Which Side Are You On, Really?

OBAMA CALLING...Photo released by White House shows President Barack Obama speaking directly with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani by phone on Sept. 27. --Xinhua
OBAMA CALLING…Photo released by White House shows President Barack Obama speaking directly with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani by phone on Sept. 27. –Xinhua

Netanyahu has openly enlisted the US Congress in his diplomatic war against US President Obama and his efforts to resolve the long-festering Iran question

By James M. Wall

This week, two intrepid American Jewish journalists, Richard Silverstein and MJ Rosenberg, reminded somnolent Americans that Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu has declared diplomatic war against the White House.

It is not a new war. What is different this time is that Israel’s leader has openly enlisted the US Congress in his campaign.

It is that simple, Congress and Israel on one side; Barack Obama and John Kerry on the other. On his website, Tikun Olan, Silverstein explains why this is a different level for this diplomatic war.

The Obama administration proposes to soften “some parts of the anti-Iran sanctions regime” in order to reach a workable nuclear agreement with Iran. The Israeli government has a different scenario in mind for Iran. It wants war. President Obama, John Kerry, and the American people do not want another Middle East war.

This is open diplomatic warfare, not the usual back room maneuver of Israeli lobbyists slipping copies of pro-Israel legislation to congressional staff members.

Israel’s Iranian marching orders to the US Congress have been issued: Squeeze the Iranian economy with even harsher sanctions.

This new diplomatic warfare surfaced this week at a meeting of the US Senate Banking committee, where, the New York Times reports:

Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. pressed senators on Wednesday to give the Obama administration some breathing room to reach an accord with Iran to freeze its nuclear programs, warning that a new round of sanctions could mean war instead of diplomacy.

Right on cue, one Republican member of the Banking Committee, Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk, openly embraced Israel’s side in delicate US negotiations to secure a nuclear agreement with Iran. Silverstein writes:

Sen. Mark Kirk was even more forceful in criticizing the [US] officials’ presentation:…“It was fairly anti-Israeli,” Kirk said to reporters after the briefing. “I was supposed to disbelieve everything the Israelis had just told me, and I think the Israelis probably have a pretty good intelligence service.” He said the Israelis had told him that the “total changes proposed set back the program by 24 days.”

Time to strike up a chord and sing the old labor union song, “Which Side are You On?”

Silverstein has chosen his side. He is troubled by congressional dependence on Israeli sources. He continues:

There are a number of very troubling issues here: first, that Israel’s government has taken upon itself to lobby intensively for policies opposed by the current administration; second, that US senators would readily attend such lobbying sessions with foreign government officials and use the briefing material offered them in order to shape their own views; third, that a US senator would admit that he’d been briefed, even indirectly, by a foreign intelligence service; fourth, that a US senator believes the Mossad’s views about the Iranian nuclear program represent those of a “pretty good intelligence service.”

Buzz Feed reported that Sen. Kirk drew parallels between Nazi Germany and Iran, the British and the US.

“Today is the day I witnessed the future of nuclear war in the Middle East,” Kirk said, also comparing the administration to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who signed away the Sudetenland to Hitler’s Germany in 1938. “How do you define an Iranian moderate? An Iranian who is out of bullets and out of money.”

Bad joke, Senator. It even falls below AIPAC’s standard. This is not a time for a US senator to undercut two important  peace-oriented Obama-Kerry initiatives.

A well-known political adage speaks of foreign policy stopping at the nation’s water edge.  The adage has many incarnations, the earliest of which may have originated in 1814 with Daniel Webster’s “Even our party divisions, acrimonious as they are, cease at the water’s edge”.

Senator Kirk would do well to restore any version to his senatorial playbook.

Kirk’s support for the policies of a foreign nation against that of his own president, does not measure well against Secretary Kerry’s recent candid interview with two journalists in Jerusalem where Kerry spoke of the importance of reaching a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, an agreement forged in the best interests of, and the values of, the American people.

Kerry demonstrated his consistent diplomatic candor in his testimony on Iran before the Banking Committee. What he faced was at least one senator who takes his marching orders from beyond the water’s edge.

Buzz Feed reports:

A Senate aide familiar with the meeting said that “every time anybody would say anything about ‘what would the Israelis say,’ they’d get cut off and Kerry would say, ‘You have to ignore what they’re telling you, stop listening to the Israelis on this.’”

MJ Rosenberg, a Jewish-American columnist who once worked for AIPAC, is the second intrepid American Jewish journalist to issue a warning to the American public. In this week’s column, he writes:

The President of the United States and, according to the polls, 75% of Americans, want the United States to reach a nuclear deal with Iran. That view is as universal as any can be in a democracy like ours. Americans want an Iran deal to avoid U.S involvement another monstrous war in the region. And because they know that only negotiations can prevent a nuclear armed Iran if that is the goal of its leaders.

Only one group opposes a deal. It is the Israel lobby following orders it receives from Israel’s government. Members of Congress who oppose a deal are doing so in order to please the lobby and continue to receive campaign donations from it. Writers, columnists, reporters, bloggers and media personalities who oppose a deal are all (with no exceptions) associated with the lobby. In short, American interests are all arrayed on one side and Netanyahu’s interests are on the other.

A few days before the Senate Banking Committee took up the issue of Iranian sanctions, leaders of the American Jewish Federation received their inspiration from the Man Himself, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Speaking November 10 in Jerusalem to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, Netanyahu (pictured speaking to the Assembly above) stated his case against the U.S. on two issues, Iran and Palestine.

He repeated his demand that Palestinian leaders “recognize Israel as a Jewish state”, a deal breaker in the negotiations. He knows that, which is why he has added the demand to the talks.

He also told his American Jewish audience they must reject their own government’s move toward a nuclear compromise with Iran because the compromise is a “bad deal”.

Netanyahu received “loud cheers from the crowd” as  he combined the two demands with his emotional call for Jewish worldwide unity

“When it comes to Jewish survival and the survival of the Jewish state, I will not be silenced, ever. We are the Jewish state. We are charged with defending ourselves and speaking up. All of us, all of us, have to stand up and speak up.”

It is not hard to see “which side” the Chicago Tribune is on. In his November 14 story on the Bank Committee hearings, Tribune Washington bureau reporter Paul Richter dealt with Netanyahu’s cohabitation with the U.S. Congress in tortured euphemistic terms:

“Netanyahu, like many Congress members, fears the White House may accept too lenient a deal and is urging stronger sanctions in hopes of making Tehran more willing to yield.”

The Israeli Prime Minister, “like many Congress members”? Does the Tribune’s Richter see it as a mere coincidence that the Congress and Netanyahu are reading from the same script?

Surely, he knows that Netanyahu wrote the script, delivered it to the Jewish Federation leaders last Sunday and then dispatched his agents to Washington to deliver the word directly to the U.S. Senate.

The Banking Committee will presumably vote on the Iranian “tougher” sanctions this week.  Which side will it choose?

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