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Sunday 8 March 2015


Fear and loathing in Washington

Netanyahu gave a fine speech on the Iranian threat, but will it block a weak deal?

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledges his support in Washington (AP)

Reading yet another article about the reaction to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's speech in Washington last week, this time in Rolling Stone magazine, I noted advice given the writer Matt Taibbi years ago by a famous columnist. "Never write about Israel. It just pisses people off. No matter what you say, you lose half your Rolodex [contacts]."

As a (critical) friend of Israel ­- I can certainly testify that expressing any pro-Israeli opinions is a quick way of losing friends while gaining an abundance of enemies.

But I can't stay away from this row. Did John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, behave disgracefully when he invited the prime minister of another state to address Congress without consulting the White House, two weeks before the March 17 elections for the Knesset?

Boehner's motivation, say Democrats, was to insult President Obama, give a platform to someone who would portray him as weak and naive in foreign policy, undermine his attempts to do a realistic deal with Iran that would prevent it obtaining a nuclear weapon, meddle in Israel's election in support of hardliners, and win domestic political capital.

This is nonsense, say Republicans. Obama treats Netanyahu with contempt, the offer he's making to Iran puts not just Israel but the West at grave risk, it was vital that Netanyahu had the chance to explain to the world what's at stake before it's too late, and the imminence of the Israeli election is an unfortunate coincidence.

Central to all this, though, is the mutual loathing of Obama and Netanyahu, which mirrors that of Obama and Republicans.

With these two men, it's not just their intellectual arrogance that divides them, it's also their life-experiences. Obama was marked by a mixed-race, essentially fatherless and often motherless childhood in offshore Hawaii, after which he moved into a world of the academic and politically-activist left, where many believe that if you only wish hard enough, you can bring about a peaceful world.

Netanyahu knew about war, moving between Tel Aviv and Philadelphia in his youth, and then between army service in Israel in two wars (he was wounded several times) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he read architecture, afterwards becoming a management consultant.

When he left for Israel in 1978, he already had a core of Republican friends.

The ex-mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, said recently to a Republican gathering: "I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America," he said. "He doesn't love you. And he doesn't love me."

Obama loves the America that represents him and his close circle, and he loves the idea of an America with its doors open to the whole world, but he simply can't abide conservatives, be they intellectuals or rednecks. It is not because of racism but because they feel his contempt that Republicans have come to hate Obama and seek to thwart him at every turn. Washington politicians have never been so polarised. The atmosphere is toxic.

The speech was a brilliant survey of the horrors that crazy Iranian ayatollahs have visited upon their own people and large parts of the world since 1979. Sponsoring terror and encouraging instability, they are determined to annihilate Israel. "The greatest danger facing our world," Netanyahu said rightly, "is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons."

Netanyahu provided eloquent and convincing criticism of the dangerous flaws in the proposed deal, but was short on viable alternatives. He may have stiffened American resolve or made Obama more determined to do a deal at all costs.

I agreed with Matt Taibbi: "This was a week that made everyone look bad... Mostly, however, it was just a depressing, circus-like demonstration of how schizoid and dysfunctional Washington politics have become."

I have many reservations about Netanyahu's policies, particularly about settlements, but whether he wins or loses, Israel will still be in danger. What she badly needs is the support of a resolute, tough and intelligent American political establishment. Unfortunately there's no hope of that until Obama goes.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards