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.
Arie Brand says
Well let us hope that this obvious provocation (the President being defied in his own country by a foreign politician) induces some Americans informing themselves a bit more as to what this meddlesome foreigner is about. Even a commentator like Robert Kagan is of the opinion that patriotic Americans can hardly enjoy this spectacle, whatever they think about Obama.
But I am not too optimistic. I have always thought that the pro-Israel attitude of Americans was largely a matter of ignorance (Bill Maher isn’t the only one to complain about American ignorance — though not specifically in this context). So I tried to google on “American ignorance about Israel”.
But will you believe it? The first two pages of entries are filled with complaints by people who maintain that if Americans were less ignorant they would be more pro-Israel. Talking about chutzpah. Of course we had the usual suspects here – the Krauthammers, the Frontpage.magazine types etc. They never fail to complain.
If the very limited American criticism of Israel is due to ignorance it seems to follow that the by and large far more critical attitude of Europeans would be due to even greater ignorance; that seems somewhat unlikely
What’s the fuss about? Has the US ever stood up to Israel?
It’s happened a few times.
Eisenhower did it in 1956.
Bush 41 mildly did so in 1991.
Jonathan Pollard is still in prison.
But the standing up/capitulation ratio leaves a lot to be desired.
You’ve already made up your mind, but in fact, there are two contradictory accounts as to who started this tempest in a teapot.
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.
But, according to an anonymous senior Israeli official, Dermer approached Boehner, McConnell and other senior Republican Party figures at Netanyahu’s behest and suggested the idea of the speech.
@krausen – These days I question anything I read on Israeli newspapers when it come to politics. Ynet and Israel Hayom are so blatantly pro/anti- Bibi and even Haaretz (though is slightly better) isn’t free of subjectivity.
Arie Brand says
Whoever thought of it first Netanyahu obviously thought that it was a good idea, because he knows America so well, you see … Well this might teach him about the limits of his knowledge.
this speech-gate is a very, very toxic situation; originally, the speech conspirators had the Iran negotiations, and Obama personally, as their shared enemy; but now the backlash in the US and israel creates the ironic twist that it is a very difficult situation to untangle — which side, boehner or bibi is going to blink and back out? the one who backs down is the one who will take the shellacking and neither is willing to do so. so now boehner and bibi will actually behave as each other’s enemy in casting blame and making the whole mess even messier.
I should note, giving credit where it is due, my above comment is a direct application of the classic ‘prisoner’s dilemma’: two prisoners who conspired in their crime are each given the opportunity to rat out the other. each does best by ratting out the other while the other does the worst by taking the fall; on the other hand, if they both keep their respective mouths shut (continuing their conspiratorial ways), neither will do as well as the single rat or as bad as the single fall guy; the next worse for both is if they both rat each other out. the incentive structure is that they rat each other out (which is what is developing in the boehner-bibi conspiracy by the emerging mud sling, blame game).
so, inasmuch as the prisoners dilemma applies to this sordid speech-gate, the careers of boehner and bibi will be into the toilet (obviously dermer is toast) and israel’s reputation in the US will be tarnished.
To further embarrass Obama and the White House … a leaked story:
○ Syria: Assassination of Imad Mughniyeh A Joint Mossad/CIA Operation
Did you realize this assassination took time a year before Obama entered the White House?
What difference does it make? The fact that the US & CIA were involvde is critical point.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Ariel: The embarrassment is that Obama continued Bush’s policy of assassinating Arab “terrorists” and civilians in violation of international law. Obama could repent his actions by taking a much stronger stance regarding Israel. But I doubt he will.
nessim dayan says
The speaker of the House, had the galls to say that the invitation WAS HIS IDEA.
how far up their colons does Mr. Dremer has lifted his nose.
The WHOLE of DC is aware that this was a Mr. Dremer confabulation (let’s not leave out the chance that BIBI himself gave birth to this genius idea) and now Mr. Boehner stands up to defend him.
Further Mr. BIBI is also doublingdown on the idea, rather than do the right thing.
Then again do any of these politicians know what the “right thing” is
shame on me
“AIPAC’s silence…..astounding”, “..extraordinairy Israel would appoint someone who would stoke the fires….”.
Why did Bibi run of to France,after whatever happened there, to make a fool of himself,or was he “pushed”?
Why did Bibi and Dermer think up something so badly thought through,or did they?
Why the newest leak about Mossad assasinations now?
Might it not be time to address these “strange ” manouveres,and try to explain them.
In the polls Jewish Home and Lapid keep weakening,”Zionist Camp”(as opposed to the others like Likud who aren’t Zionists ofcourse ) and Likud keep rising.
Without figuring out who is “Zionist First” and who is “Israel First”,you’ll be “astounded” for quite some time to come,cause you fail to grab who controls who.
I just saw my comment from 1 febr is still in moderation,how’s that?
Richard Silverstein says
@ schalnur: Comments about the Rothschilds and other wild fantasy conspiracies simply will not be published. If you comments are directly, closely related to the post, they will be.