Senator Robert Menendez. But with a dangerous deal that the president has no intention of submitting to Congress for approval perhaps only weeks away, there is no excuse for any supporter of Israel, no matter how devoted to their party, to stay away from the speech or to ignore its content.

Obama started this argument with Israel when he took office. But Congress has an obligation to act as a check on a policy that ought to alarm anyone who cares about peace in the Middle East or the survival of Israel. If Netanyahu’s speech can help focus attention back on that necessity, then it will be worth the grief it has caused.

Read Less

The Anti-Bibi Offensive Reaches the Point of Diminishing Returns

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

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

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Another Unforced Error for Netanyahu

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

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

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Obama’s Secret Iran Talks Deserve Scrutiny

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Must Netanyahu Give That Speech?

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

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.