Before I get to the ugly stuff, let me begin with a lovely scene: Jerusalem in the snow.
The snow fell this past Thursday night, accumulating to the better part of a foot and enfolding our beautiful city in a mantle of white. It is gone now because of heavy rains over Shabbat.
The windmill you see in this picture is a Jerusalem landmark. Built in the Mishkenot Sha’ananim neighborhood – the first Jewish neighborhood outside the walls of the Old City – in 1857, it was restored to working order a couple of years ago.
From the sublime – the beauty of Jerusalem in the snow – to the ridiculous. Because ridiculous is how I see the current political hoopla, which, yes, is also very, very ugly.
The issue is the scheduled talk by Prime Minister Netanyahu on March 3 in the Congress, on the subject of the negotiations with Iran. Should he go? Is he damaging Israel’s relationship with the US by doing this? Has the focus on Iran been lost because of the politics? Is this a partisan issue in the US, pitting Democrats against Republicans? And on and on and on…
Now it has been announced that Obama and Biden and Kerry may boycott the AIPAC conference, which is being held at the time Netanyahu will be in Washington.
And I doubt we’ve seen the end of this yet.
I am not going to belabor every step of this on-going maneuvering. It would be a waste of my time and yours.
For all who have eyes to see, the situation that underlies this is quite clear: Obama is seeking to throw up a political smokescreen. He wants to make things difficult for Netanyahu – to make him look small and less competent, to seem to be a trouble maker – because he desperately does not want the Congress or the American people to give credence to what our prime minister is going to say. For what Bibi intends to say stands a reasonable chance of undercutting the negotiations.
This is not about personal animosity between Obama and Netanyahu, it is about an existential issue.
It is not really a partisan issue, dividing Democrats and Republicans, either. A piece written in Algemeiner last week estimated that 98% of the Senate and 95% of the House of Representatives will attend. “Despite two weeks of intense anti-Netanyahu leaks, insults, and pressure, the White House has so far succeeded in persuading only a handful of Democratic members of Congress to stay away from the speech.”
I would say it is more an issue that divides the Congress from the White House. Which is why Congress should be given the courtesy of having Netanyahu share directly the information he has.
As to damaging our relationship with the US… In the end, what is being damaged is our relationship with one particular president, not our relationship with the US. Both Congress and the American people are with us. Note that just today Israel announced the purchase of 14 additional next-generation US-made F-35 fighter jets, to be delivered in 2016.
Were Israel to adhere to whatever Obama wanted of us now, it would be suicidal. In Hebrew we say, ein breira – no choice. Obama has to be challenged. Netanyahu has made the point repeatedly now that we have displeased American presidents several times over the years, and yet have sustained a solid relationship with the US. It started, our prime minister reminds us, with Ben Gurion, who flouted President Truman’s wish that he not announce Israeli independence when he did.
I am one of those who believes Netanyahu absolutely must not back down now – rescheduling his talk or changing the venue. There can be no backing down at this point. There has been so much talk about how politicized this issue has become. But for Bibi to decline to speak to Congress as scheduled would also be a political act, because of how the situation has been framed. He would be seen as weak, and Obama as the winner. And he would be letting down those who have spoken out for him to come.
Senator Marc Rubio (R-FL) makes yet another point: it is exceedingly important for Israel’s enemies to see that the Congress stands with Israel, for if they believe Congress is not with Israel as strongly as was once the case, they will be emboldened. He implores all members of Congress to be present, to provide the support that Israel deserves. They must not be distracted, he says, by the minor issues such as the way Boehner extended the invitation. Israel has been the most loyal of allies, and is in trouble now – and the members of Congress must provide public backing with their presence.
Please, watch and then widely share Senator Rubio’s extraordinary speech:
The public figure who most recently voiced support for what Netanyahu is doing is former NY City mayor, Rudy Guiliani. In an interview with Israel Hayom, he said (emphasis added):
“Netanyahu’s speech is absolutely essential. If I had been in his position, and the third most important person in the U.S. [the speaker of the House of Representatives] invited me to speak before Congress to explain the danger of a nuclear Iran — of course I’d accept the invitation and come. You have to understand that I, as an American, fear a nuclear Iran no less than the prime minister of Israel and no less than the people of Israel. Think for a moment — a bad agreement with Iran would give a group of irrational and insane people nuclear capability. If I were Netanyahu, I would go to the ends of the earth to discuss Iran’s nuclear program — on any stage I was given and in every situation. In our case, it’s the Congress….
“I met with Bibi privately on two occasions two weeks ago. I told him I would be doing the exact same thing if I were him. I told him that the American people respect him and agree with him, even if Obama and his administration are trying to paint a different picture. Netanyahu is doing exactly what he needs to do: to come and speak out against a bad agreement, even if the government doesn’t like it. Most Americans agree with Netanyahu on the Iranian issue.”
In the course of this on-going political melodrama, we have just learned that Netanyahu has been accused of “leaking” information about the negotiations. In fact, Obama has now admitted that he has been withholding information about the negotiations from Israel.
Obama’s claim is that Netanyahu would “cherry pick” the information he wished to leak without placing it “in context.” He claims that Israel does not know the full context of negotiations, and thus is in no position to critique what’s going on. But truth lies elsewhere: Obama does not want anyone to know how bad the deal is.
As to not having full context, there are certain elements of what is going on that have been made public and are clear: that the infrastructure for enriching uranium would be left in place, that there are no restrictions on building of the missiles that would deliver a nuclear warhead, etc.
Key here is the matter of a confidential report from the IAEA, which has been obtained by AP and Reuters. Any deal with Iran that lifted all sanctions is supposed to be predicated on the ability of the IAEA to monitor its program. But, says, the IAEA, Iran is being “evasive and ambiguous” as it tries to do a full assessment of the Iranian nuclear program.
In the face of this evidence of the unreliability of Iran, world powers should not be wooing Iran for a deal, declared Netanyahu.
Not exactly “cherry picking,” is it?
I note with more than passing interest that Sunni Arab states have been voicing concern to the US about the impending deal with Iran.
What I wonder is whether these states would be speaking out if Netanyahu had not done so first.
Of course, they are not saying explicitly that they agree with the Israeli prime minister. Perish the thought. But this is implicit in what’s happening. And as I see it, it shifts the dynamic. While Obama is prepared to come out swinging when the critic is Netanyahu, his tone is more deferential with the Arabs.
In fact, we’re hearing something now that we haven’t heard in a while. For some time Obama has been saying that a deal is close, is possible. But yesterday, Kerry declared that there were “significant gaps” and that the US was prepared to walk away if terms were not satisfactory. Doesn’t mean they don’t still intend to push ahead (they do), but this is a different tone.
That the US is pushing ahead was made evident as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Secretary of State John Kerry were meeting today for “intensive talks.”
I end with this piece, “Divided over that speech, not over a lousy deal with Iran,” by David Horovitz, editor of The Times of Israel (emphasis added):
“It is time to reframe the dispute. We are not witnessing what is being widely depicted as a battle between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government over the timing, content and ostensible partisan implications of the prime minister’s scheduled March 3 address to Congress over Iran. We are, rather, watching the collapse of trust between the two leaderships over the critical issue of thwarting Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.
“The looming deal is similarly inexplicable to the political rivals of Netanyahu who are campaigning to oust him in general elections on March 17…
”Where [Zionist camp head Bujie] Herzog and other Israeli party leaders differ with Netanyahu is over his handling of the crisis. Like Herzog, centrist Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid does not underestimate the Iranian threat. They just both think that Netanyahu is acting counterproductively and for domestic political reasons by preparing to lobby publicly against Obama in Congress, when they say he ought to be working to shift the administration more discreetly, behind the scenes.
“Of course, party leaders like Herzog and Lapid have to publicly criticize and castigate the prime minister; we’re less than a month from elections, and their entire domestic political goal is to undermine Israeli public confidence in his leadership so as to unseat him…”
No, no. There is no “of course” here! Horovitz elaborates on this point:
”In truth, it can hardly be doubted that Netanyahu has tried to impact the president’s stance in years of one-on-one conversations and in the endless top-level contacts between his officials and the Obama administration. The nature of the imminent deal — whose terms cannot be independently verified, but are profoundly troubling to such diplomatic veterans as Henry Kissinger and George Shultz — would indicate that private argument and entreaty have failed…
”In these final weeks of the election campaign, the face-off with Obama has become one more issue for the challengers to use against Netanyahu…
”Three years ago at a graveside in Jerusalem, the prime minister eulogized his father, historian Benzion Netanyahu, for having ‘taught me, Father, to look at reality head-on, to understand what it holds and to come to the necessary conclusions.’
“The prime minister says it would have been unthinkable to turn down the invitation to set out his concerns in the world’s most resonant parliamentary forum.
“Israel and those who care for Israel should not be blindsided by the battling between Netanyahu and Obama, or between Netanyahu and his domestic rivals, over the Congressional speech.
“They should be sounding the alarm to prevent a deal that would allow Iran to maintain an enrichment capability and other core aspects of its nuclear program.
“Those who care for Israel, in short, should look at reality head-on, understand what it holds, and come to the necessary conclusions…”
This, then, is part of the picture of how ugly it can get, and writing about this embarrasses me even as it infuriates me. The existential issues of a nuclear Iran transcend political election issues. Or should. Yes, yes, I know about campaigning. But it seems to me nonetheless that a maximum show of public support for the prime minister as he does battle for the sake of Israel would be in order. I would suggest that the very fact of how self-serving these candidates – Bujie, Livni, Lapid, et al – are needs to be factored into assessments of their qualifications for office.