Answering readers’ comments on “Don’t speak to Congress, Mr. Netanyahu”

February 12, 2015

I cannot promise to do this following every New York Times article of mine, but some of them do prompt a large number of responses and merit a follow up. So today I will answer comments and questions following my latest article, Don't Speak to Congress, Mr. Netanyahu – the same way I did with Answering readers’ comments on “France’s Jews Have No Choice but Israel” , with Answering readers’ comments on “Who killed the Israeli left” and with Answering readers’ comments on “Israel’s Fair Weather Fans” .

First, here's what I believe is the key paragraph from the article:

Of course, canceling the speech would be somewhat humiliating, not just for him but also for United States Republicans: Some lame excuse would have to be found, a smug response from the White House would have to be endured. But it’s a blow that Republicans could, and hopefully would, be ready to absorb. After all, they have long claimed that they and their constituents make fairer friends than their Democratic counterparts, and what better way to prove that than to take a hit for Israel?

You left wing hack

A collection from Twitter:

Your support of Iran nuke is remarkable.

Even @rosnersdomain comes out against #Netanyahuspeech

The left cannot bear the images of standing ovations to Netanyahu's speech, that's the only reason they oppose it.

No, I do not support Iranian nukes. I do not find it impressive that “even” I am against the speech. And I could easily bear the image of a standing ovation to Netanyahu.

Problem is: the speech isn't likely to contribute much to stopping Iran – as I explain in the article.

And: you can support Netanyahu's position on Iran and still oppose the speech.

And: what I find troubling is the prospect of Netanyahu speaking with no standing ovation. 

In other words: not everything in life is about left-right, Likud-Labor, Republican-Democratic, love-hate of Netanyahu. One can believe that Netanyahu is right on Iran and wrong to pick Congress as the place to speak about Iran.

Backhand to Obama

Philip Turner on Twitter:

While dealing smug backhands to Pres Obama, rightist Israeli @rosnersdomain thinks Netanyahu shld cancel his speech.

Turner has a point: smug or not, a reluctance to see the speech train-wreck moving forward is hardly an endorsement of the emerging Iran deal. The deal is not a good deal. The case for the deal is not a convincing one. Read Kissinger on Iran. Read Why the White House Is Getting Lonelier on Iran by Walter Russell Mead. Here is one paragraph:

A nuclear deal under these circumstances that lifts the sanctions without addressing the question of Iran’s regional ambitions would have the inevitable effect of greatly strengthening Iran’s hand. Intelligent skeptics want to understand what the administration thinks about Iran’s growing predominance in the region. Is our strategy one of offshore balancing, or is it based on something like a return to the Nixon strategy of relying on the Shah of Iran as our right hand in the region? If the former, what does the administration propose to do about the imbalance that increasingly favors Iran? If the latter, what assurances does the administration have that a regionally dominant Iran would be our friend?

GOP, Adelson

By mail, from Paul:

Netanyahu cannot cancel his visit. He got an invitation from the top leadership of the Republican Party in congress and he cannot alienate his best friends… and Sheldon Adelson would not allow it.

Let me begin with the Adelson quip. I have yet to see one proof that Adelson did or did not take part in negotiations leading to the invitation and the speech. Until I see such proof, I prefer to address the issues and the persons that surely took part in this saga – Netanyahu and Boehner.

As for Boehner and the GOP: that is a good point and an important one. Netanyahu would find it hard to cancel the visit without first talking – and hopefully getting a nod – from Boehner. That is really why I wrote this article for the New York Times: to plead to a Republican leadership that is very friendly toward Israel to hand Netanyahu a ladder with which to climb off the speech tree.

Republicans more supportive?

James Adler wrote on Facebook:

…if the aim is to keep support for Israel bi-partisan, the column, where you speak almost as an attorney for the Republicans, and especially last 2 sentences, where you say they can use this to try to prove they are better supporters — insulting to me, and supporters of Israel or the Likud and Netanyahu? — only digs a deeper partisan divide and makes Israel even more of a partisan political football.

I have written extensively in the past about the “support gap” – namely, about the difference between Republicans and Democrats in their approach to Israel. And Adler has a point: In the article I do use the Republicans' claim to be the better supporters of Israel to make the case that they can yet again demonstrate their great support by helping Netanyahu in this time of trouble.

Do I think that the Republican claim about being more supportive has merit? I don't say as much in the article itself, but truth must be told, I think they have a case. This doesn't mean that the Democratic Party is not supportive of Israel, but it might suggest that it is not as supportive as the Republican Party. Just look at public opinion polls and see what the voters of each party say.

I do not think that such a claim should be counted as an insult to anyone. If you can make a case demonstrating that the Democratic Party is the more supportive party, I'd like to see it. If you can't make such a case, your options are still open: you can say that you don't care at all if the Democratic Party is supportive of Israel. You can say that you don't care if the Republicans are indeed more supportive as long as the Democratic Party is supportive enough. Or you can look at the Democratic Party and search for ways to make it more supportive.

There are other views

Carol Kort sent an email:

 …there is just possibly another point of view…. Here for example, is what someone in The Forward (plenty liberal) wrote….

Kort links to an article by my friend David Hazony in the Forward. Hazony writes: “Support for Israel and concern about Iran are not partisan affairs on Capitol Hill. We can easily understand the difficulty many Democrats may have in supporting Netanyahu’s speech when it has become such a public relations mess. But that doesn’t mean they won’t applaud his words”.

Of course, being a great writer, Hazony also makes other good points. My friend David Suissa of the Journal made an even more convincing case in his article yesterday.

I am still not convinced. Why? Because even after reading both – and I apologize to the readers who hear me say this for the hundredth time – I still see the damage and I still don't see enough benefit from the speech. The test is simple: what is Netanyahu hoping to gain – and does he have a way of gaining it by making the speech? Here is Suissa's main point – the speech is going to stir a debate:

Let’s put aside all the hysterics about politics and protocol and how Bibi has ticked off Obama. As sobering as those things may be, they pale in comparison to the strategic issue of how Obama deals with the Iranian nuclear threat. If he’s about to sign an agreement that many experts agree is a bad one, don’t we deserve a national debate? 


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