Thursday, January 22, 2015

American and Israeli Partisanship

American commentators have focused mostly on John Boehner's invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress as an attempt to counter the Obama administration's Iran policy, outsourcing the role of chief hawkish spokesperson to Israel's prime minister.  Israelis, however, see it in the context of Israel's election campaign:
From the Israeli point of view, there is no way to look at the extraordinary invitation House Speaker John Boehner extended to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address both houses of Congress and not see an act of crass intervention in Israel’s electoral process...
The situation is so weird that it still remains to be seen whether Israel’s elections overseer will permit local TV stations to broadcast the speech live, as it falls pretty clearly into the rubric of free and unaccounted for campaign publicity. And another question? What will Barack Obama do with this unwanted visitor in town? Ignore him? Find an event in LA?
It’ll be interesting to watch Yitzhak Herzog in the coming days. For now, he has maintained  a civil, polite attitude towards Netanayhu, and, it goes without saying, towards all American officialdom. But John Boehner’s act goes way beyond the normal purview of a party leader in a friendly country. Its an act of hostile defiance aimed very personally at the man who could– yes, he might– be Israel’s next prime minister and its an act of overt partisanship at what Boehner must have known is an incredibly delicate moment. It really is an outrage, and its a test of Herzog’s new leadership persona.
One can view this as a significant  step towards a U.S.-Israel relationship in which political parties in one country are closely allied with a counterpart in the other.  Netanyahu began this, making known his preference for Republicans in Washington and all but openly campaigning for Romney in 2012.  The Israeli ambassador to the U.S. whom he appointed, Ron Derner, is both his own chief political guru and a man who has worked for Republican campaigns.  Sheldon Adelson also stands out as a significant funding source for both the Likud Party in Israel and the GOP.

Does this mean that if Herzog become prime minister, he will openly side with Democrats in U.S. political disputes?  The United States, of course, has done this sort of thing before.  The first President Bush was quite open about hurting Yitzhak Shamir in the campaign in which he fell from power.  However, the relationship has generally been between two nation-states independent of each other's internal politics.  This move by Boehner, coming on the heels of Netanyahu's 2012 involvement, threatens to create a new paradigm of Republicans allying with Likud against the Democrats and Labor.

If that happens, of course, it could finally weaken the politically articulated idea that the U.S. has to support whatever an Israeli government does.

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