Ever since the White House escalated this latest spat to a 'DEFCON 2' political outrage last week, I've been waiting for a story like this one from Politico. Congrats, Mr. President, you're a one-man wrecking ball against the healthy bipartisan consensus on US-Israeli relations -- and some would argue you wouldn't have it any other way:
Vice President Joe Biden won’t commit to attending Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress next month. He’s not the only one. Dozens of House Democrats are privately threatening to skip the March 3 address, according to lawmakers and aides, in what’s become the lowest point of a relationship between the Israeli prime minister and President Barack Obama that’s never been good...The president and his aides won’t tell Democrats to skip the speech. But they aren’t telling Democrats to go, either. “We defer to Democratic members if they’d like to attend or not,” a White House aide said Tuesday. Biden’s office wouldn’t comment on the decision-making process about attending the speech. As president of the Senate, he usually takes a seat beside Boehner on the podium behind the lectern for addresses by foreign leaders. Though some may abandon the threat, as of Tuesday, many Democrats on the Hill — including several Jewish members — said they’re likely to leave the prime minister looking at some empty seats.
Before we circle back to Congressional Democrats, why would the Obama administration freak out so publicly over the Netanyahu invite? Because it's a perfect storm: They don't like the Israeli leader to begin with, they don't like the Congressional Republicans who invited him, and they see Boehner's lack of an advance heads-up as a disrespectful breach of protocol. Never mind the fact that the lack of affection is pretty clearly mutual all around, and that O routinely dumps all over Congress, protocol, the separation of powers, and the rule of law when it suits them; this was an excuse to profess righteous anger and make a stink, so (largely unpersuasive) excuses were summoned. The Politico story tries to frame the kerfuffle as a political win for the White House, weakening Netanyahu (apparently the weakening of an ally is a positive) and backfiring on Boehner. In fact, Netanyahu has benefited domestically from Team Obama's virulent public backbiting:
When Netanyahu accepted House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a joint meeting of Congress in support of new sanctions on Iran, the Obama administration began a full-scale press offensive with a clear message: Netanyahu was endangering Israel by playing politics with the country’s relationship with the United States..A member of “Obama’s inner circle” launched an attack against Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer in the New York Times, accusing him of having “repeatedly placed Mr. Netanyahu’s political fortunes above the relationship between Israel and the United States.” The Times noted “Such officially authorized criticisms of diplomats from major allies are unusual.” The message to Israeli voters was unmistakable: If they reelect Netanyahu, Israel will pay a “price.” While White House officials were threatening Israel, the news broke that Obama’s 2012 national field director, Jeremy Bird, was headed to Tel Aviv to manage a grass-roots campaign to oust Netanyahu. Bird would not be working to defeat Netanyahu if he thought Obama opposed it...
This campaign of intimidation and interference has begun to backfire. Obama’s popularity in Israel was already extremely low. A January 2014 poll showed that only 33 percent of Israelis approve of Obama and that only 22 percent — about one in five — trust Obama on Iran, while 64 percent do not. Asking Israelis to choose between trusting Netanyahu and trusting Obama with their security is pretty dumb. And indeed the polls in Israel have moved in Netanyahu’s direction since the Obama attacks began. Two weeks ago, the opposition Zionist Union was leading by three seats in the Knesset. Last week, its lead had shrunk to two. Now, Likud has pulled ahead by one seat, and the Jerusalem Post reports “The poll found that the percentage of respondents who want Netanyahu to remain prime minister rose from 38% last week to 44%, tying the highest-ever result.” (The poll coincided with an attack on Israel’s northern border last Wednesday, which put security — Netanyahu’s strong suit — at the forefront of the election again.)
Also, it's Democrats who find themselves divided and confused over how to react to their president's ham-handed dealings with one of America's best friends on the planet. Lefty Greg Sargent reports that while Democrats on the Hill may be grousing privately about the circumstances surrounding Netanyahu's upcoming speech, few are stating so publicly. And Politico quotes big hitters who say they will be attendance:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who last week criticized Boehner for inviting Netanyahu without first informing the White House, would go, said her spokesman Drew Hammill — though he hedged, holding out the possibility that the speech may yet be canceled. “The leader attends every joint meeting and, of course, will attend should this speech take place,” Hammill said. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he’ll attend. Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also said he’ll be there. “Frankly, the strong U.S.-Israel relationship, bipartisan relationship through the years, is stronger than any perceived slight or dispute,” Engel said. “I care about the U.S.-Israel relationship. It has always been bipartisan and will continue to be.”
Pro-Israel titan AIPAC supports the address; the more marginal J-Street (accused by critics of being anti-Israel) does not, and is actively whipping up opposition to the event. In spite of Democratic disarray and Netanyahu's bounce, it's distressing to see such open hostility between American and Israeli leadership. Such enmity and resentment does not benefit either nation, and is especially dangerous for Israel. It takes two to tango, as they say, and an argument can be made that Netanyahu has misplayed his hand in terms of his country's long-term interests. But the President of the United States and his administration is primarily responsible for the current frostiness, as is Obama's failed foreign policy -- the consequences of which present clear and present threats to the state of Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu isn't alone in being disturbed by Obama's posture toward Iran (especially after the administration has struck a string of bad, lop-sided deals struck with US enemies). I'll leave you with Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez's harsh criticism of the White House's dealings with Tehran, which we highlighted earlier this month:
UPDATE - Media coverage is often unfairly slanted against Israel says…DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who includes MSNBC in her critique, and refers to "Islamic fundamentalists." Wow: