Benjamin Netanyahu is laying siege to the Congress of the United States, not for the first time. He has thrown his voice and channeled his influence into the arena of American legislative politics, to abort the P5+1 nuclear settlement with Iran, which was signed on July 14 by the US, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia. The Israeli strong man's latest intervention is in keeping with the rest of his political career. Netanyahu owes all his importance and his success to actions that have been purely destructive.
He was first elected in 1996 on the wave of Israeli settler chauvinism that followed the signing of the Oslo Accords. His rise occurred in the wake of the assassination of his opponent, a courageous defender of the accords, Yitzhak Rabin. A public memorandum detailing the strategy for Netanyahu as leader of Israel was written by the neoconservative war propagandist Richard Perle, along with a small committee of others. The strategy document, "A Clean Break," called for Israel to free itself from the tedious demands of diplomacy once and for all, curtail its efforts to negotiate with Palestinians toward the creation of a state, and give up the idea of joining a neighborhood of nations in the Middle East. With American help, instead, Israel could stand alone as the dominant power, a position it should never compromise by bargaining for peace. To achieve this end, three countries had to be undermined, subdivided, or destroyed: Iraq, Syria, and Iran.
So far, things have gone roughly according to plan. Iraq and Syria are out of the picture -- the latter with considerable satisfaction to the people around Netanyahu. But Iran has continued to pose a stumbling block; and as early as 2008, Barack Obama's interest in lowering the terrorist threat to the US by calming the violence of the region was perceived by Netanyahu as an impediment.
From their first meeting in 2009, Netanyahu made it plain that Obama was an obstacle to be overcome by any means necessary -- political assaults from the rear and flanks; concocted international incidents; speeches to Congress and the United Nations and AIPAC and Congress again. Obama was to be treated as an enemy in all but name. The story was to be circulated that Obama, possibly from motives of racial resentment, was profoundly unfriendly to the state of Israel. In the six years that followed their first meeting in May 2009, a continuous strand of Netanyahu's foreign policy has been devoted to weakening the Obama presidency.
Over the same period, the Republican party set itself as a primary goal the nullification of everything Obama proposed. It was natural therefore that its alliance with Netanyahu would grow increasingly public. Only self-respect in the Republicans and a sense of decency in Netanyahu could have prevented it. But one should not underrate the element of racism in Netanyahu's resolve. On the day of the last Israeli election, in March 2015, which ended by returning him to office with a far-right, settler-based coalition, Netanyahu sent a panic Facebook message to his followers. "The right-wing government is in danger," he wrote. "Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out." His followers had a particular duty to vote in order to offset the droves of Arabs.
Now, "droves" is a word normally applied to cattle, just as "swarm" is applied to insects and "hordes" to murderous barbarians. The chairmen of White Citizens' Councils in the American South in the 1950s used to warn their faithful against the "hordes of n-----s" that would vote them out of office unless white people came out and voted. For Netanyahu, President Obama has always been one of the "droves." He has treated Obama with a degree of disrespect approaching and often crossing into contempt, without parallel in the previous relations of American leaders and our professed allies. The black caucus noticed this when they boycotted Netanyahu's speech to Congress in March; and among Jewish lawmakers, Dianne Feinstein has spoken with well-earned disgust of Netanyahu's "arrogant" presumption that he speaks for all Jews.
Reactions of this sort are likely to intensify among those (including the present writer) who feel the disgrace of a foreign leader singling us out in a speech carried in US media, which was addressed peculiarly to Jewish Americans and implicitly separated our interests from those of other Americans. The gesture embodied by such a speech bears a family resemblance to incitement to treason. Imagine a leader of India puffing himself up to deliver a special address to Americans of Indian descent, asking them to subvert the authority of the president who signed a trade deal the Indian prime minister judges to be disadvantageous. And yet, the relations today of Netanyahu to many of the biggest American Jewish donors, and of the same donors to the Republican Party -- these linkages are so extended and tangled that lesser actors can barely account for their actions. But they feel no responsibility to render an account. They only know that their arms and legs move obediently to execute a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or Las Vegas. And then they vote and then comes the money.
The defection to the Republican side by Chuck Schumer was predictable, but the terms in which he cast his decision tell us much about the man and the situation. It has been said that one can judge a politician's intent not only by the things he says but by the things he crucially omits. In Schumer's written defense of his vote with the war party, in a text of some 1,700 words apparently drafted by the senator himself, a word that never appears is "Israel." (The exception is the almost anonymous appearance of the country in a catalogue with five other countries said to have been direct or indirect victims of Iran). But depend on it, Israel was on Schumer's mind.
He has often said, with an artless self-love, that his name in Hebrew, "shomer," means "guardian"; and he takes pride in the fact because he thinks of himself as the appointed guardian of Israel's interests in the US. How bizarre and again how unprecedented this is! Think of any other nation in the world. Imagine an Italian-American named Frank Consiglieri assuring his listeners that his name means "advocate" in Italian and he is supremely vigilant for the interests of Italy as a lawmaker in the US.
Schumer voted for the Iraq war on a rationale similar to the one he now urges as the path of reason and good sense with Iran. He may or may not recognize that he is only assisting the Likud and the neoconservatives with part three of the Middle East "clean break" strategy: Iraq, Syria, Iran. Their calculation is simple. When the work of destruction is complete, one country in the region will stand upright and intact amid the surrounding rubble.
How many Americans know that the Iran deal is supported by the vast majority of Israel's defense and security establishment? The opinions of the security officials within Netanyahu's government are impossible to discern because they have been placed under gag order; but the suffrage of qualified judges in Israel, as also in Europe, Russia, China, and the IAEA, forms a strange contrast with the current alignments in America. "As unanimous as the politicians are in backing the prime minister," J.J. Goldberg recently wrote in Forward, "the generals and spymasters are nearly as unanimous in questioning him. Generals publicly backing Netanyahu can be counted on -- well -- one finger." Equally strange is the fact that security support for the deal is an open secret in the Israeli press, and in an American Jewish paper like Forward, but the evidence is subordinated to a point of near invisibility in the New York Times and other mainstream outlets.
In defending the deal, in the most sober, straightforward, unapologetically argumentative and honest speech of his career, President Obama spelled out the reasons why its acceptance would surrender no opportunity while rejection would squander a chance that will not return.
If, in a worst-case scenario, Iran violates the deal, the same options that are available to me today will be available to any U.S. president in the future. And I have no doubt that 10 or 15 years from now, the person who holds this office will be in a far stronger position with Iran further away from a weapon and with the inspections and transparency that allow us to monitor the Iranian program.
Politicians and propagandists who oppose the deal have spoken of fifteen years as if it were the blink of an eye; but fifteen years is a long time in the history of a nation; and Americans should know it. Fifteen years ago George W. Bush had not yet won the presidency and delivered to the world his vision of a new Middle East. Destruction makes faster work than rebuilding or reform, but much that is good can happen in fifteen years.
Obama delivered this speech at American University -- recalling President Kennedy's speech in support of the Test Ban Treaty at the same institution 52 years ago -- and with full awareness of the parallel he said: "Does anyone really doubt that the same voices now raised against this deal will be demanding that whoever is President bomb those nuclear facilities?" Kennedy at a press conference on August 20, 1963 faced a similar pretense of scientific skepticism founded on destructive intent, and had to answer questions about the opposition of Dr. Edward Teller, a fierce advocate of atmospheric nuclear testing. Asked whether he had curtailed a recent series of tests for political reasons, Kennedy replied:
Obviously, we don't like to test in the atmosphere unless the test is essential. Every test in the atmosphere produces fallout and we would, it seems to me, be remiss in not attempting to keep the number of tests to the minimum, consistent with our national security. ... So we kept a careful eye, and we in fact did more tests, several more tests than we had originally planned six months before. ... I think that they were an impressive series. But it would be very difficult, I think, to satisfy Dr. Teller in this field.
Schumer is following the Dr. Tellers of our age, but they have invented nothing, improved nothing, are good at nothing except starting wars. They are, however, trained and seasoned by experience in the art of spreading fear. By joining their ranks again in 2015, as he did in 2003, Chuck Schumer has made much harder the fight against the chief hope today for lowering the risk of nuclear proliferation. He has done it for reasons no more compelling than those that drove the feverish opposition to Kennedy in 1963.
Meanwhile, 58 members of the US Congress have landed in Jerusalem, on a visit set to last from August 4 to August 10. Their trip was bought and paid for by the charitable arm of AIPAC. The lawmakers obeyed the command of Prime Minister Netanyahu to visit him instead of their own constituents in early August if they want support in the future by prominent Jewish donors. A gesture of more abject servility cannot be imagined. By agreeing to take the trip at this time -- so easy to decline if only for the perception of the thing -- these captive representatives have in effect declared their confidence in Netanyahu and their dependence on his favor. He will come back for more.
Very likely we can expect to hear something from the same representatives concerning the "flaws" in the Iran deal which Schumer says prompted his early declaration of a negative vote. "Even more troubling [than the 24-day delay on inspections]," said Schumer," is the fact that the US cannot demand inspections unilaterally." The demand for immediate inspections, any time, any place, is not an initiative of Schumer's at all but a late-found and richly publicized Netanyahu obstruction, like his demand that Iran recognize Israel as "the Jewish state." It is tantamount to setting a precondition of total and round-the-clock American surveillance of Iranian sites. The only government that would submit to such a regimen is a client government; and the objection could only be satisfied in the aftermath of regime change.
The most puzzling detail in Schumer's defense of his negative vote is the reversal on which it closes. He admits that the heart of the nuclear deal works against the development of nuclear weapons quite effectively. "When it comes to the nuclear aspects of the agreement within ten years, we might be slightly better off with it. However, when it comes to the nuclear aspects after ten years and the non-nuclear aspects, we would be better off without it." There, for all his elaborate show of scruple, he gives the game away. The "nuclear aspects" are the substance of the agreement. That is why they call it the nuclear deal. But no, for Netanyahu and Schumer what offends is the prospect of Iran's re-entry into the global community as a trading partner and a non-nuclear regional power of some resourcefulness. This emergence can only curb Israel's wish to dominate for another half century as it has done for the past half century. That, and not anything resembling an "existential threat," is the real transition at issue.
In conclusion, Schumer tells his Democratic listeners that he does not want a war with Iran; but this is a hollow pretense. The preponderance of influential persons who side with him, as they did on Iraq in 2003, do indeed want a war, and they say they do. They say that war is inevitable, and that the sooner we get over delusions of compromise, the better for Israel and America. Even if he were in earnest, what could the peaceable Senator Chuck Schumer do? A shomer, after all, a guardian and not a buccaneer -- how could he prevail against the many who are made of sterner stuff? The Republican candidate now ranked third in the polls, Scott Walker, has said he would bomb Iran on his first day as president.