Reports over the past two days have confirmed a rising tide of anger against the ploy organized by Israel’s ambassador Ron Dermer and House Speaker John Boehner to arrange for an address by Bibi Netanyahu to Congress. The speech, originally scheduled five weeks before the upcoming Israeli election, was moved back to two weeks before, so it would have maximum impact on both the election and P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran. As you all know, the speech was announced publicly before either the President or any Democratic Congressional leadership knew about it. The Israelis even kept the Israel Lobby and Israeli diplomatic community in the dark. Aipac has been uncharacteristically silent about the matter, which is astonishing in itself.
The NY Times yesterday reported that the Obama administration is furious with Ambassador Dermer and that he is all but persona non grata in Washington. If it wouldn’t entirely blow up Israel-U.S. relations, Obama would’ve already sent him packing. Dermer himself is implacable and unapologetic. In fact, Dermer isn’t a diplomat. He’s a political infighter. Instead of apologizing or smoothing over the episode, Dermer has doubled down:
“I have no regrets whatsoever that I have acted in a way to advance my country’s interests.” He said he never meant to slight the White House by keeping the confidence of the House speaker, who had suggested the invitation. He said he left it to Mr. Boehner to notify Mr. Obama’s team.
“My understanding was that it was the speaker’s prerogative to do, and that he would be the one to inform the administration,” Mr. Dermer said. “The prime minister feels very strongly that he has to speak on this issue. That’s why he accepted the invitation, not to wade into your political debate or make this a partisan issue, and not to be disrespectful to the president.”
Unlike Israelis, Americans mind being lied to. And they can smell a lie a mile away. Dermer wins no points for his performance. Not to mention that he now appears to be trying to lay the blame for the fiasco at the feet of Speaker Boehner. When the ship’s going down even the rats scurry to blame each other, I guess.
But as I’ve written here, if Dermer’s purpose isn’t to pursue a tempered relationship with the U.S., but rather to build a career as an implacable GOP-Likud political consultant both here in the U.S. and Israel, he’s positioned himself perfectly for a rich material future. Sheldon Adelson is looking to shower his billions in ill-gotten gambling gains on just such pro-Israel street fighters.
But considering how sensitive the Israel-U.S. relationship is, it’s extraordinary Israel would appoint someone who would deliberately stoke the fires rather than manage a delicate dance between the two nations.
The Times article also notes that instead of rallying members of Congress to Israel’s cause in the Iran nuclear debate, the speech has backfired and accomplished just the opposite. Ten Democrats who had supported added sanctions against Iran announced that they would postpone any action on this issue until March, thus giving the president more time to complete negotiations on a nuclear accord.
Today’s Times reports that Netanyahu, who apparently has a bit more seychel than his ambassador, has been calling Israel’s friends among Democrats trying to smooth over the disagreement. But Democrats aren’t buying. They told Bibi he’d made a catastrophic blunder. Today, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, (D-OR) announced that he would not participate in any speech Bibi gave to Congress. Israeli former DC correspondent (Maariv) Tal Schneider flamed Boehner for the invitation. I am only hoping this begins a groundswell of opposition. It’s one thing for Democrats to denounce the speech and another to announce they’ll boycott it or sit on their hands if they attend.
The Israeli political psyche naturally overplays its hands in relations with its Arab neighbors and the international community. There is no such thing as subtlety. There is only chutzpah of the unadulterated kind. And the only way to respond to chutzpah if with a firm rejection. Unfortunately, Americans aren’t used to dealing with bullies (though we surely have acted as bullies ourselves throughout the world). That, plus the power of the Lobby have forced restraint on our political class when firmness was required.
One may hope that miscalculations of this sort will make our politicians grow a pair when it comes to confronting Israeli affrontery.