Mar 2nd 2015

Netanyahu's Takeover Bid

The speech that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, will deliver to Congress on March 3rd aims to scuttle an agreement on nuclear inspections and technology between Iran and the United States. Netanyahu would like to sow a suspicion between these countries so fraught and durable that it will also prevent any possible future agreement. For that purpose he will restate his drastic and persistent belief on the subject. To permit Iran to go beyond the most primitive use of its nuclear facilities would pose an "existential threat" to Israel.

Netanyahu has given America several final chances to dispose of this existential threat. Each time, he announced that Iran would attack within months if the US did not bomb Iran first; more than once, he said that Israel would attack Iran unassisted if Americans were blind to the emergency. But the Iranian attack on Israel has never come. The Israeli solo attack on Iran has never been tried. Meanwhile, it has become clear that no regimen of inspection, no matter how penetrating and rigorous, could satisfy Netanyahu of an adequate Iranian compliance. What he asks is really the surrender of Iran's advanced technology: a surrender that would seal its consent to be a second-rate regional power, subordinate to the will of Israel.

In his attempt to choke off the latest negotiations, Netanyahu has followed the pattern that led him to urge the United States to bomb, invade, and occupy Iraq. This, he said, would bring peace to the entire region. Similar pressure, some of it again traceable to Netanyahu, backed the proposal that the U.S. lead a multinational mission against Syria in order to depose the Assad government. This, it was said, would save that country and stabilize the region. War with Iraq, war with Iran, war with Syria -- there is a conspicuous common thread in all of Netanyahu's proposed measures for a lasting peace.

His method of persuasion is always the same. A sham emergency is used to justify breaking off an impending agreement or launching a new war. But the case for emergency with Iran depends on his private theory that Iran is a "suicide nation" -- that as soon as it develops a nuclear weapon, it will use the weapon to destroy Israel and precipitate its own destruction. Netanyahu has continued to hold this theory against the opposing testimony of many leaders of Israeli intelligence and state security. That they have publicly disputed his judgment on Iran shows how reckless they consider his adventurism to be.

Until recently, this pattern met with little resistance from American defense experts and politicians. They were reluctant to criticize the leader of an allied country, and doubtless too they feared the retaliation of AIPAC: the strongest arm of the Israel lobby in the United States. AIPAC has shown itself capable of destroying political careers; but in the past, the lobby was content simply to follow the bidding of the Israeli government. Something more complicated is happening today.

For the past twenty years the Republican Party has looked to move Jewish donors from the Democratic to the Republican column. Eventually, they hope to bring Jewish voters with them, but the donors matter more. Aspirants for the party nomination in 2016 have already trekked to Las Vegas, summoned for auditions there by the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who, it will be remembered, in 2012 bankrolled the campaigns of Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. At the same time, Adelson is a strong supporter of Netanyahu's campaign in Israel, through the flattering coverage he can offer as the owner of the tabloid Israel Hayom ("Israel Today"). Adelson's tabloid is in fact the most widely read newspaper in Israel.

The Israeli election falls exactly two weeks after Netanyahu's visit to Washington. How then can we avoid interpreting his speech to Congress as an attempt to merge the interests of the Republican Party and Benjamin Netanyahu? The Republican Party carries a banner that reads "United States" and Netanyahu carries a banner that reads "Israel." His acceptance of the invitation is thus several things at once. It is an attempt to disrupt a process of international negotiations in which the US and Europe have been deeply involved. It is an exercise of brazen electioneering to promote his continued leadership of Israel itself. And it is a calculated insult to the sovereignty of the United States.

It is, in truth, an unprecedented effort to identify the interest of a party with the interests of the country and, once that is accomplished, to merge the interests of two countries as if they were in no way different. And yet there are some respects in which the United States and Israel do visibly differ. Persons of Arab descent in the United States enjoy the rights of first-class citizens. In Israel, they do not.

His speech is sure to contain the following elements. Netanyahu will salute the members of both parties. He will remind us that he lived in America for a time, and his unaccented English will confirm this. He will acknowledge that his speech has become a subject of controversy, but he cannot avoid the challenge of this crisis, when his message is especially important. The fate of the United States as well as Israel hangs in the balance. The threat from Iran is the most dire that has faced the world since the rise of Hitler. Just as Fascism arose in more than one country, so has Warrior Islam also arisen in more than one country. This analogy is inevitable given Netanyahu's ambition to inherit the mantle of Churchill -- a piece of drapery several sizes too large for him.

Netanyahu now will concoct an amalgam between Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims. Al-Qaeda was a Sunni organization and ISIS is also Sunni. The Iranian Mullahs and Hezbollah are Shiite, and neither has declared an intention to wage war on the United States. Netanyahu will level and conflate the nature and characters of these groups and will imply that the Shiite Muslims of Iran (whom Israel fears) are the same as the Sunni Muslims of ISIS (who foment violence against Europe and the United States). He will combine a vague imputation against the largest possible body of Muslims with a broad assertion that Israel has no interest in religious war. He himself is tolerant of persons of every faith. The Christians of North Africa and Syria are in mortal peril, and Israel has been generous in helping them. Netanyahu will also, feelingly, praise the sacrifices of American soldiers. He will remind us again of the events of September 11, 2001. He will say that Israelis are uniquely equipped to sympathize with what Americans suffered then. We are still fighting the battles that began on that day; and though he is a man of peace and would wish the battles to end, he is an honest and honorable man above all; so he cannot shirk the duties imposed by this critical state of affairs. He will barely mention the name of President Obama, but will indicate that he has come to the conclusion that our president is naïve about the dangers that have set the Middle East ablaze. America, like Israel, is a great country because it is bigger than the weaknesses of any single person.

Very possibly, since he has a low idea of the intelligence of Americans -- he has said that "America is a thing you can move very easily" -- the Israeli prime minister will top off the history lesson by proposing certain resemblances between the year 2015 and 1938. For Netanyahu, the place is always Munich and the year is always 1938. It was 1938 and Saddam Hussein was Hitler when Netanyahu told the US to launch the war on Iraq. It was 1938 once more when he asked Congress, on his last visit, to admire his resistance to the president's negotiation with Palestinians, because the Palestinians were an existential threat. In conclusion, Netanyahu will invoke those ties of warm affection, mutual respect, and concern for human rights and freedom that join Israel and the United States in an alliance the president himself has called sacrosanct.

And yet, piety is a very inadequate measure of right and wrong. Brute loyalty often plays reckless games with morality, and an unsuspecting confidence between separate nations is ill-advised for exactly the reasons George Washington gave in his Farewell Address of 1796. We ought, said Washington, to avoid "permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others," because "the nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest."

As if he anticipated the strange moment in which we find ourselves -- when a foreign leader who asked us to fight one disastrous war now commands us to fight another on his behalf -- Washington said that:

"... a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification."

When Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress on May 24, 2011, to embarrass President Obama and cut down American criticism of the most recent illegal Israeli settlements, Congress gave him 29 standing ovations. That was a gesture of thoughtless servility, and a mistake that should not be repeated. The difference between Washington and Netanyahu marks a real choice. In the matter of the proper judgment of American interests, Washington and Netanyahu stand at opposite poles. They cannot both be right. On March 3, before awarding Netanyahu another 29 standing ovations, or 19 or even one, let the members of Congress ask themselves whose advice they will heed on the danger of "passionate attachments" and "inveterate antipathies." Netanyahu and his backers in Congress are an existential threat to the independence of American foreign policy.




Having graduated from Yale with a B.A. in 1973 and a Ph.D four years later, David Bromwich became an instructor at Princeton University, where he was promoted to Mellon Professor of English before returning to Yale in 1988. In 1995 he was appointed as Housum Professor of English at Yale. In 2006 he became a Sterling Professor.

Bromwich is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has published widely on Romantic criticism and poetry, and on eighteenth-century politics and moral philosophy. His book Politics by Other Means concerns the role of critical thinking and tradition in higher education, and defends the practice of liberal education against political encroachments from both Left and Right. His essays and reviews have appeared in The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, TLS, and many other U.S. and British journals. He is a frequent contributor of political blog posts on the Huffington Post.




     

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "