Speaking Truth To Power Takes Guts

Benjamin Netanyahu returns to Washington on November 9 for the first time since his acrimonious campaign to defeat President Obama's signal foreign policy achievement, the Iran nuclear agreement. Unlike March, this time he has an invitation to the Oval Office.

Both men will be trying to bury the proverbial hatchet, at least publicly, but it will be mostly for show given the anger, frustration and distrust between them.

Obama argued the Iran agreement blocked Tehran's path to nuclear weapons and protects Israel.  Netanyahu insisted it posed an increased danger to Israel, a view not shared by many leading figures in the Israeli military and intelligence community; most recently Israel's Atomic Energy Commission endorsed the deal.

Netanyahu took the unprecedented step of aligning himself with the opposition party in Congress to mount an acrimonious and divisive lobbying campaign against a sitting American president.             

Not only did he lose that fight but he also did serious damage to U.S.-Israel relations that won't be healed by a polite photo op from the Oval Office. 

The damage is deep and lasting and it goes well beyond the White House; in fact, the need for healing elsewhere may be even greater.

It's time to move on, starting with a bipartisan approach to enforcement and deterrence.

David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has suggested an additional step. "[I]t would be worth Netanyahu's time" to make a "listening tour" on Capitol Hill, he said.  It won't be easy for the PM, who, as Makovsky noted, "is usually in a transmit mode," but it is necessary.

Bibi is not a good listener by all accounts; if he wants to repair the damage on the Hill it's time to change that.  He can't go into his usual defensive posture, complaining how no one else understands things the way he does and how he has only the purest of intentions while his critics are somewhere between unpatriotic and anti-Semitic. It's time to have an open mind and hear what people who disagree with him are thinking.

One stop he'd do well to skip would be with leaders of American Jewish organizations.  They will only tell him what a great job he is doing and not what he needs to hear.

He should be smart enough to know these sycophants are doing Israel more harm than good because they are so out of touch with the grass roots they claim to represent. The establishment leadership may have been loyally following Netanyahu in opposition to the Iran deal but it was in stark contrast to polls showing support for the deal by the Jewish rank and file.

There is a clear drift away from Israel among younger and more liberal Jews — the majority — that is encouraged by a feeling that Netanyahu is no more serious about making peace than his Palestinian counterpart. 

 Netanyahu's listening tour must start with Democratic leaders, African-American lawmakers and the Jews.

The meetings must be small, private and separate.  Democrats want to support Israel but resent the prime minister's partisan meddling and working behind their president's back to sabotage his most important foreign policy achievement.

African-American leaders see Netanyahu's war on Obama, rightly or not, as dissing the nation's first black president.

Most Jews are Democrats and liberals and support a two-state approach to peace with the Palestinians.  They privately complain Netanyahu say he does, too, but they see no evidence, only his relentless efforts to blame the Palestinians for the lack of progress and Israel's ongoing expansion of the West Bank. 

I have my doubts that these politicians, who have been so vocal anonymously or in private about their displeasure with Netanyahu,  will have the courage to tell him what they're really thinking instead of what they think he wants to hear.

It's not easy speaking truth to power. 

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.