Bibi struts his Churchillian stuff

January 29, 2015
Sarah Benton

From the many articles posted by Haaretz writers we post 1) why no-one listens to Bibi any more; 2) Peter Beinart on why even the US’s right-wing media disapprove; 3) Ynet intervews a disapproving ex-Mossad man – Israel and the US have always had disagreements – only Bibi makes publicity out of them; 4) Barak Ravid pinpoints the machinations behind the invitation to Netanyahu.

Ron (Bibi’s-brain) Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the US, explains his strategy for winning the hearts and coffers of Congress.

U.S. Jews, choose Obama over Bibi

Is Congress truly dependent upon the wisdom of Israel’s premier to decide what to do about Iran? And does antagonizing the very world leaders Israel is most dependent upon to stop Iran serve Israel’s interests or Bibi’s electoral ambitions?

By Don Futterman, Haaretz
January 25, 2015

Jewish-American leaders must choose U.S. President Barak Obama over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is time for them – together with Jewish leaders around the world – to acknowledge what much of the Israeli electorate already knows: Netanyahu is bad for the Jews.

American Jews have always been careful to show respect to the Office of the President of the United States, even when they were less than enamored with the Middle East policies of the person holding it. They must now find the courage to acknowledge that an Israeli prime minister who insults both the office and the president is no friend of American Jewry. Netanyahu’s vendetta against Obama is particularly galling, because Israelis and Jewish Americans have rarely had a friend in the White House as committed, generous and reliable in his support for them as the current president.

Jewish-American leaders should find themselves in an uncomfortable position when Netanyahu addresses Congress against the wishes of the president. An Israeli politician who makes common cause with one American political party over the other damages bi-partisan support for Israel, regardless of whether politicians from both sides of the aisle give Netanyahu ovations, as they have in the past. An Israeli leader who works actively with the Republican Party to discredit the Democratic Party is spitting in the face of the American Jewish electorate, which has given 64 to 90 percent of its vote to the Democratic presidential nominee in almost every election for the last 50 years.

I do not envy Jewish-American leaders, who have to distinguish between the office of the prime minister as the leader of State of Israel, and Benjamin Netanyahu, a jingoist politician who always puts his personal political ambitions first. Netanyahu knows that appearing to stand up to foreign leaders plays well to his voter base, who revel in the illusion that their strong leader won’t let anyone tell Israel what to do, and that after six years of Likud-sponsored attacks on Obama, many of Netanyahu’s followers mistakenly believe that Obama is not a friend of Israel. Rather than welcoming Israel’s prime minister with the usual fanfare and adulation, Jewish-American leaders should signal him that his grandstanding is not appreciated when it gratuitously thrusts American Jews and Israel between two branches of U.S. government.

Ostensibly, Netanyahu will speak to Congress to express Israel’s desperate need to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Like most Israelis, I believe that Iran poses an existential threat to our future. Jews everywhere are right to feel endangered by Iran. The apparent assassination last week of prosecutor Alberto Nisman in Argentina, just before he was to present evidence of a cover-up of Iran’s involvement in the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center, brings home the immediacy of the menace and the long arm of our opponent. But I do not think that the U.S. Congress needs Benjamin Netanyahu to explain again his well-publicized opposition to the current negotiations or the dangers posed to the Western world by Iran’s subversive global activities.

Over the last several years, Netanyahu has sounded the alarm about the Iranian threat repeatedly and with consistent urgency, if with intermittent timing. The result has been for Netanyahu to turn himself into the boy who cried wolf. Unlike the situation in the United States, only some European leaders acknowledge the danger, but too many cannot abide the messenger. The Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket massacres brought home this risk more than ever; Europeans have long stopped listening to Israel’s prime minister. This state of affairs is tragic, and it is Netanyahu’s fault.

A responsible leader would have worked overtime to strengthen the alliance with Israel’s most important allies – the U.S. president and the heads of Europe – for a united campaign against Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Instead, Netanyahu has made a practice of insulting our most important partners, most recently when he antagonized the president of France and other European leaders by his self-aggrandizing behavior at the Solidarity March in Paris.

And the Paris incident, of course, was minor compared to the enmity toward Israel that Netanyahu’s consecutive governments have cultivated among European leaders by expropriating Palestinian land and expanding settlements. Netanyahu acts as if the Israeli right need never compromise to assuage our allies; the world will recognize the justice of their cause, and if it doesn’t, its criticism can be exploited for political gain. This is a terrible miscalculation.

More than three quarters of Israeli voters rejected Netanyahu’s party in the 2013 elections, and current polls forecast similar results in 2015. While Netanyahu was able to form the government due to Israel’s factional parliamentary system, the vote hardly represented an overwhelming mandate for a man who fancies himself the Leader of the Jewish People. I cannot resist pointing out that more Jews voted for Obama than for Netanyahu.

It is time for American Jewish leaders to pluck up the courage to say “no” to an Israeli prime minister who uses a feud between the Democratic president and the Republican- dominated Congress for a stunt to boost his television ratings back home. It is time for Jewish-American leaders to say “no” to Benjamin Netanyahu.

Don Futterman is the Program Director for Israel for the Moriah Fund, a private American Foundation, working to strengthen civil society and promote democracy and peace in Israel. He can be heard weekly on TLV1’s The Promised Podcast.

Why the Iran speech to Congress is Netanyahu’s biggest blunder yet

By blatantly dissing Obama, Bibi is endangering his support among the ‘Jacksonians’ who support Israel the most.

By Peter Beinart, Haaretz
January 28, 2015

How big a blunder did Benjamin Netanyahu commit by arranging to slam Barack Obama’s Iran policy in a speech to Congress without informing the White House first? Listen to the recent exchange between Fox News anchors Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith. Iran “is an existential threat,” declared Wallace. “Whatever Netanyahu wants to think and say about that is fine. But for him to come here to ignore the president, to not even let him know he was coming, and to sneak in to come talk before Congress with the president’s opponents to criticize the president’s policy, that’s a different thing.” Smith was even harsher: “It just seems like they think we don’t pay any attention and we’re just a bunch of complete morons, the United States citizens, like we wouldn’t pick up on what’s happening here.”

To hear Netanyahu criticized so bluntly on Fox, the conservative bastion where Israel is usually above reproach, is remarkable. Even more intriguing is the nature of that criticism. Wallace and Smith aren’t angry at Bibi for being hawkish; Wallace flatly agrees that Iran represents an “existential threat.” They’re angry at him for being insolent. For decades now, Netanyahu has alienated American progressives. With this incident, he’s alienated some American “Jacksonians” too.

In his landmark 1999 book, “Special Providence,” Walter Russell Mead divides American foreign policy into four traditions: Jeffersonian, Wilsonian, Hamiltonian and Jacksonian. Jeffersonians see overseas empires as a threat to domestic liberty (think Ron Paul), and thus suspect Israel of dragging the United States into wars that drain our treasury and sap our freedom. Wilsonians champion global human rights (think Samantha Power), and while some in this school champion Israel as a bastion of democracy, others condemn it for mistreating Palestinians. Hamiltonians want to make the world safe for American commerce (think Brent Scowcroft), and some in this camp resent Israel for undermining America’s relations with the oil producers of the Middle East. It is the fourth group, Jacksonians, whom Mead argues anchor Israel’s public support.

They anchor it because Jacksonians are Manicheans: They draw sharp distinctions between the civilized West and its barbaric foes. And they see Israel – because it is a democracy, because many of its people hail from Europe and because it is Jewish (many Jacksonians believe Jewish control of the Holy Land is part of God’s plan) – as the West’s outpost in hostile, Islamic terrain. Jacksonians don’t question Israel’s ruthless response to terrorism because they don’t question America’s ruthless response to terrorism. In Mead’s words, they “strongly believe that as long as Palestinians engage in terrorism, Israel has an unlimited and absolute right of self defense… If the terrorists shield themselves behind civilians, that only shows how evil they are – and is an extra reason why you have both the right and the duty to eliminate them no matter what it takes.”

Given America’s ongoing battle with jihadist terror, and the anti-Muslim feeling it has spawned on the Fox News-watching right, Jacksonians are unlikely to criticize Israel on moral grounds anytime soon. But they might criticize it on nationalist grounds. While Jeffersonians focus on defending domestic liberty, Wilsonians focus on supporting liberty overseas and Hamiltonians emphasize free trade, Jacksonians care most about national honor. They may not particularly like president Obama, but they still don’t want to see him disrespected by a foreign power.

The danger for Netanyahu is that Jacksonians come to see him less as America’s ally against a common foe and more like the guy playing us for fools. Ordinary Jacksonians may not know that after his first meeting with Netanyahu, Bill Clinton remarked, “Who the fuck does he think he is? Who’s the fucking superpower here?” They may not know that in a private meeting with settlers in 2001, Netanyahu said, “America is a thing you can move very easily.”

They may not even remember the way Bibi lectured Obama at a White House press conference in 2011 after the president proposed peace talks based on the 1967 lines plus land swaps.

But with this latest incident, the reputation for arrogance and duplicity that Netanyahu has long enjoyed among American elites is seeping out to the public at large. It’s not just Fox’s Shepard Smith who last week objected to Netanyahu treating Americans like “we’re just a bunch of complete morons.” HBO’s Bill Maher, who, while liberal on most issues, has won conservative acclaim in recent months for his critiques of Islam, said after news of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, “We’re getting very close on the Iran issue to allowing Israel to write American policy.” It’s noteworthy that Jim Webb, the former Marine, Reagan administration official and long-shot 2016 presidential candidate who has written at length about Jacksonian culture, was during his time in the senate one of AIPAC’s biggest foes on Iran.

Are most Jacksonians about to turn on Israel? Not likely. But among some, the “Israel as insolent” narrative now competes with the narrative of Israel as the West’s outpost in the Middle East. To avoid fueling it, Bibi is going to have show president Obama a bit more respect. And when you see Obama as Neville Chamberlain and yourself as Winston Churchill, that’s not an easy thing to do.

Former Mossad chief: I don’t trust Netanyahu, his actions will cost us

Meir Dagan says PM’s speech won’t change Obama’s mind on Iran, adds Sharon had arguments with US but kept it quiet while Netanyahu insists on making fights public.

Gilad Morag, Ynet news
January 28, 2015

While the Mossad is very careful not to appear to contradict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position on Iran, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan has no qualms about criticizing the prime minister.

“Netanyahu’s position will not change the West’s position on the Iranian issue, but his actions bring our relationship with the Americans to an extreme point and this might extract an unbearable price from us in the future,” Dagan said during an event at the Tel Aviv Museum on Wednesday.

The former spy agency chief was asked about Netanyahu’s trip to Washington to speak in front of Congress and on whether it was integral to preventing a bad deal with Iran. “It has nothing to do with it,” he said. “The Americans are already aware of Netanyahu’s position. I don’t think that if he goes and speaks it’ll change Obama’s mind. I don’t think he’ll change Congress’ position either.”

When asked why the prime minister decided to go to the US, Dagan said: “This isn’t the only question I would ask about Netanyahu. I always ask whether the prime minister’s position could change the West’s position on the Iranian issue – their opinion reflects their views and I don’t think his position will matter.”

Dagan was the head of Mossad when Ariel Sharon was prime minister, and drew a comparison between the two prime ministers’ approaches.

“Sharon had arguments with the US but it never leaked to the public. It was done with diplomatic sophistication. Netanyahu causes provocation and makes sure it’s done publicly. Sharon had big confrontations with the Americans, but quietly, and that led to a solution.”

When Netanyahu became prime minister, “Netanyahu asked me, ‘why don’t you indulge me? You’re my subordinate.’ I told him I’m his subordinate but loyal to the state. The education I had was different than what he did. He was educated in politics, I was educated in the army. I thought his position was problematic, but I didn’t disobey him.”

Sharon, meanwhile, “never demanded that I indulged him, he demanded I expressed my opinion and he was tolerant,” Dagan said.

Dagan was asked if the agreement being negotiated with Iran is bad, keeping in mind that Israel and the Mossad under his leadership were unable to stop Tehran’s nuclear program.

“They don’t have nuclear (weapons) yet,” he said. “I think if Israel decides to attack, it is capable of it. The question is what happens five minutes after. I think it’s a mistake. Using violence against them is the last resort.”

He said what’s missing from the agreement coming into shape is punitive measures to be taken against Iran if it fails to honor the agreement.

He continued criticizing the Netanyahu government’s policies. “I don’t trust the prime minister. He and Bennett are leading us to a bi-national state and disaster. I don’t want to have Second Class Citizens.”

Despite that, he said that after the Yom Kippur War he no longer fears for the future of Israel. “I think that if we got through that, despite the heavy price, we’ll withstand anything.”

Behind Obama’s back: How Netanyahu’s U.S. trip was cooked up

Speaker Boehner’s invitation was preceded by weeks of contacts between Republican leadership and Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer, who is pushing lawmakers for new Iran sanctions.

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz
January 22, 2015

The official invitation extended on Wednesday by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to address a joint session of Congress on Iran on February 11, had been preceded by contacts between Netanyahu advisers and Boehner and other congressional Republicans that totally bypassed the White House.

The invitation comes two months before the Israeli general elections.

A senior Israeli official with knowledge of the contacts, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter, said that the one who had initiated the contacts with Boehner and with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and their staffs was Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, Netanyahu’s former aide.

Dermer, the senior official said, had advanced the idea of Netanyahu addressing Congress in talks he has been having for several weeks on Iran’s nuclear program with senior members of Congress. Dermer is encouraging senators and representatives to advance new legislation that would impose additional sanctions on Iran, contrary to the position of the White House, which believes that new sanctions at this time would undermine the talks and kill the chances of reaching a diplomatic solution. During his State of the Union Address Tuesday night Obama made it clear that he would veto any such legislation.

According to the senior official, Dermer approached Boehner, McConnell and other senior Republican Party figures at Netanyahu’s behest and suggested the idea of the speech. “Dermer and Boehner cooked up this whole invitation to Congress,” the official said.

Politico reported that the idea of the speech came from Republican leadership in Congress. It came up in a phone call between Boehner and Dermer on January 8, when the latter was asked to broach the matter with Netanyahu and find out if he was interested, the report said.

A source in the Republican Party told Politico that the response from the Israeli Embassy was swift and positive. Boehner gave Dermer a list of possible dates for the speech, and Dermer responded that the best time would be during the week of February 9.

The White House, the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Embassy in Israel were totally excluded from these contacts. Boehner himself on Wednesday confessed that he had neither consulted nor informed the White House before inviting Netanyahu.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in a daily briefing that the administration found out about the invitation only a short while before Boehner announced the plan on Wednesday morning.

“The typical protocol would suggest that the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he’s traveling there,” Earnest said. “That certainly is how President Obama’s trips are planned when he travels overseas. This particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol.” Earnest added that the White House wanted to speak with Israel officially to understand what Netanyahu planned to say in his address, and only then would it give its opinion on the visit.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday said that the administration is always pleased when the Israeli prime minister comes to speak in the United States, but said it “was a little unusual” to hear about the visit from the speaker of the House.

Kerry said that Israel and the United States have no disagreement over the objective, which is to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but there is a dispute over the tactics of how to achieve this. The U.S. is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Kerry added.

The Prime Minister’s Office has yet to issue an official response to the invitation. Netanyahu’s staff said that they had received it only on Wednesday, adding that it had come from the leadership of both parties in Congress, not just the Republicans.

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