Netanyahu vs. Obama: Time to stop

For those of us who occupy Israel’s middle ground, it is impossible for us to understand why our prime minister cannot read the tea leaves vis-à-vis the potential fallout from his continuing efforts to scuttle the Iran deal by influencing the U.S. Congress.

The facts on the issue tells us two things:

  • There is no question that President Obama and the U.S. Congress are painfully aware of Israel’s position on the issue and the Prime Minister’s desire to see it quashed. Witness the fact that every time the President speaks about the deal he cites Israel’s opposition, often in not so subtle threatening tones.
  • The American electorate, where this battle rightfully needs to be waged, has any number of organizations well committed to the task of defeating the agreement. The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) through its special interest group Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran has allocated $20 – 40 million to this effort. The pro-Israel lobbying group Secure America Now has also allocated $1 million to a media blitz against the deal.  And Christians United for Israel’s Action Fund has also been mobilized to work against confirmation of the deal.

So the question then becomes what can Prime Minister Netanyahu expect to gain by the continuing direct assault on the President of our strongest ally (at least for the moment) and what is the risk to Israel if he continues to maintain his present pace of rhetoric against the deal?

Frankly, it is difficult to see any further benefit to Israel by continuing to blast the agreement, which has become a cause which the President of the U.S. sees as the capstone of his presidency. The President takes every opportunity to point out Israel’s “intransigence” on this issue, the relationship between the President and the Prime Minister can only be described as strained and continuing the effort to publicly criticize the deal can only further anger the President. At this point it does not seem worth the risk, at least to this observer.

So not only does there appear to be no potential gain from continuing public efforts to defeat the deal, there is plenty of potential loss. The President of the U.S., like it or not, is an incredibly powerful political figure with an infrastructure behind him over which he has significant control.  Should he decide to use that power against the interests of Israel the long term effect on the U.S.-Israel relationship could be devastating.

The warning signs are already there. In Obama’s speech on the topic at American University in Washington last week, he said: “Because this is such a strong deal, every nation in the world that has commented publicly, with the exception of the Israeli government, has expressed support.” By adding that the UN supported it, that over 100 former ambassadors supported is as well as the majority of arms control and nuclear nonproliferation experts, this was a direct attempt to highlight Israel’s isolation. His use of the term “that has commented publicly” conveniently allowed him to omit the fact that the Arab Gulf States’ apprehension over the deal is the Middle East’s worst kept secret.

In that same speech he went on to say: “I believe the facts support this deal. I believe they are in America’s best interests and Israel’s interests, and as President of the United States it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally.”  The signal to American supporters of the effort to disapprove the deal, particularly American Jews, was clear.  There is no rational reason to fight the deal, other than an exaggerated and possible even problematic, allegiance to Israel.

So there’s the huge negative. The President of the U.S. in 2015 saying publicly that if the American Jewish community continues its activism against the deal and the deal is not confirmed, people can then question where their loyalties as American citizens lie. Wow!

Therefore the time has probably come to back off on this effort. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has now come out publicly urging the Prime Minister to do so, lest our relationship with the U.S. be irreparably damaged.  Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice President of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has issued a similar call suggesting that it is time for us to stop. And any thinking person, weighing the pros and cons would have to conclude the same, that there is little else to be gained and much to lose.

W.C. Fields once said “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.”  At this point any further action on our part would seem to have the potential to make things worse, not better.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 29 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Immediate Past Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.
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