8/11/15 Growing Criticism of Netanyahu's Actions in Washington

by Marc Schulman

When the P5+1 agreement with Iran was reached I wrote a piece on Israel’s response to the deal. Before I actually started talking to people I was sure my article would say something to this effect–“While until now Prime Minister Netanyahu has had the support of almost all Israeli politicians, as well as the public, now that the agreement has been finalized – if he continues to protest against it – he might find himself alone in that fight.” After interviewing and speaking with a wide range of Israelis I ended up writing a very different article; an article reporting that the majority of Israelis truly stand with Netanyahu.

Over the past few weeks most Israelis, across the political spectrum, began to look nervously at events taking place in Washington – as Prime Minister Netanyahu, supported by a large part of the organized Jewish community staked out positions on one side and President Obama and his supporters (including the remainder of the Jewish community) held their ground on the other side of the debate on the deal with Iran. Both sides have chosen to engage in scorched earth tactics in their fight over the plight of the agreement with Iran in the Congress. Concerns over the Congressional vote on the deal reached a strident peak, after the twin speeches – first by Prime Minister Netanyahu to the Jewish community via video conference, followed by President Obama’s response at American University to what Netanyahu had to say. In each of their comments both leaders “protested too much” that the current disagreement will not effect future relations.

In Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech he stated that “It wasn’t long, certainly not that long ago, that the Jewish people were either incapable, or unwilling to speak out in the face of mortal threats, and this had devastating consequences.” The Prime Minister called on American Jewry not to remain silent in the face of this threat.

President Obama’s speech contained a long defense of the agreement with Iran. In response to Netanyahu’s remarks, the President stated: “I recognize that Prime Minister Netanyahu disagrees; disagrees strongly. I do not doubt his sincerity. But I believe he is wrong. I believe the facts support this deal. I believe they are in America’s interest and Israel’s interest. 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. I do not believe that would be the right thing to do for the United States. I do not believe it would be the right thing to do for Israel.”

Israeli politicians and others remained reticent to voice their disapproval of Netanyahu’s strategy, until the above exchange and an interview with President Reuven Rivlin, in which the President strongly criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu, saying that:

“The most important strategic asset Israel has is its relationship with the United States; the second most important strategic asset Israel has is its relationship with the United States; and the third most important strategic asset Israel has is its relationship with the United States.

Rivilin’s words opened a floodgate of criticism against Netanyahu. MK Omer Bar Lev, from the Zionist Camp, and former commander of the elite forces unit Sayeret Matkal, wrote a long Facebook post asserting the agreement with Iran is not bad. General (ret.) Moshe Kuplinksy, former commander of the Central Command and military advisor to PM Ariel Sharon, appeared on Channel 10’s nightly news, and stated that what is going on in Washington, is a disaster and will weaken Israel. Kuperwasser stated: “We must accept the fact that this is a done deal, and that the Americans do not have to ask us before they enter into an agreement”.

Speaking yesterday to group of Congress members brought to Israel by AIPAC, Opposition leader MK Yitzhak Herzog stated that the P5+1 agreement with Iran was not a good deal, and went on to criticize two main points of the agreement – First, Herzog expressed deep concern that the effects of releasing all of the money to Iran “might destabilize the region between moderate and extreme nations.” Furthermore, Herzog was disturbed that the agreement recognized Iran as a nuclear threshold State in 10–15 years, something that it is currently not. Herzog continued:

“However, there is a big ‘but’ between Netanyahu and me in the following – I have no intention of intervening in American politics. I have no intention of telling you what to vote for, and I have not intention of directly challenging and frontally the White House and the President of the United States. I think the relationship between our countries is key to Israel’s National security.”… I think arguments between us and United States are arguments between the family. We must set rules on how we argue and we may not cross some lines.”

Zahava Galon, head of the Meretz opposition party, has supported the agreement all along, while recognizing some of its weaknesses. Galon declared that “what the government of Israel needs to do now is put and end to the unnecessary icy relationship with the White House and dissociate from any field attempts to carry out a coup against the President in the U.S. Congress.”

Even Yair Lapid, who when I had interviewed him the day the agreement was announced spoke about his intention to join the fight against it in Congress stated yesterday: “For 67 years Israel took care to not be aligned with any party.” …“Today, Israel is [seen as being] on the side of the Republican party. We have no way of maintaining the allegiance [with the US] if we don’t repair this damage. The damage has Netanyahu’s name on it, so he is the one who must repair it,” Lapid alerted.

In Netanyahu’s speech to the Jewish Federations he lamented, “Here in Israel, Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Labor Opposition, the man who ran against me in this year’s election, and who works every day in the Knesset to bring down my government, Herzog has said that there is no daylight between us when it comes to the deal with Iran.” That is no longer the case.

It is likely that if a poll were held in Israel today Netanyahu would still have the support of the majority of Israelis. However, the extent to which this fight has led to a souring of relations between the U.S. and Israel has given many Israeli pause. As a result, a significant number of Israelis are calling on the government to accept reality and stop fighting a rear-guard action that harms Israel’s interests.