By Marwan Bishara
Netanyahu calls Schumer
The saga continues; the plot thickens
Netanyahu questioning the Democrats’ support of Israel [Reuters]
Increasingly isolated, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turns to US Senator Chuck Schumer, Israel’s leading friend, to enlist his support against President Barack Obama. It’s likely their conversation went like this, says Marwan Bishara.
BN: Shalom Chuck
CS: Hello dearest friend, how’s the motherland?
BN: Baruch Hashem – God Bless.
CS: I hear you’ve been in touch with congressional leaders; how did that go?
BN: Am furious, Chuck. What’s the matter with you people? When did you Democrats become so indifferent to Israel?
BN: How is it that Republicans, even non-Jewish Republicans, are so supportive of Israel while you guys are inventing excuses for Obama? Senator Graham tells me Congress will follow my lead on Iran, when you follow Obama blindly!
CS: First of all, that’s not true. Second, more than a few of the Republican Israeli enthusiasts are Evangelical anti-Semites.
BN: I am less concerned by their motivation and more by their support.
CS: Oh, but we live in America, Bibi. Motivation is important.
BN: Perhaps it’s time American Jewry moves to the Jewish State.
CS: I shall ignore that. Let’s talk about why you really called. We are upset here because [Israel’s ambassador to the US Ron] Dermer didn’t coordinate your appearance in Congress with us in the pro-Israel community before speaking to Speaker Boehner.
BN: Ron’s initiative doesn’t justify [Nancy] Pelosi and [Harry] Reid shooting down my visit under the pretext that it will hurt me and hurt Israel. What bull***t.
CS: Listen, we are under a lot of pressure from the White House. Obama is taking it personally and he’s pressuring people to take a stand. It’s not easy for Democrats, Jewish or others, to walk out on the president, not after we lost the majority in the Senate.
BN: Look, the speech is only the pretext; this is about Obama’s latent hostility towards me and towards Israel.
CS: Perhaps towards you; certainly not against Israel. You see your/our problem with this guy is that he has a solid record of supporting Israel during the last six years. Kerry has gone out his way on many occasions to defend Israel. He made an unprecedented effort to block the Palestinians at the UN and at the ICC.
BN: Listen, that’s the least they can do, after all the Palestinians have snubbed them too.
CS: But the Palestinians do not insult Obama and his top people, Kerry and Biden. You do. You humiliate them nonstop.
BN: Again, it’s not personal. The Obama administration is just too indifferent; it’s not robust or proactive when it comes to the US and the Middle East. It’s nothing like the Bush administration.
CS: Hey, you’re speaking to a Democrat. We support you just as the Republicans, except we don’t try to exploit you as they do.
BN: Perhaps, but our worldview is closer to the Republicans than it is to the Democrats.
CS: Look, after 2001, as one senator noted, Congress was all Likud. But things have changed after the Iraq war blunders.
BN: But the Middle East is worse today than it was in 2001. Extremism is more imminent and more dangerous.
CS: And yet, more and more Americans want to have less and less to do with your region, especially among the Democrats.
BN: That’s shortsighted.
CS: Remember, the majority of America’s Jewry is supportive of the Democratic Party. It’s alienating them that is short-sighted. You should also stop dumping on our friends at The New York Times; they love Israel; some have children serving in the Israeli military for crying out loud!
BN: Yes, but you Democrats need to man up on these geopolitical issues; take a stronger position on Iran for example, it helps you shake off the image of weakness that Obama fostered, and eventually help you win the next elections.
CS: It’s not that simple! I have personally encouraged the president to be more forceful. But he reads the polls; and realises that the majority of Democrats and Americans prefer cautious diplomacy to reckless force.
BN: But Democrats must support Israel’s right to defend itself. This is about Israel’s survival.
CS: Listen; as Obama said repeatedly, Israel’s security and survival is sacrosanct just as its right for self-defence is non-negotiable. And we’ve enshrined it in countless bills including the latest on Iran.
BN: But that’s just rhetoric. You talk the talk, but it’s the Republicans that walk the walk.
CS: No, it’s real. The Republicans are merely using you to humiliate the president.
BN: For the zillionth time, Chuck, it’s not personal; it’s existential for us.
CS: Bibi, let’s stop arguing and start coordinating. We in the Israel camp are supporting Senator Menendez’s bipartisan initiative. He’s doing a great job working along with the Republicans to corner the president slowly but surely.
BN: Yes, he’s been tremendous; I heard him say that the White House talking points sound like they’ve come from Tehran. But why did he cave in on the timetable?
CS: He’s been consistent on Iran for a couple of decades, and it has become personal to him when the president opened a new page with Castro’s Cuba without consulting with him.
BN: Yes, I saw that his joint ‘Iran sanctions’ bill passed in the Banking Committee by an 18-4 vote. But you need to take this to the Senate floor and impose these sanctions immediately on that evil nation.
CS: Bibi, as I said at the committee’s deliberations, we in the ‘pro Israel community’ like to see a bipartisan effort on Iran, and look, it’s important that non-Jewish members of Congress lead the pack.
BN: But moving cautiously might be moving tardily allowing a bad deal to materialise.
CS: I am not as cynical about Obama. He might be eager but he’s not desperate. He’s shown how sanctions can work in the case of Russia. The same applies to Iran.
BN: No, Iran is more dangerous and less predictable, Chuck. And Obama is hesitant and wobbly. I told him so on the phone the other day. We don’t want to end like Ukraine.
CS: The bill’s overwhelming support allows us to override a presidential veto once it goes to the floor. But for now, we need to court the president in order to corner him.
BN: I am just afraid it will be too late by then.
CS: Why is it late? You will be back on top of a new government after your March 17 elections, right?
BN: Well, yes of course.
CS: So let’s think beyond March, let’s look at the medium and long term. We need to shape Hillary’s campaign agenda as she races towards the presidency. In a few months, it won’t matter what Obama does; only what Hillary says.
BN: But Hillary could turn out to be as pragmatic as Bill and Barack. You know, I didn’t have a great working relation with the Clinton White House back in the 1990s.
CS: Well, I did work with her when we represented NY in the senate. She was 100 percent behind Israel.
BN: Yes, that’s true, but as secretary of state she was happy doing Obama’s bidding.
CS: Am not sure about ‘happy’. But she did what she needed to do as a member of the administration. That will change when she becomes president. And by the way, I am working on/with Reid so that he supports me for the leadership of the Senate Democrats even if I am the 3rd ranking.
BN: Good luck with that.
CS: With Hillary and myself on top of the foreign policy establishment come 2016, I guarantee you Israel will have solid allies in Washington. If you/we don’t tread carefully on the short term, I am afraid that populist and liberal senators like Warren and Durbin might be leading the pack and the party.
BN: Hope not. I need to talk to our lobby leaders; they need to multiply their efforts in DC and prepare for the next elections.
CS: That helps.
BN: Oh! Guess who’s on the other line? Our friend Sheldon [Adelson]. I need to coordinate with him, with Haim [Saban] and other active millionaires to make sure we avoid another Obama come next elections. Money talks in America and in Israel. And with the Zionist one percent, we can direct America the right way in the Middle East regardless of which party wins.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
Source: Al Jazeera