The home page of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC’, offers no hint that anything is amiss between “America’s pro-Israel lobby” and the Obama administration. On the contrary. “Today’s Briefing” features Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke at Tel Aviv on Thursday, affirming that “The U.S. has no better friend than Israel” and and even provides a link to the full text of the Vice President’s speech. The highlighted plenary speaker at AIPAC’s upcoming Policy Conference (March 21-23) is none other that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
However, the home page is not where the AIPAC’s heart is. A behind-the-scenes statement being circulated by AIPAC publicist Josh Block, places all blame for the disdain shown for US peace efforts in general, and the contemptuous affront to Biden during his Israel visit last week in particular, exclusively on the Obama administration:
The Obama Administration’s recent statements regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern. AIPAC calls on the Administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish State.
Israel is America’s closest ally in the Middle East. The foundation of the U.S-Israel relationship is rooted in America’s fundamental strategic interest, shared democratic values, and a long-time commitment to peace in the region. Those strategic interests, which we share with Israel, extend to every facet of American life and our relationship with the Jewish State, which enjoys vast bipartisan support in Congress and among the American people.
The Administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests.
The escalated rhetoric of recent days only serves as a distraction from the substantive work that needs to be done with regard to the urgent issue of Iran’s rapid pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and all her Arab neighbors.
We strongly urge the Administration to work closely and privately with our partner Israel, in a manner befitting strategic allies, to address any issues between the two governments.
As Vice President Biden said last week in Israel, “The cornerstone of the relationship is our absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security. Bibi, you heard me say before, progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the United States and Israel. There is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.”
In other words, according to AIPAC, all responsibility for the disharmony between Israel and the US lies with the misguided American administration, and none with any of the politicians on the Israeli side.
Ironically, as is so often the case, many Israeli journalists are much less reluctant than AIPAC to fault their own politicians for malfeasance and outright stupidity in their handling of Biden’s visit.
Here’s a fact check of AIPAC’s slam from various Israeli perspectives.
An analysis on March 11 by Jerusalem Post correspondent Hillary Leila Krieger (“Construction Freeze Fiasco a Test for Jerusalem, US“) pulled no punches, attributing what Ambassador Michael Oren claims is Israel’s worst crisis with the US since 1975,* to Israel’s own leadership:
To those who have doubted the sincerity of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s embrace of peace talks since his first visit to the Obama White House last May, the premier has said, “Test me.”
This week, before his American examiners, he failed his practical exam in spectacular fashion.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday evening said that the approval of 1,600 new housing”the approval of 1,600 new housing units in east Jerusalem during US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel was “not intentional,” but stressed that it was an “undoubtedly superfluous and dangerous” move, and that it was now necessary to work to decrease the tension with the White House.
Today’s editorial on the English language site of Israeli news daily Haaretz, Netanyahu’s Rhetoric over Policy is Jeopardizing Israel, dares to bluntly state the obvious in a way that no American politician seeking AIPAC support could ever dare: “Israel is not America’s strategic asset, but America is the source of Israel’s strength, and it is essential to rein in the lunacy that threatens to shatter the link between the two countries. ” Calling the Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu a “strategic threat,” the editorial offers implicit dig not only at Netanyahu and his ministers, but, deliberate or not, at exactly the sort of “marketing” of the Israeli-American relationship in which AIPAC takes such pride:
… giving polished rhetoric precedence over policy and making winking a strategy are endangering the existence of the State of Israel, as is the collision course with Washington on which Netanyahu has put the country. It’s impossible to break American support for Israel down into sub-clauses such as mobilization against the Iranian threat, economic and military assistance, or cooperation in all spheres of life. Each of these is essential for the state’s survival; they are secondary to the foundation on which the culture of American support for Israel and the Jewish people relies – support from both the administration and the people.
Elsewhere on the Haaretz site, Niva Lanir (“Sinking to the Depths“) writes, “No tongue-lashing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right or Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s left can overshadow the government’s flagrant abuse of diplomatic protocol and law enforcement.” While recognizing the constraining role of US politics in an election year to the prevailing AIPAC-driven narrative, Akiva Eldar pleads with President Obama not to muffle his demand that Israel suspend further construction, such as the recently trumpeted plans for the settlement of Ramat Shlomo in once-Arab Jerusalem, whose announcement just happened to coincide with Biden’s visit. On the contrary, Eldar urges the US president to save Jerusalem from disaster by moving forward with a two-state solution:
Based on experience, Netanyahu can expect the issue of construction at Ramat Shlomo to die down, just as the issue of deadly car crashes dwindles with time. A day or two will pass and life (or death) goes back to normal. Washington’s politicians are concerned about the congressional elections that will take place in less than eight months. The election year is an open season for the pro-Israel lobby, whose influence on both parties, including Obama’s, is great. “United Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people” was always the Judgment Day weapon of the Israeli and Jewish right during its assaults on Capitol Hill.
The story of Ramat Shlomo reminds all those who truly love Jerusalem that this tough city is the cornerstone of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and between the city and the three monotheistic religions who believe that it is holy. The current crisis over the violation of the status quo in East Jerusalem underlines the risk inherent in the proposal to postpone a solution on sovereignty over this tinderbox until the end of final-status talks. As long as this powder keg remains open, some extremist and/or fool, Mayor Nir Barkat and/or the Islamic Movement’s Sheikh Raed Salah will light a match.
Jerusalem will burn. If it doesn’t happen tomorrow, then the day after. The crisis over the construction freeze is a last-minute cry of distress. There is no more room for proximity talks and more trips by presidential envoys, whatever their rank. This is the time for the leader of the greatest superpower to pull out the Obama plan for two states with Jerusalem as their capital.
Haaretz is frequently and loudly derided as “leftist” by Jewish neoconservatives and right-wing Israelis (and even by American media pundits who ought to know better), because it occasionally offers opinion pieces and analyses from both ends of the Israeli political spectrum, and not just the Israeli right. Nevertheless, Barak Ravid almost always provides the official hasbara (Israel government’s spin–hat tip to my Lobelog colleagues Ali Gharib for suggesting a link to Yonatan Mendel’s article Hasbara in the London Review of Books) of news events concerning US-Israeli relations. Ravid spoke with four consuls who were among the diplomats who participated in a conference call with Ambassador Oren on Saturday night:
Oren sounded extremely tense and pessimistic. Oren was quoted as saying that “the crisis was very serious and we are facing a very difficult period in relations [between the two countries].”
Oren told the consuls to lobby congressmen, Jewish community leaders and the media to convey Israel’s position. He said the message to be relayed was that Israel had no intention to cause offense to Vice President Biden and that the matter had stemmed from actions by junior bureaucrats in the Interior Ministry and was caused by a lack of coordination between government offices. “It should be stressed that [our] relations with the United States are very important to us,” Oren reportedly said.
Several of the consuls suggested waiting, but Oren hinted that his approach reflected Netanyahu’s wishes. “These instructions come from the highest level in Jerusalem,” he was quoted as saying, adding that the utmost must be done to calm matters.
At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Ravid writes, Netanyahu said the matter had been blown out of proportion by the media, adding that “There was an unfortunate incident here that was innocently committed and was hurtful, and certainly should not have occurred.”
Nevertheless, when Block crafted and disseminated AIPAC’s release to the media, there was no mention of any error, innocent or intentional, hurtful or harmful, on the part of any Israeli, nor to any miscommunication or lack of coordination between Israeli government ministries and junior bureaucrats.
Instead, AIPAC;s accusing finger points solely at the White House, accusing the Obama administration for “escalated rhetoric,” even as AIPAC ducks for cover behind Biden’s own words. AIPAC’s release doesn’t pass the smell test, even–perhaps especially– for Israelis.
Haaretz‘s Washington correspondent, Natasha Mozgovaya, noted that both the Obama administration and the Israeli government had carefully avoided using the “c word”–crisis. Nonetheless,
The same settlements that grabbed attention when both the Obama administration and the Israeli government made their first steps, and later were swept under the rug, came back to haunt their relationship and the phantom peace process. Those in Washington dealing with the Middle East every now and then have a strong sense of dejavu, but the claim attributed to Netanyahu’s aides that the U.S. “initiated” this crisis will for sure drop some jaws in utter disbelief. Attack might be the best defense, but the way this incident develops will block any potential for meaningful negotiations – direct or mediated talks – for a long time.
For months now, Netanyahu’s representative attorney Yitzhak Molcho, has been engaged in quiet negotiations on the Jerusalem issue with Senator George Mitchell, President Obama’s envoy. Netanyahu was scared to anger the Right. Hence, Molcho told Mitchell that the PM would not be able to declare a construction freeze in east Jerusalem.
However, Netanyahu was also scared of angering the Americans. Hence, Molcho promised Mitchell there will be no announcements of new construction in east Jerusalem. The result exploded in the face of Vice President Joe Biden last week.
As result of his struggle not to quarrel with or anger others, Netanyahu angers everyone: The Americans, the Right, the Left, and eventually the haredim too. Everyone smells his fear. There is nothing more dangerous for a prime minister than this smell; the smell of fear.
An increasing number of Americans, particularly Jews, have been challenging the assertion that AIPAC speaks for them. The number of Israeli voices challenging the AIPAC narrative, including those not particularly “left wing” or “progressive,” is also growing–and becoming more audible. The notion that Israel’s leadership can do no wrong–especially in Israeli eyes–is coming under closer scrutiny just as AIPAC loyalists pack for next week’s annual orgy of what, from an Israeli perspective, are paeans to their own irrelevance.
UPDATES March 16:
Yoel Marcus writes in Haaretz Row with US Questions Netanyahu’s Fitness to Lead:
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declares at a cabinet meeting that the media exaggerated in describing the grave crisis with the United States and throws in a few more phrases from the “it’ll all be fine” department, it is clear that he has neither learned nor forgotten anything. You didn’t have to read Thomas Friedman’s devastating column in The New York Times to know that there is a limit to the Americans’ patience and their willingness to let us pour mud on their heads and call it rain.
If Bibi genuinely did not know, as he foolishly claims, that 1,600 more homes were being planned for East Jerusalem, he does not deserve to be prime minister. If he did know, and permitted Interior Minister Eli Yishai to announce the plan exactly during the visit of Joe Biden, who is both U.S. vice president and a friend to Israel, then there are two possibilities, each worse than the other: either stupidity or fear of the extremists in his cabinet. Either way, he is playing with fire…
Today’s Briefing on AIPAC’s home page now features Josh Block’s March 14 release under the headline AIPAC Calls Recent Statements by the U.S. Government “A Matter of Serious Concern“.
Mozgovaya’s Haaretz piece, quoted from above, has been reheadlined U.S. finally calls Mideast diplomacy by name – Crisis, and her observation that no one is using the “c-word” has been deleted. (Haaretz not only “updates” numerous news articles to bring them into greater harmony with the hasbara narrative of the moment, but, more unfortunately for diligent researchers, has adopted a policy of removing dates from all articles. It is not at all unusual to pull up an article from the Haaretz website and find it impossible to determine either its original date of publication or the date of its most recent rewrite. Past articles are very difficult to locate through the Haaretz website’s archive, and sometimes vanish without a trace, unless they’ve been reproduced in their entirety somewhere in the blogosphere. Sometimes cached versions can be located by Googling, but not always.)
*Note: In 1975, when Israel refused to sign a treaty with Egypt that required the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Sinai peninsula Israel had occupied since the October 1973 “Yom Kippur” war, US President Gerald Ford expressed his “profound disappointment” with the Israeli stance toward Egypt . According the Guardian Middle East editor Ian Black, “For six months the US refused to conclude new arms agreements with Israel. Rabin called it ‘one of the worst periods in American-Israeli relations’. Ford came under pressure from Jewish and pro-Israel groups at home and Israel eventually relented, allowing the pullback to take place. That paved the way for Anwar Sadat’s initiative in 1977, which culminated in the Camp David accords brokered by President Jimmy Carter, and the 1979 peace treaty.” Carter continues to be reviled as the most hostile US president toward Israel, and Obama is frequently and unflatteringly compared to Carter by Israeli opponents of negotiations with Palestinians and a “two state” solution.