Sorry, but there’s no conspiracy here.
The past few days have seen a wave of news stories, op-ed pieces, and bitter blog pieces lambasting House Speaker John Boehner for inviting Netanyahu to address Congress, and Netanyahu for accepting. That the political world should be so driven by a disgraceful combination of ignorance and dishonesty is hardly surprising. Politics is fueled to a great degree by falsehoods. But there is something especially repulsive when dishonesty and ignorance are joined with hypocrisy.
It’s no surprise – or coincidence – that the growing chorus of criticism of Netanyahu and congressional Republicans has been loudest in quarters most unfriendly to both – the Israeli left which hopes to unseat the Prime Minister in elections this March, and Obama loyalists in the US. But these same voices which have decried the influence Netanyahu’s congressional visit will have in the US or the effect of the invite on the Israeli election have been the most egregious in the use of foreign intervention in their own domestic politics.
Ignoring the context
First, let’s dispel some of the increasingly loony conspiracy theories that have been making their rounds, particularly in the Israeli media. A recent piece by Ynet’s Nahum Barnea is one such example, in which he calls the whole affair a “joint scheme concocted by the Republicans in Congress, the Prime Minister’s Office, and Jewish patrons of both sides”.
“There has never been a deal like the one struck here: The American Republican Party is intervening in our elections, and in return an Israeli party is intervening in their politics. They are helping Netanyahu beat his rivals here, and he is helping them humiliate their rival there. It’s dangerous. It’s poisonous.”
The reality is that there is no “scheme” here; no conspiracy, no plot, and no diabolical plan to trade political favors. What’s lacking in Mr. Barnea’s flawed analysis – indeed, the commentaries of most Israeli pundits weighing in on the issue – is the context. Speaker Boehner’s invite didn’t come out of nowhere. In fact, it was a carefully calculated tit-for-tat after President Obama’s invitee – British Prime Minister David Cameron – aggressively lobbied not only congress as a whole but individual senators, asking them to trust the president and hold off on further sanctions on Iran. All of this was done to benefit President Obama’s position that reductions in sanctions against the Iranian regime be maintained, a position which has put him increasingly at odds not only with Republicans but congressional Democrats like Senator Bob Menendez.
The Obama administration’s behavior – and, by proxy, that of its backers who are now lambasting Netanyahu and Boehner – is the height of hypocrisy; importing a foreign leader to explicitly influence American politics and policy while haranguing Boehner for allegedly doing the same. Nor should it escape mention that Mr. Cameron too is up for reelection this spring, with elections scheduled for about a month and a half after Israel’s.
Given this context, Boehner’s actions actually make sense. Obama zinged congress and Boehner zinged him right back, inviting a second foreign leader – Netanyahu – to give a counterweight to Cameron’s arguments. This is yet another round in the unending turf wars between congress and the executive branch, a conflict which has become especially heated during Obama’s tenure. What it is not, however, is a diabolical Protocols of the Elders of Zion sort of political scheme between Boehner and Netanyahu as some are alleging.
Foreign influence – Good for me but not for thee
What’s particularly disturbing here is not the silliness of the accusations being thrown by Netanyahu’s opponents but the naked hypocrisy of the criticism. Putting aside the fact that Boehner’s invite has more to do with evening the score with Obama than anything else, it is impressive to see that the Israeli intellectual class can keep a straight face while blasting the Prime Minister for supposedly doing precisely what they’ve built entire political careers out of – channeling foreign influence into Israel.
One need not go back to the infamous intervention of the first Bush administration in Israel’s 1992 elections for an example of American interference with domestic Israeli politics. At the time, the Israeli Labor Party watched gleefully as Bush froze loan guarantees for Jewish émigrés fleeing the Soviet Union and rode the ensuing anti-Likud backlash to victory. Since then the Israeli left has all but welcomed each and every foreign criticism of Israeli policies in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Israeli far left practically owes its exists to the generous support of European governments who keep groups like Peace Now and B’Tzelem in business.
The histrionics of some on the left have led to impressive displays of not only hypocrisy but irony. In 2012 Zahava Gal-On, chief of the fringe-left Meretz Party, took it upon herself to visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to conduct peace talks, despite the fact that to do so violated government policy and that Gal-On’s party was not even a member of the ruling coalition – not to mention that it happened to be the smallest party in the Knesset, barely crossing the minimum threshold with three seats. Despite her unsanctioned visit to a foreign leader, Gal-On is now beside herself with rage over Netanyahu’s acceptance of Boehner’s invitation and is actually demanding that the speech to congress be banned in Israel as illegal election campaigning.
Of course I fully expect smears in politics, both Israeli and American. Lies, too, are inevitable in political life. Let Netanyahu’s critics on both the left and right target him for flip flopping on the minimum wage, being too supportive of the settlements (or not nearly supportive enough), or whatever cause célèbre happens to be in vogue today. But please, don’t project your own shortcomings onto others, it just makes your own failings all the more apparent.