Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is performing an interesting experiment: How badly can he treat the Democratic Party while continuing to receive lavish treatment from the American state?
Netanyahu has spent much of the Obama presidency meddling in U.S. politics, cozying up to Republicans, and actively and aggressively undermining Obama and the Democrats. This week, he's in the United States meeting with several top Democrats, including President Obama, in an attempt to make nice after so much bad behavior — which seriously strained relations between Israel and the U.S. So far, Democrats seem shamefully willing to give Netanyahu what he wants. After stamping all over Democratic goals and priorities, and damaging American national security, it seems a smile and a fake apology is all Netanyahu needs to offer to get back into Democrats' good graces.
Hopefully Democrats will stop taking this lying down, and soon.
Let's review recent history. As University of Maryland professor Shibley Telhami argues, Netanyahu has been angling to get the U.S. to invade Iran for more than five years. From 2010 to 2012, this involved two steps: first, trying to get Mitt Romney elected president; and second, a lot of loud saber rattling. Netanyahu jacked up military spending, and planted a Jeffrey Goldberg cover story in the September 2010 issue of The Atlantic predicting that Israel would launch air strikes on Iran inside of the year.
But as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert later remarked (and as the subsequent attack did not develop), Netanyahu was just winding up the U.S. to try and get us to increase sanctions on Iran, and probably attack them on Israel's behalf. Obama, however, did not react as Netanyahu had predicted. Seeing yet another war in the Middle East as a strategic disaster, the American president accelerated plans for a partial rapprochement with Iran regarding its nuclear program, tightening the scope of the deal to lessen chances of it being run off track by lesser issues.
So Netanyahu changed his strategy, spending much of the next several years working behind Obama's back to try and derail the Iran deal. Most notably, he got Republicans to invite him to give a speech before Congress, as part of an American tour whipping against the deal. But in a major diplomatic faux pas, he didn't even notify Obama first, which infuriated some Democrats so badly that they boycotted the speech. Despite all of Netanyahu's maneuvering, the Iran deal went through.
And that's just his meddling in the U.S. His behavior at home has arguably been much worse.
During the recent Israeli election campaign, Netanyahu resorted to rank Arab-baiting and outright embrace of apartheid, stating that there would be no Palestinian state so long as he was prime minister. (Which frankly only recognized the reality on the ground, with the peace process dead as hammer and Israeli settlements continuing to expand in the West Bank.)
For years, Netanyahu has been overtly and contemptuously trying to undermine major Democratic Party foreign policy initiatives, and deepening one of the major roots of Islamic extremism: the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Naturally, this week Netanyahu is all smiles, promising that, no really, he's totally dedicated to the two-state solution. Though Obama seems to personally dislike the man, the president seems to have resigned himself to having to appease pro-Israel critics. Obama and Netanyahu had a reasonably cordial meeting on Monday. Israel is expected to get even more foreign aid as a sort of apology for having to "endure" the Iran deal, though they already get more than any other nation (that they don't particularly need) and the Iran deal arguably improves their own national security. Whatever, that's Washington politics for you.
The Center for American Progress — basically the in-house think tank of the Democratic Party, particularly associated with presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton — is even friendlier with the Israeli PM. It is hosting Netanyahu on Tuesday — and according to internal emails leaked to The Intercept, top CAP officials have strongly pressured their staff to be more pro-Israel, including censoring posts critical of Israel or allied groups and eventually pushing their authors out. Much of this was apparently at the behest of Ann Lewis, a key Clinton adviser and die-hard Israel partisan. And Lewis appears to be right in line with Clinton, who recently published an op-ed detailing how she would reaffirm the "unbreakable bond with Israel — and Benjamin Netanyahu."
One begins to understand why Netanyahu acts the way he does.
So here's my challenge to up-and-coming Democrats not already part of the pro-Israel machine: Stop bowing to Benjamin Netanyahu. He is an inveterate liar. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is a great evil. It is consuming American foreign policy and the future of Israel itself. Democrats should stop bending over backwards to please Benjamin Netanyahu. It's time to stand up to him.