Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mr. Netanyahu Goes to Washington

Bibi Almighty
Having failed to make a stirring rebuttal to the President's State of the Union address, the Republicans opt for their "nuclear option," Benjamin Netanyahu.  The long anticipated speech before a joint session of Congress finally came to pass, and like the big Creationism v. Evolution debate last year was a bit of a dud.  Bibi tried to play down the notion that his visit was politically motivated when everyone knew it was, particularly the Republicans who were determined to rub dirt in Obama's eye.

Democrats would have been wise to ignore this pathetic political posturing, but instead they made their feelings known with some 40 Congresspersons choosing not to attend the speech.  The White House expressed its disapproval, with Susan Rice and Samantha Power both condemning the speech.

Bibi has been struggling to gain leverage in the upcoming Israeli parliamentary elections, as he finds his coalition falling apart.  He crashed the Paris March earlier this year and issued an open invitation for all European Jews to come to Israel in the wake of the terrorist attack in Copenhagen, which also tangentially targeted Jews.  Not like Jews are any safer in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but Bibi likes to play these emotional cards for his political gain.  He even took time out to visit the Wailing Wall before coming to Washington.  So, to say this speech wasn't political on his part is disingenuous to say the least.

In Congress, Republicans and quite a few Democrats have made it known they love Israel unequivocally.  It doesn't matter who the head of state is, even though Netanyahu has basically sabotaged any attempt at a lasting peace in the Middle East with continued expansion into the West Bank of the Palestinian Territory.

This isn't the first time Bibi has ruffled feathers in Washington.  He loved to show up unannounced when he was first Prime Minister from 1996-1998.  The Clinton administration had made major inroads into a Peace deal with the previous Israeli governments of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, but Netanyahu brought all those efforts to a grinding halt for two years, greatly increasing settlements in the West Bank, and refusing to budge on any of the sticking points that had thwarted the previous efforts.  His tenure was short lived as a result, and the US rebooted Israel-Palestinian negotiations with Ehud Barak, who succeeded Netanyahu.  Then came the Second Intifada and the War in Iraq and any attempt at negotiating a settlement was over.

This is pretty much how conservatives in the US and Israel want it.  George W. Bush made some feeble efforts to restart negotiations, but it didn't go anywhere because his administration was too preoccupied with Iraq and Afghanistan.  Israel no longer felt any pressure from the US to accommodate Palestine, and chose to start erecting its infamous wall, claiming more disputed land for itself in the process.

The Obama administration has likewise not pressed the issue, similarly preoccupied with the two wars and the Arab Spring that broke out across North Africa.  Palestine has become the forgotten corner of the Arab world, at least in the American mind, as it is now 15 years since serious attempts were made to forge a two-state solution, which Netanyahu is on record as opposing.  Under his administration, Palestine will remain an isolated ward of Israel, for security reasons of course.

Once again, we hear American conservatives claiming there are no such things as Palestinians.  So said Mike Huckabee, after his tour of the Holy Land, hoping to create some semblance of foreign policy credentials.  These are the persons Bibi is appealing to -- Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists, who believe that the state of Israel "protects" its spiritual homeland, when most of the Christian "Holy Lands" are within the Palestinian territories and administered by the Palestinian Authority, notably Bethlehem.  Huckabee couldn't get to Jesus' birthplace without going to Palestine, but then it is an "Old Testament" Christianity that these religious conservatives extol, not a New Testament one, with Huck spending most of his time visiting historical Jewish sites like the Masada.

Boehner and Bibi
A symbiotic relationship has formed between the American conservative right wing and the Israeli conservative right wing over the years that is quite surprising given the anti-Semitism that long ran through the conservative right wing of American politics.  It's nice that conservatives overcame this bigotry, which they now place on the Democrats, but their zealous and unquestioning support of the state of the Israel is the main reason we find ourselves at odds with the Muslim world.

This brings us to the point of Bibi's visit, to pressure wayward American Congresspersons and the President to further isolate Iran, which has long served as the Muslim "bogeyman" in American and Israeli politics.  Iran is regarded as the principal sponsor of radical Islamism around the world, when much of the terrorism we see today is Sunni, not Shi'a, driven.  Iran is a Shi'a state, but no matter.  For Bibi and Republicans it is all one in the same and the very thought of Iran developing a nuclear weapons program is enough to make these conservatives go ballistic.

The GOP doesn't want Obama to establish diplomatic ties with Iran, still nursing the wound from 1979, when Iran held over 50 Americans hostage for more than 400 days, giving the US one of its worst black eyes in Foreign Policy.  For Bibi, it was the outlandish comments of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former President of Iran, that helped propel him to a second tenure as Prime Minister of Israel.  Iran is a convenient foil for their political ambitions.  To remove it would mean they would have to look for a new "bogeyman."

If Bibi's speech was meant to rally a few Democrats in support of the new sanctions, it seems to have failed.  There are plenty of Democrats who don't agree with Obama's diplomatic attempt to bring Iran to the nuclear negotiation table, but they don't like to be bullied into supporting a bill that undercuts his authority in the matter.

After 6 years of playing the Iran card, Bibi's time appears up in Israel.  It will take a mighty heroic effort to salvage a ruling coalition in the Knesset, given that this great existential threat has failed to materialize.


  1. John Boehner acted alone and arbitrarily in inviting Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress. He bypassed both the State Department and White House. He didn’t even consult the Democratic leadership, much less the full House. What we got in return was the spectacle of a foreign head of state playing Congress against the U.S. President with the rest of the world looking on. I hate to think what kind of precedent has been set here.

    Not surprisingly, the speech was a hit with far right Republicans. I can’t fault Netanyahu for taking Boehner up on his offer to address Congress. If there is a bad guy here, Boehner is the one my censure goes to. Sneaking the Prime Minister of Israel in through the back door is no statesmanlike act. But the Speaker of the House sure does know how to be a gadfly to the President. For Boehner, that’s probably as good as it gets.


  2. Bibi could have declined, but obviously couldn't resist the opportunity to put on a big show in front of a mostly captive audience. Too bad it was complete BS for the most part.

  3. What Netanyahu had to say was little more than a bombastic rehashing of expressions we’re familiar with regarding the perils of Israel surrounded and outnumbered by hostiles who want to do them in. Taking a cue from Presidential State of the Union addresses in which the President has special guests seated in the balcony of the House chamber with the President’s family, Netanyahu had Auschwitz survivor Eli Wiesel seated next to Sara Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s wife. How could Americans miss the intended association with Presidential decorum?

    This political actor is not shy or afraid to risk giving offense. His mission was obviously to thwart any deal with Iran over nuclear development. He called it a bad deal even though the outline for such a deal has yet to be announced.


  4. ... and one supported by his own Mossad. The amazing thing is that Netanyahu is going against the recommendations of his own security counsel! Bibi is working the American conservative audience and its rich benefactors, like Sheldon Adelson, more than he is his own electorate. I imagine he hopes Uncle Sheldon would be willing to part with a few of his millions during this last stretch of the Israeli election if Uncle Sheldon hasn't done so already.

  5. Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Channel 2 interview previewed Thursday, calling his speech before Congress “bullshit,” and charging that his policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians endangered the Zionist dream.

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    “The reality being championed by Netanyahu and [Jewish Home party leader Naftali] Bennett will result in a bi-national state. I think that’s a catastrophe,” Dagan said.

    “In the Palestinian arena, [Netanyahu’s] policy will lead … to apartheid,” he told Channel 2 Thursday, adding that such an outcome will “end the Zionist dream.”

    The former spymaster, who spent eight years at the helm of Israel’s shadowy intelligence agency, will lead a Tel Aviv rally Saturday night to advocate a change of government.

    He has been an outspoken critic of Netanyahu in the past, calling Netanyahu’s judgment on Iran into question.

    In a snippet from Dagan’s reaction to Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress on Tuesday — which he watched alongside a Channel 2 reporter — Dagan can be seen muttering at the screen “bullshit” after Netanyahu makes a point on Iran’s progress in its nuclear program.

    The full interview was to be aired Friday night.

    “For 45 years I have served this country — all of them dedicated to safeguarding its security as a Jewish and Zionist state. I don’t want that dream to disappear,” Dagan said.

    In response, Netanyahu’s Likud party issued a statement accusing Dagan of deceiving the public and noted that the prime minister has worked tirelessly in his efforts to ensure Israel’s continued security.

    “Meir Dagan is wrong and misleading,” the statement read.

    Netanyahu does not “give in to international pressure” and will not hand over land to the Palestinians because areas submitted to them today will “come under the control of radical Islam and terror groups backed by Iran tomorrow.”

    “The prime minister’s speech at Congress reverberated around the world and enunciated the dangers faced by Israel and the world as a result of a bad agreement. There is no doubt that [Netanyahu] challenged the major powers to address these dangers,” the press release stated.