The Speech

It’s mid-morning in Israel as I write. Washington is still asleep. At 10:45 Eastern time, Binyamin Netanyahu will stand before a joint session of Congress and explain why he believes that the agreement with Iran that the administration wants to make — in the name of the P5+1, but after a negotiation dominated by the US — will be disastrous for his country, his region and for the West.

The administration has called Netanyahu’s speech ‘destructive’, and has persuaded (at present count) 47 Democratic members of the House and 8 Senators, including most of the Congressional Black Caucus, to skip the speech. The rhetoric has escalated, with the latest statements of administration spokespersons accusing Netanyahu of ‘betrayal of trust’ if he reveals details of the agreement that is developing.

Israeli officials indicated that they have knowledge of the details of the agreement from other sources, most likely other members of the P5+1 who are uncomfortable with the direction of the talks.

This is the latest in a series of escalations as the administration attempts to discredit Netanyahu, who has been accused of ‘violating protocol’, ‘disrespecting the president’, conspiring with the Republicans to embarrass Obama, and using the speech to advance his domestic political agenda.

It’s remarkable that they can use the word ‘betrayal’ with a straight face. If Netanyahu is correct and the agreement with Iran will in fact facilitate and legitimize Iran’s nuclearization, it constitutes nothing less than an abandonment of the administration’s oft-stated commitment to Israel’s security, and a violation of its promise that Iran would not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon — in short, a betrayal of America’s best ally in the Middle East.

The repeated accusations of ‘disrespect’ are also hypocritical for a president who once left the PM sitting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House while he went to dinner, and who regularly permits his hatchet-men to throw epithets like “chickenshit” at him. Just yesterday he let it be known that he didn’t bother to watch Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC.

The accusation that Netanyahu is working with the Republicans against the president is also an inversion of reality. The objective of the PM is to oppose the agreement with Iran, not to attack Obama, which he has been (excessively, in my opinion) careful not to do. In any event, Netanyahu, unlike Obama, is up for reelection, and the presence of a former Obama electoral advisor in Israel working against the PM for a group funded by American and other foreign money speaks volumes.

The use of the Congressional Black Caucus as a vehicle to power the boycott of Netanyahu’s speech is a particularly ugly maneuver, which can only damage the already-marginal relationship between American blacks and Jews. There is even a rumor that some caucus members will not just skip the speech, but will walk out. I very strongly hope that this is not true.

In all of this, the contrast between the President and the Prime Minister is sharp. Obama’s tactics are insults, innuendo and demagoguery. Netanyahu, on the other hand, is putting his own electoral future in danger as well as inviting reprisals from Obama in order to take a stand that he sees as critical to the survival of his nation.

I just want to add a word about Netanyahu’s main opposition here in Israel, ‘Buji’ Herzog and Tzipi Livni. While they say the agree with the PM about the danger of an Iranian bomb, they have chosen to oppose his trip and his speech, calling it an election gimmick. They have echoed some of the US administration’s talking points.

Of course they are entitled to an opinion, and since they are the opposition it is likely to be opposed to that of the PM. But Israelis can be excused for thinking that maybe they are already beholden to the Obama Administration for their assistance — and maybe it would be better to have an independent government in Israel rather than a satellite of the anti-Israel administration?

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