The American Jewish community, American rabbis who normally do not speak critically of Israeli actions, members of Congress who have been part of a bi-partisan bloc of support for Israel and the Israeli Prime Minister for decades, are all being tested as never before by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because of his ill-advised, ill-timed and self-serving visit to the United States Congress in two weeks.
Israel’s security has historically depended upon American congressional bi-partisan support and the support of the President of the United States. Though most observers do not believe that the rock-solid relationship between Israel and the United States will ultimately suffer, Bibi has created a mess in Washington, D.C. He may say that his only motivation in coming in two weeks to speak on the unprecedented invitation of Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner only two weeks before a critically important and contested Israeli election is to remind Congress and the American people of the deadly danger of Iran gaining nuclear capability, history suggests otherwise. Bibi used another speech before Congress in another Israeli election campaign to send a strong election campaign message to Israeli voters that he and only he is capable among all candidates and parties for Israeli leadership of standing before the world and protecting Israel from the throng of hostile nations in Israel’s neighborhood.
In this election, PM Netanyahu wants to change the subjects that are in the minds and hearts of Israeli voters who by all polls are far more concerned about the growing economic gap between the rich and the poor, the vanishing middle class, the stranglehold of the Orthodox religious parties on marriage, divorce, conversion and burial in the state of Israel, the badly damaged international reputation of Israel as a consequence of Netanyahu’s policies, the social and political divide between mizrachim and ashkenazim, the growing alienation of non-Jewish Israeli citizens from the state of Israel, the lack of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the growing extremism of the Jewish settler movement, and a host of other domestic issues that this current government has failed to address adequately.
Bibi has come to the conclusion that if he can keep Iran, Hezbollah, ISIS, and Hamas on the front burner and in the minds of Israeli voters, and if he can frighten Israelis into thinking that only he can assure Israel’s security needs, then he will be re-elected Israel’s Prime Minister which is what he wants above all other things including, in my view, the best interests of Israel itself.
A former Israeli Ambassador to Turkey was speaking in Istanbul after the Gaza war to the Jewish community there, and he was asked what Netanyahu is most concerned about.
“Survival!” he said. The crowd cheered and he realized that they misunderstood him. He explained that Bibi wasn’t interested most in Israel’s survival but in his own as Prime Minister, and that above all else he desired to win re-election. The former ambassador was booed.
Yes, PM Netanyahu is deeply concerned about Iran and he has done everything possible to raise the world’s attention to the real threat of Iran becoming nuclear. He deserves credit for this, and I am happy to give it to him. But, he is not alone in his concern. President Obama has brought the western nations along with the United States to stop Iran’s march towards nuclear capability. Bibi, however, trusts no one and especially not President Obama.
We do not know as yet whether or not President Obama and the coalition of nations will succeed in reaching a negotiated agreement on principles with Iran before the end of March. That will be known shortly and then sanctions can be tightened if they do not succeed, which is what the President has promised and the US Congress is prepared to do – with all options still on the table!
PM Netanyahu could have waited until after the Israeli election and after the March deadline for negotiating principles to be determined with Iran, if they can be, before coming to the United States. He could have waited to be certain that President Obama approved the invitation from Speaker Boehner before he accepted it – but no, he arrogantly did not.
Given the way his visit to the Congress was put together by former American Republican operative Ron Prosser, now Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, and Republican leadership who enjoy nothing more than slapping down this President and, while they are at it, driving a wedge between Jewish Democratic congressional representatives and the American Jewish community on support for Israel. It should be clear that Bibi’s motivations to come to the US at precisely this time are largely political as the Israeli election approaches in one month.
The following article from The Guardian describes well the current mood in the American Jewish community, among prominent American rabbis, Jewish organizational leadership, and Jewish congressional representatives.