The Netanyahu Wedge

In one of their endless attempts to find wedge issues - issues that pit Americans against each other - Congressional Republicans have invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a special session of Congress, and Netanyahu has accepted. The point, it seems, is to embarrass Obama. Many US and Israeli observers think that Netanyahu in particular is playing with fire. Support for Israel has always been a nonpartisan policy in the US, but if Boehner and Netanyahu make it a partisan issue that could all change. American Jews are a tiny minority of the population, about 2%, and have traditionally voted Democratic, so they represent a small but influential voting block. That said, Netanyahu is a polarizing figure among Jews both in Israel and the US, so it's far from obvious that Republicans gain much electorally.

What they do have to gain is the Adelson primary. Sheldon Adelson, the Casino multi-billionaire, has been dumping huge sums into US politics and is a major sponsor of Netanyahu. If a lot of Americans are offended by Israeli interference in US politics, however, Israel stands to be the loser. The Constitution entrusts US foreign policy to the President, and even if Obama can set aside personal pique, if he judges Israel to be an unreliable ally and enemy of US interests in the world, he might feel obliged to act accordingly. In particular, if, as seems likely, Netanyahu is coming here to sabotage US Iran talks and gin up a US attack against Iran, how many Americans are going to stand with him on that?

From The Jewish Daily Forward

The astonishment didn’t stop at Pennsylvania Avenue but moved from there to Capitol Hill. Even Democratic lawmakers who intend to go against the administration and support new sanctions taken aback by the Boehner-Bibi move. “Netanyahu is shooting himself in the foot,” one of them said, “because by turning this into a partisan issue, he may be forcing some Democratic members to choose between Boehner and Obama, which, for them, is no choice at all.” Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, quickly shot down claims coming from both Boehner and Netanyahu that the invitation to address Congress was “bipartisan”. No one consulted with me, Pelosi said, and the invitation is “inappropriate.”

Even the leaders of mainstream Jewish groups who normally and reflexively support Netanyahu were dumbfounded: no one informed them and no one had asked their opinion. “I was literally sick to my stomach when I heard about it,” one of them told me. J-Street criticized the move, of course, but even the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman called on Netanyahu and Boehner to come down from the high tree they had climbed. I support new sanctions, Foxman told Ron Kampeas at JTA, but this is “ill-advised.”

The warnings and protests started pouring into the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, which finally opted to move Netanyahu’s speaking engagement from February 11 to March 3, when it could be linked to the annual AIPAC conference. Of course, if the Prime Minister’s speech had been portrayed from the outset as an outgrowth of his wish to participate at the AIPAC get-together, much of the damage and its resonance could have been avoided. But we have this tendency to try and close the barn doors after the horses have bolted, and to stub a toe or sprain a leg in the process. Accordingly, Israel’s good name was sullied just a little bit more, it became a partisan punching bag and distanced itself further from the Democrats, it wasted far too much of the far too little credit it has left at the White House and it did a disservice to the cause which allegedly motivates Netanyahu in the first place: increasing the pressure on Iran by means of new sanctions legislation.


Netanyahu certainly seems to have forgotten that if he wins the elections and returns as prime minister, it is he who will then have to figure out how to survive for the next two years in the barren landscape and scorched earth that he left behind him this week.

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