Did Bibi Outsmart Himself?

The unprecedented ploy by Benjamin Netanyahu (R-Jerusalem) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to go behind the back of the President of the United States to lobby the Congress against the administration's Iran policy could well cause more harm to Israel than anyone else, threatening serious damage to the bipartisan consensus so many have worked so hard for so long to establish.

The Prime Minister's habitual meddling in domestic U.S. politics has again backfired in his face.  The latest incident really has little to do with Iran; it is actually about trying to humiliate an American president he loathes (the feeling is mutual).

Bibi had hoped to whip up enthusiasm in Congress for tough new Iran sanctions that the administration opposed and see it passed in time for him to crow about his great victory over Barack Obama in his reelection campaign.  But he went too far this time.

Democratic supporters of the legislation rebelled and forced the Republican Senate leadership to delay action at least until after the March 17 Israeli elections or longer. 

Netanyahu wants to eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat in the worst possible way, and that's just how he's going about the task.  There's nothing wrong with disagreeing over how to deal with the issue, but the hyperpartisan path he has chosen does more damage to his cause than good.

There is no known precedent for a foreign leader working with the Congressional opposition behind a president's back to come to Washington to lobby against an administration's policies.

Meddling in American partisan politics is nothing new for Netanyahu.  In 2012 he virtually endorsed Mitt Romney, appeared in one of his campaign ads and his supporters held a fundraiser for the GOP candidate.  The show was largely produced by Bibi's closest advisor, a longtime Republican operative before making aliyah, Ron Dermer, who was rewarded with the top diplomatic post Israel can offer, ambassador to Washington.

The administration immediately condemned the end run around the White House engineered by Dermer as a breach of protocol and announced the president, vice president and secretary of state would not meet with Bibi before the Israeli elections.

Congressional Democrats chewed out Dermer for his scheme and some threatened to boycott the Netanyahu speech as a sign of protest, though I expect few actually will.  Whether they do or don't is not as important as the serious damage Dermer and his boss have done to Israel's bipartisan base in Washington.  Other than some extreme groups on the far right, few Jewish organizations have expressed public support for the Boehner-Dermer gambit.  Even reflexively pro-Netanyahu/anti-Obama Fox News commentators denounced it.

Bibi's thinking may be that Obama is a lame duck who will be gone in 23 months and the PM and the Republicans will still be around so they can call the shots.  This shortsightedness and ignorance about who is in charge of foreign policy is dangerous for Israel. 

When – not if — there is another Palestinian statehood resolution before the UN Security Council, can Bibi call Boehner and tell him to veto it?  Will his call to the White House go directly to Voice Mail?

Netanyahu should not wait for the results of next month's Israeli election to begin some critically needed damage control.  The damage he's done extends far beyond the Oval Office.  I hope he's smart enough to understand that.

His first step should be to cancel the speech or, at a minimum, postpone it until after the Israeli elections (he can say that the race is too close, this is a distraction, and he needs to stay home to campaign).  The next step is to replace his meddlesome ambassador with someone less partisan and more professional.  He needs a pro, not a hatchet man to begin the repair job. 

What is needed now more than ever is Israeli leadership that will put that country's national interest ahead of one arrogant politician's personal, partisan interests.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.