Daniel Levy’s Take on Netanyahu’s AIPAC Speech

by Daniel Levy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in previewing his controversial congressional speech tomorrow, offered three broad messages to AIPAC conference goers: the reclaiming of the vitality of US-Israel relationship, an attempt to depict Iran as the font of all evil, and a reheated riff on the arc of Jewish powerlessness to power.

Netanyahu’s olive branch to Democrats and to the Obama administration will only take him so far. Israel’s most American and most Republican of prime ministers crossed the Rubicon on inappropriate political partisanship long ago. What’s more, Netanyahu’s attempt to reassert the US-Israel relationship based on Israel being a beacon of humanity, hope and shared values will ring hollow to anyone paying attention to Netanyahu’s own brand of narrow chauvinist nationalism, to the democratic recession he is leading in Israel or indeed to anyone who has heard of the Palestinians.

But those are long-term trends, more immediately President Obama is demonstrating his commitment to Israel irrespective, or even in spite, of the shenanigans of its prime minister.

So, Netanyahu may come out of the US-Israel political brouhaha relatively unscathed, but his incoherence on the Iran issue itself is far more worrying and damaging. Netanyahu’s portrayal of Iran as an existential threat to Israel, who’s tentacles are devouring the entire region bumps up against a reality in which Iran is part of the pushback against the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), in which most Israeli security chiefs reject the existential threat narrative as shallow scaremongering and in which Netanyahu himself now seems to support an extension to the Joint Plan of Action interim agreement which he previously decried.

Netanyahu is weak when opposing the substance of the deal taking shape, on how it could be worse for Israel than the status quo and he has failed to offer a better alternative. Does Netanyahu prefer an Iran freed from limitations on its enrichment program, stockpiles and facilities, without an unprecedentedly intrusive inspection regime? Does he prefer military action, a game of bluff he has been playing for over a decade? Netanyahu offers spine-chilling rhetoric but no answers.

Netanyahu might even be cast into the role of “accidental peacemaker”—convincing Americans not to risk war at the behest of a foreign leader, even an allied one, convincing hardliners in Tehran that a tough deal to swallow can’t be so bad if Israel is so against it, while allowing Israelis to blame Netanyahu, move on and make the best of a post-deal reality.

Finally Netanyahu’s recounting of the Jewish return to history, from powerlessness to power, the need for strength and to have a voice is standard fare for this prime minister. But many Jews, and the vast majority of us even in Israel who did not vote for him, will surely be hoping for a Jewish voice that is used more intelligently, that is more respectful of our allies and of the Jewish ethical tradition and that understands that with power and strength comes the need for those to be disposed of with responsibility and wisdom.

Daniel Levy is the head of the Middle East and & North Africa program at European Council on Foreign Relations in London. He is also a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation and a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. From 2003 to 2004, Levy was an analyst for the International Crisis Group’s Middle East program. From 1999 to 2001, he was special adviser and head of Jerusalem Affairs in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. He also served as senior policy adviser to Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, responsible for coordinating policy on issues including peace negotiations, civil and human rights, and the Palestinian minority in Israel. Levy was a member of the Israeli delegation to the 2001 Taba negotiations with the Palestinians and served on the Israeli negotiating team to the 1995 “Oslo B” agreement under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He was the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative, a joint Israeli-Palestinian effort suggesting a detailed model for a peace agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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  1. Whether preaching to the choir or sycophantic stooges in the U.S.Congress, the world can see through what essentially is fear-mongering politician. The delusional fact that Israel is the only source for government-it’s our way or the hi-way-in a world of over 7 billion people, is just that, delusional. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see what Netanyahoo has to say when he addresses the U.S.Congress?

  2. I just watched Obama’s prebuttal to Netanyahu’s congressional speech (his interview with Reuters), and um, I was underwhelmed. It was so careful. So conciliatory. So, sort of apologetic, explanatory and cautious.

    I don’t know. Maybe those were all the right, wisest, tones to strike. But still. We have a long way to go.

    I pretty much canvas the comment threads these days in a lot of publications, and I see a fair amount, really a significant amount, of outrage at Israel and the control it exerts on this country.

    But where is the politician that represents those outraged people? Who makes their feelings known? Who represents their perspective? No one I know of.

  3. Dabney, the answer to your question of where the representative[s] of the outraged citizens are, they’re the ones who vote Israel first, because they are bribed-corrupted if you may-but not by the citizens. Perhaps if the citizens plied their representative[s] with bags of silver like the Israeli/foreign governments do, you might see a change? Of course, there’s always the ballot box, but even then, can you really trust that those aren’t rigged? If the politicians-stooges-were to stand on one spot together, which opened up into a bottomless sink hole, they wouldn’t be missed, at least by those who continually get screwed by said representative[s].

  4. Both Congresses are in need of a total purge within two subsequent elections! Otherwise it will continue to be like it is today! In which the senior members of the house and senate will continue gagging and controlling the newly elected members until the rookies are tamed and in compliance!

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