Netanyahu’s consciousness-raising

The Netanyahu speech to Congress continues to deliver rewards to the American people. It is hard to think of a greater moment for raising consciousness on the conflict and its roots. The speech has exposed important issues in ways that no one would have imagined just a year ago. Our media are talking openly about the takeover of our foreign policy by Israel, the loyalty of politicians to Israel, the paranoid thinking of the Israeli right and the neoconservatives, and the injustices of the occupation.

Here’s a wrapup.

First, the historic Iranian talks keep going. The Orient Advisory Group says that the P5+1 and Iran are very close to a deal. Netanyahu’s trip only accelerated the process:

The intensity of the [John] Kerry-[Javad] Zarif interaction in Geneva over the past weeks has been driven, in part, by the commitment to preempt the impact of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled March 3, 2015 address to a joint session of the US Congress, where he is expected to rally opposition to any P5+1 deal that allows Iran to maintain any active enrichment capacity.

The neoconservatives and ultra-Zionists are more and more exposed. The Anti Defamation League takes Israel’s side over the U.S. position in its statement supporting Netanyahu’s speech to Congress. From Abe Foxman and Barry Curtiss-Lusher

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s passionate and determined address made clear to Members of Congress, the American people, and the international community that an agreement that leaves intact a path for Iran to achieve its ambitions for nuclear weapons is not sufficient.

One of the most significant elements of the speech was the message sent to Iran, both by Prime Minister Netanyahu and by the support he received from Members of Congress, that there are serious and legitimate concerns about the direction of the negotiations and that the Iranian regime should not assume it will get its way.

M.J. Rosenberg says that the speech and the Israel lobby’s drumbeat for more sanctions on Iran have made the issue of dual loyalty a legitimate question:

Netanyahu & AIPAC have made it legitimate to ask pro-Israel Jews: who are you loyal to? That is the question they ask.

AIPAC is, by definition, an organized based on dual loyalty: supporting Israeli policy and leaders over America’s.

I have long held Rosenberg’s view here (and John Judis’s). Which is not to say that there are not over-the-top conspiracy theories about the Israel lobby around the world. In Iran, the press is marveling at the fact that the lobby’s power has limits. Haleh Esfandiari of the Wilson Center in the Wall Street Journal:

Meanwhile, Iranian media and the public have been fascinated that the U.S. president pointedly did not meet with the Israeli prime minister, that the U.S. vice president was away during Mr. Netanyahu’s visit, and that the U.S. secretary of state was in Montreux, Switzerland, negotiating a “bad deal” with the “enemy” just as Israel’s prime minister addressed Congress. Until recently Iranians had been convinced that the Israeli lobby runs the U.S. government (an assertion that my interrogators made repeatedly when I was held in Evin Prison in 2007).
Political commentator Ali Mottahar-Nia argued in the newspaper Iran that Mr. Netanyahu went to Congress because his warnings had failed to persuade Western officials and “all his arrows aimed at wrecking a deal have gone awry.”

The great thing about Netanyahu’s speech is that the American people are waking up to this view of the lobby. Leon Wofsy at Portside says that Netanyahu’s desperate appeal reflects the fact that his country is getting internationally isolated for the persecution of Palestinians, that Netanyahu is aware that even US politicians are having misgivings about the alignment of the US and Israel, even while they give him standing ovations:

What makes [Netanyahu] desperate is the threat that serious diplomacy poses to the policies and ambitions of Israel’s extremist right wing government. The Iran negotiations reveal a fissure between strategic interests of the United States and those of Israel’s occupiers and expansionists. While virtually every politician in America swears undying loyalty to Israel, and the armaments and money flow unabated, there is considerable unease about constraining US policy according to the desires of an increasingly ostracized Israeli government.

Incredibly, Netanyahu never mentioned the “Palestinian problem”, but it was surely in his calculations. The process of real negotiations, especially involving a wide diversity of governments, runs completely counter to the formulas that have sustained and expanded the occupation. Either Israel could rely on the United States, its partner and chosen “mediator”, or it could defy even the US negotiators by expanding settlements, building walls, or countering resistance with indiscriminate military force.

Now the rest of the world is beginning to play a significant part. Condemnation of apartheid, boycotts, support for a Palestinian State cannot be dismissed. Despite Netanyahu’s loud declarations in the name of “all Jews”, many Jews in the United States and Israel are angered by his distortion of “Never Again” into a justification for oppression and violence against others.

What about Netanyahu’s Congressional audience, those who cheered him wildly and are ready, at his bidding, to do their utmost to undercut Obama and doom the negotiations?

Some may know not where the road leads; other Democrats may be offended, but are too intimidated to protest. But here is the real menace: the spectacle that Boehner sponsored was nothing less than the gathering of a war party that seeks full control of US foreign and military policy.

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship at Truthout have a hardhitting piece on Sheldon Adelson, saying the ultra-Zionist’s money is behind Netanyahu’s effort to “usurp American foreign policy.” They also say that the US Congress is “under the thumb of a foreign power.” More evidence that the lobby overplayed its hand. The cat is out of the bag on the tail-wags-the-dog theme.

So Netanyahu gets the best of both of Adelson’s worlds – his powerful propaganda machine in Israel [Adelson owns rightwing newspapers in Israel] and his campaign cash here in the United States. Combined, they allow Netanyahu to usurp American foreign policy as he manipulates an obliging US Congress enamored of Adelson’s millions, pushing it further to the right on Israel and the Middle East.

Not only is this casino mogul the unofficial head of the Republican Party in America (“he with the gold rules”), he is the uncrowned King of Israel — David with a printing press and checkbook instead of a slingshot and a stone. All of this came to the fore in Netanyahu’s speech on Tuesday: the US cannot determine its own policy in the Middle East and the majority in Congress are under the thumb of a foreign power.

Jim Fallows is doing a smashing job at the Atlantic to counter Netanyahu’s hysteria. That word appears regularly in the views of the speech that he is posting. His latest quotes an unnamed historian:

History offers up a depressingly vast number of small states perceiving danger from larger, well-armed, unpredictable neighbors. It provides at least that many examples of threats to continued Jewish existence in a given region. The constant reiteration of this particular event [the Nazi-era Holocaust] achieves little more than dumbing down the discourse: it’s the historical equivalent of hollering.

To paraphrase Levi-Strauss, the Holocaust is not particularly good to think with. Its extremity serves as a bludgeon. Its use is nearly always intended to cut off debate or critique, to seize the moral high ground, and ideally to incite panic. I don’t know the best response to the Iranian threat, which I take seriously. But I suspect hysteria is unhelpful—and if that’s true, so is raising the specter of the Holocaust, as Netanyahu does every time he discusses this topic.

Ask your average historian whether the past repeats itself. She’ll tell you it doesn’t — only that it sometimes rhymes.

That has been a central claim of historical posts here. Echoing John Lukacs.

Oh and for hysteria, read Ruth Wisse at the Weekly Standard, repeatedly likening Iranians to Nazis.

No doubt everyone would have preferred Netanyahu’s speech to be given by the commander in chief of the world’s superpower rather than by the leader of the Jewish state, if only because sooner or later American strength will be required to defeat the new super-threats. Even England could not defeat Nazism on its own…

A more familiar historical parallel than the one with ancient Persia is the one Netanyahu drew between radical Islam and radical Nazism that likewise targeted the Jews as warmup for the conquest of Europe. Depending on their points of view, commentators on the current scene invoke Chamberlain at Munich as an augury of appeasement or Churchill before Congress after Pearl Harbor.

Wisse offers this formulation about the relationship of Jews to the broader society:

Netanyahu could not replace Barack Obama as leader of the free world. Unlike supermen in comic books or superheroes of animated film, he cannot protect America. But what Bibi could do, and did do, was to identify the dangers that the president and his followers have tried to obscure. Because of the cruelty directed against them in particular, Jews protect the world best when they best protect themselves

I believe Wisse’s understanding of human community is deluded. Her definition of civilization seems to come down to: the Jews and people who support the Jews against other people. She is living in 1938 (to cite both Fallows’s understanding, and the late Tony Judt). My piece on the Jewish condition has gotten a wide readership because it expressed sympathy for this Jewish understanding of history but said that it is anachronistic. Wisse is placing Iranians and Palestinians outside the boundaries of human community. In a global age, we have to have more evolved ideas of community.

Thanks to Peter Belmont.