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Friday, February 13, 2015

Why the ADL opposes Netanyahu's Congressional address

Why is Prime Minister Netanyahu going to Washington two weeks before the Israeli elections? And why is the mainstream Jewish Anti-Defamation League opposed? This is the most logical explanation of both issues I've seen yet, it makes President Hussein Obama, the Anti-Defamation League and the New York Times (which invented a violation of 'protocol' that didn't exist) smell like poop.

In the Calvin and Hobbes comics, Calvin enjoyed playing a very special game called Calvinball, in which he made up the rules as he went along to make sure he was always winning. Reading the continuous coverage of Bibi’s visit in the last few days makes you feel that the White House and its supporters are now playing their own version of Calvinball; let’s call it “protocol,” which is the official-sounding scare-word they use to imply that Bibi’s behavior was thoroughly out-of-bounds.
So, what precise point of “protocol” did Bibi outrageously violate? Well, went the original version, he accepted an invitation to address Congress without the White House being informed that he was coming—which is certainly no way to behave. Once the New York Times admitted that this story, which it printed, was 100 percent wrong—and that the White House had in fact been properly informed—the conversation about protocol miraculously morphed. Keeping the all-important word “protocol” in play, the discussion now revolves around President Barack Obama’s statement that he would not meet with Bibi so close to the Israeli elections in March; that, Obama said, would be a violation of “protocol.” Which is a fine point, except for the fact that Bibi never asked for such a meeting. Instead, he was invited to address Congress by the speaker of the House of Representatives, who is the leader of a coequal branch of government—just as he had been invited in 2011 by the very same man to address the very same branch of government without anyone mentioning the word “protocol.”
Why all the fuss right now? There are two useful ways to approach the question. The first is to try and imagine what would not have been a violation of the shifting rules of “protocol.” Indulge me here. Imagine John Boehner coming up with the idea to invite the prime minister of Israel to speak. Singularly committed to the sanctity of bipartisanship—the idea, that is, that no decision in Washington should be made without the benign approval of both parties—Boehner then calls the White House. “I have this crazy idea,” he says. “How about a speech from Bibi?” On the other end of the line, crickets. “The thing is, John,” say the Democrats, “we don’t really like Bibi, and his Iran policy is not really the one we’re trying to promote. Mind scrapping the whole thing?” Fighting back a tear, Boehner agrees. “Sure thing, guys,” he says. “Sorry for bringing it up. See you later at the congressional gym.”
This scenario, of course, is idiotic—yet it’s precisely the one so many Obama supporters have been strongly promoting in tones of heavy outrage this past week. Which leads me to the second, more useful way of thinking about the conflict, namely asking why Bibi is so intent on making a speech that was bound to piss off the White House and its itchy-fingered defenders.
The theory that’s being floated around by custodians of political civility and nonpartisanship like the New York Times, Josh Marshall, Matt Duss, et al., is that Bibi’s desire to speak to Congress is a petty bit of electioneering whose real audience is back home in Israel. If you believe that, you believe that Bibi and his men think that the best way to get Israelis to vote for him on March 17 is to make big-picture speeches in America two weeks earlier—while risking a very public pre-election row with your greatest ally and economic benefactor. You believe, bluntly put, that Bibi is a political moron in search of a blatant photo op that will allow him to bellow to a nation of his fellow troglodytes who will then vote for him. I don’t like Bibi very much, but I grew up with the man, and guess what: He’s smarter than that. And so is my toddler, who learned everything she knows about power dynamics and international politics from watching Frozen.
But there is another, much more serious explanation for Bibi’s eagerness to come to Washington in the middle of an election campaign that most polls show him winning handily: March 24 is the deadline for the framework agreement in the ongoing negotiations with Iran. As Michael Doran, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense and senior policy director in charge of the Middle East at the National Security Council, has shown in his factually grounded analysis of Obama’s Iran policy, when it comes to negotiating with the Islamic Republic, the Obama Administration is committed to keeping everyone in the dark. Unaware that he was being recorded, Benjamin Rhodes, a key Obama national security adviser, told a gathering of Democratic activists last year that Obama is hoping to keep Congress out of the loop as much as possible. “We’re already kind of thinking through, how do we structure a deal so we don’t necessarily require legislative action right away,” Rhodes said.


Alas, the nonsense keeps on coming. The most recent storyline, also promoted heavily by the Times, that Bibi’s speech has met with opposition from a wide coalition including everyone from some Democrats to the ADL and the leader of the Reform movement somehow suggests he is empirically in the wrong. Reporters who cite the ADL’s opposition to Bibi’s speech might have noted that the man who will step in as the ADL’s head this summer, Jonathan Greenblatt, is currently employed as one of Obama’s advisers—which would make opposing Obama kind of sticky. Bibi surely has his detractors, and some of them have valid reasons for opposing his speech, even for loathing him, but the condemnation—in response to phone calls from reporters—is far from uniform. If it was, the story would not have generated so much attention for so long.
Read the whole thing.

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At 3:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bibi did overestimate the integrity of the Democratic caucus and their willingness to provide half of a bi-partisan Congressional firebreak against the President's feckless, improvisational I-heart-Mohammad foreign policy. This was a mistake, as was Bibi's confidence, for whatever reason, that Romney had a lock on the 2012 elections. He isn't always as good a reader of the duplicitous byways of American politics as he thinks.


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